Mom, sports and safe spaces

The question doesn’t come with as much frequency as it once did — a hopeful sign to me that women in sport aren’t nearly the aberration we once were, particularly in the media field.

But every once in a while, the question returns. Did my father get me into sports? Did I have brothers, uncles, cousins who played?

Oh, those poor, deprived people who ask that question because clearly they have never met my mother.

Childhood sports memories always focus on my mother. Mom never recited statistics or broke down the principles of a triangle-and-two defense.  She loved the competition, the event and the people. It was bigger than any number, any win or loss or final stat sheet tally, and that helped shape and inform the way in which I view athletics — as a writer, an athlete and a woman.

Don’t mistake this particular love of the game for lack of knowledge, however. My mother is a basketball junkie, known to stay up late into the night watching PAC-10 hoops. (Remember when Gonzaga was a “surprising” team? Not to my mom!) What she may lack occasionally in jargon, she makes up for with an intuitive sense of the intangibles. Her post-game analysis is spot-on.

But here’s the thing about sports, my formative years and my mom — it was our safe space.

It’s fashionable these days for parents to be best friends with their kids. While to each her own parenting style, I am grateful that was not in vogue when my parents raised me. My mom was my mom. I was a teenage girl. We clashed. We fought. Nothing monumental or worthy of an after school special. I was annoyed by her some days, basked in her humanitarian aid others and, while I have no research to back up such claims, am pretty sure that’s a typical experience.  In those moments when she would drive me nuts, we could always talk about sports. A basketball game was detente. My resentment at not being able to get the new Esprit jumper from the mall (while Heidi Warner bought it and wore it to school the next day) faded during a Saturday doubleheader.

Sports are no longer needed as a safe space for our relationship. Instead, it’s grown into part of who we are as mother and daughter, bringing us joy, inspiration and an outlet for frustration. It gave me the opportunity to grow into an adult relationship with my mom. She’s become a friend, but not my BFF. Frankly, I don’t really want her to be my BFF. Because no matter how old you get, some days you still need your mom to be your mom, to be that person to unapologetically hold a mirror up to your face (it’s for your own good, after all) or be the safe refuge when life reduces you to weary tears.

Thanks, mom. Happy Birthday.

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