My second-grade daughter has a basketball game this weekend. It's the first basketball game of her life. We don't get a lot of firsts.
I played in my first basketball game when I was in the third grade. I was the only girl on the all-boys team. Only two girls signed up to play basketball that year, so they didn't have a girls' team. When my mother found out that there wasn't going to be a team for the girls, she told the head of the rec league, "You'll just have to let Rebecca play with the boys, then."
There are 14 girls in my daughter's class. Twelve signed up for the basketball team. Five boys signed up to play on the boys' team. If one or more boys misses a game, they will take some of the girls to fill out their roster.
My mom brought me to my first day of practice in the third grade. She told the coach, "I want you to treat Rebecca exactly the same as you treat all the boys. When they run sprints, she runs sprints. When they work hard, she works hard. I want her treated exactly the same. Except when you scrimmage and go shirts-and-skins, I want her on the shirts team."
My daughter is exceptionally tall. Like most girls her age, she is a bit uncoordinated. She is also very competitive. When her team loses a simple shooting game to the boys during practice, she often cries. It drives me crazy.
I had some difficulty with basketball my first two years at UConn. Specifically, I didn't like coach Geno Auriemma very much. He yelled at me constantly, never happy with my effort. I would often call home complaining. One night near the end of my sophomore year, I called home crying. My mom said, "Rebecca, you are going to do one of two things. Either you are going to transfer to another school, or you are going to go talk to Coach Auriemma and resolve this. But you are not going to call home complaining anymore. This is not my fight. It's yours."
The next year, the beginning of my junior season, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had massive lymph node involvement. She chose a very aggressive course of treatment, a clinical trial that made her quite ill. She scheduled her treatments around my games. She didn't miss one. When she first told me of her diagnosis, she said, "You take care of basketball and school. I will take care of this. This is my fight. Not yours."
(Then, she added, "It'll be OK. Your dad's not a breast man anyway." Which, of course, was much more than I needed to know.)
We found out recently that my mom's prognosis back in 1993 was that she would live two years. She lived 17. During those 17 years, she met her children's spouses and spent a lot of time with each of her nine grandchildren. She died this past July. I am so thankful for the doctors who worked to develop the treatments that gave my mom those 17 years -- and who gave me those 17 years with her.
My second-grade daughter has a basketball game this weekend. It's the first basketball game of her life.
I wish we had an 18th year.