The unsung hero in my life story is my mom, a woman ahead of her time. While I was defying society with my dream to play sports at a time in American history when little girls were supposed to play house, cut paper dolls and dress up like princesses, my mom let me be a tomboy. Instead of coveting Easy Bake Ovens, Barbie campers and Tammy dolls, when I wanted a basketball, pop rifle and cowboy hat for Christmas, Mom made sure Santa heard my wishes.
Mom never made me wear hair ribbons instead she cut my bangs short and let me march to the beat of my own drummer. When I slid into home plate, swished hoops, and tackled the “man” with the ball in the backyard with the neighborhood boys, she grinned and waved from the kitchen window.
When I fell off bicycles and out of trees, she straightened the handlebars and brushed off the grass and said, “Off you go!”
In college as she watched me compete on the basketball court, she may have worried about my lean frame bashing bigger bodies in the tough league, but she never told me. As she nursed my sprained ankle, separated rib, black eye, broken finger, and another concussion, she may have shuddered inside, but I only saw the smile.
When I hit the wall diving for a loose ball, or got slammed on a rebound, she may have cringed inwardly, but outwardly she remained calm. I only heard her shout of encouragement every time I got up and back in the game.
In childhood, she kissed my skinned knees, patched up my favorite blue jeans, and sent me back outside. In adulthood, she honored my uniqueness and urged me to follow my own star.
Instinctively my mom knew that from the time I could tie my own shoes, I was footloose and fancy-free and the world belonged to me.
When I threw my passport in the bin after being cut from the national team trials, she pulled it back out and patted my hand. “Put this somewhere safe. You may need it someday.”
When I fell in love with a Frenchman and made my life abroad, she started French lessons, wrote long airmail letters and opened her heart to a “foreign” son-in-law.
When her first grandchild was born in Paris, she sewed clothes with extra long sleeves for my fast-growing child. When that Franco-American granddaughter returned to the USA, mom made the 8-hour round trips to the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point to watch her play basketball. Later, when that granddaughter took the Hippocratic Oath at the graduation ceremony, my mom stood in for me, and applauded for both of us.
Mom made sacrifices to help me reach my goals. She drove me an hour away to take horseback riding lessons as an 8-year-old and she exchanged S&H Green Stamps for goods to help save for summer camps. No matter what the cost, she never held me back.
She never insisted I marry the neighbor boy and stay in town, and never complained when I spent more time practicing my jump shot than cleaning my room.
My mom, a smart, soft-spoken Chicago girl from a modest family of Norwegian immigrants, worked her way through college earning a teaching degree. She raised 4 children 5 years apart and when the last one started kindergarten, she started her teaching career.
Two generations later, her granddaughter born and raised abroad, followed her own dreams, back to America to become the first doctor in the family. My mom beamed. The family had come full circle.
Title IX presented the door, but my mom pushed it open and let me go.