Parenting “The Only”
The moment I read the email listing each name on the basketball roster, I knew we were in for an experience. Both for her and I, the mom that would have to put her foot down and ensure the experience was one we took value from. I mean, I really didn’t plan to put my daughter in this situation. I didn’t even think to ask, or request that she be placed with a more balanced team. I knew it was a co-ed league, but until this point in her life, boys and girls were all the same. Her gender was not a pivotal part of her identity as of yet. I really thought she wouldn’t care…
Until she was the only girl on the team.
Parenting “The Only”
After I read the email, I casually mentioned my observation to my easy going girl. “So baby, looks like you’re the only girl on the team! Gotta show those boys how its done, ya?” Whipping her hair around in some tween move I’ve never seen her do, she explodes, “nooo Mom, what? What do you mean?!”
We sat together and inspected the other team rosters, seeing names we knew, other girls even, all on teams with at least another girl. Her team was the only team with only one girl. What luck.
Honestly, I had been preparing for this moment since before she was born. As a multiracial mother of a mixed Latina, I was ready for my motherhood to be confronted with “the only” issue. My friend and I used to call it “being the only chocolate chip in the cookie”. When we lived in Las Vegas, the issue was always top of mind. My husband and I were often “the only” interracial couple in a restaurant, my kids were always “the only” brown babies in the mommy-n-me class, but here in California, much of that has changed.
My kids go to a dual language immersion school where white, black and everything in between speak Spanish and embrace diversity. In fact, multiracial kids are everywhere too. She comes home often saying, “Mama, did you know (insert a new name every few weeks) is mixed too?!” So, in terms of their mixed race or cultural heritage, we very rarely find ourselves as truly “the only”. Because of these experiences, being the only girl was something I hadn’t considered or prepared her for.
Is that dumb? I feel silly now, underestimating how much she has grown into her girlhood.
The Only Girl On The Team
My husband felt awful that he had to miss her first practice. He was away for work which meant that I had to hold it down by myself. I had no idea how the experience would unfold, but was committed to helping her through it no matter what.
I played competitive sports as a kid, but playing soccer outdoors is a vastly different experience than playing basketball indoors. Have you ever gone into gymnasium when multiple (men’s) games were being played? The noise alone is jarring as we walked in: echoes of bouncing basketballs, random yells and hollers of missed lay ups, aggression and testoserone just ozzing off the walls. For two highly sensitive females, that moment was heavy.
As we walked up to her new coach, the fear overtook my little girl. She wouldn’t look at him. Instead, with intense reservation in her eyes, she peered deep inside mine and whispered, “Mama, I want to go home. I don’t want to do this.” Each pulse of each second flushed through my veins as I knew if my reaction wasn’t firm and confident, she would flat out refuse to participate. She was scared and I wanted scoop her into my arms. Was it acceptable parenting to let her quit before even starting?
Ya’ll, I almost started bawling! Ultimately, I made the decision to push onward and sat on the nearby bleachers to nurse my own set of fears. Was this pushing her too hard? Would she feel awful about herself? Feeling the tears well up in my eyes, I texted a close friend who responded right away, applauding Alina on her courage and willingness to try. She affirmed my parenting choice and, with that, the only girl on the team took the court.
6 weeks later and my baby girl had survived her first basketball season. More than that, she thrived as the only girl on the team. She wasn’t an all-star player or made many (any?) baskets, but she gave her whole heart. She took free throws in front of a gym of parents and peers. She ran up and down the court, not totally knowing where she was supposed to be (and often stopping to help a fallen opponent up) but she didn’t quit. She went to practice without complaint, participating in drills along the boys, pushing her little body into aggressive, defensive postures that weren’t natural for her; beginning the lifelong lesson of owning her inner strength.
But what I’m most proud of is that, in the face of her fear, she resisted. She showed resilience; the stuff girl leaders are made of.
I guess being the only girl on the team wasn’t going to knock us down after all.