I can’t think of a more fitting day for my mom’s birthday to fall on. Well, maybe National Coffee Day or National Sarcasm Day. She has a 10th degree black belt in all of those related disciplines. But this year, her birthday falls on National Girls and Women in Sports Day. And that’s just freaking appropriate.
My mom would be the first to tell you she’s not an athlete. In the era she grew up in, there weren’t many opportunities for girls to play sports, though I seem to remember some story of her playing 6-on-6 basketball in grammar school. She danced and did cheerleading. It’s what girls did. But that didn’t stop her from falling in love with sports, thanks in large part to her both her parents who loved a good basketball game, embraced the American ethic of baseball and touted their civic pride by supporting Buffalo teams win, lose and ugly.
And so I grew up in a family where the women were as invested in the outcome of Sunday’s Bills game as the men were. My mother has cultivated an appreciation of college basketball that few coaches have attained. In March when people ask my professional opinion on NCAA brackets, I first check in with my mom. Because she has a way better feel for that than I ever will.
National Girls and Women in Sports Day celebrates female athletes at all levels. It celebrates opportunity. It celebrates growth. It celebrates the gains made in athletic equity, in making sure that girls and women have the chance to participate, that they have the rights and privileges and responsibilities that their athletic male counterparts do. It’s about realizing the unique power and confidence that comes when women make a connection to their bodies and feel an ownership of them. That’s true power. It’s true beauty. And it keeps opening up the definition of what women believe is possible for themselves. Not every girl and woman needs to love sports. They don’t need to love competition. But they do need movement to stay healthy. They do need a sense of connection and ownership over their bodies and their lives. If you forget how important that is, check out the Women’s Rights National Historical Park for a reminder of the narrow opportunities for women to have control over their day to day existence. For current examples, check out the work of the organization Women Win.
Now back to my mother. What is great about her birthday falling on this day is that I not only get to celebrate her, but what she was able to provide for me. She didn’t live an example of personal athletic connection for me. But she created an environment where sports was always OK in whatever form I wanted to pursue them. That’s not something all little girls get though I didn’t know that when we were watching Breakfast at Wimbledon each July. She wasn’t the kind of woman to do cartwheels down the street to show her support. (Really, how could you when you had a kid like me with a terribly impractical imagination.) But I grew up always believing I could do whatever it is I wanted, that I could become whomever I wanted. It took a while for me to realize that the person I most wanted to become was myself, but I had the opportunity the explore that.
Among the gifts I’d like to give to my mom today is gratitude. And perhaps one day the college basketball on-demand package.