The girl had Mari by a few inches and at least 20 lbs, and she wasn’t afraid to bulldoze my baby whenever the soccer ball came near. I saw her checking my child — slamming her girth against Mari’s sides, elbowing her, tripping her with her humongous cleats. Mari, in her first season of soccer, was frustrated by it — couldn’t figure out how to get past this wall of a girl without being hit/pushed/sliced/knocked down. By game’s end, my Mari was near tears. And when the two teams lined up to shake hands and congratulate each other for a game well played, the little/big girl punched my child in the back. Just flat out punched her in the back and walked away!

Now, you should know I’m not afraid of any 9-year-olds. And, with Mari crying in my arms, I made a point of telling the girl and her coach that there wouldn’t be too much more punching going on on that soccer field. I was mad as heck.

And my husband was mad at me.

See, all that girly, snively, “she hit me” stuff — not the pushing and punching — was unsportsmanlike conduct in Nick’s book. Man Code dictates that you never let your opponents know they’ve gotten the best of you — that their aggression has weakened you. Apparently, Mari’s crying was letting her opponent know that she had an advantage over her, and so the next time they played, she would keep doing it — keep getting in her head and scaring her.

“Stop all that crying!” he demanded.

Please understand: This. Tore. Me. To. Pieces. What mother, after all, would ever tell her child — her girl child! — not to express her feelings? To get pushed about and disrespected and not feel some kind of ways about it? To think that crying is a sign of weakness?

Still, Nick explained later when we argued talked about it, that it was just as important for Mari to learn how to be tough as it was for her to be sensitive — particularly if our athletic little girl was going to excel in sports. Nick’s blogged about our girls’ prowess on the field, and especially Mari’s tenacity; teach her how to maneuver/block/play once, and she’s going to nail it. But if she were to really excel, he explained, she needed to get a little push back in her. Some cajones. Her coach agreed, and started teaching her in practice how to body check opponents and fight for the ball (without committing a foul).

Now, the idea of Mari going out on the soccer field and knocking folks over really was just unfathomable to me. And, at it’s core, unacceptable. I mean, who wants their girly girl, who favors lip gloss and pedicures and cute skirts, bruising up other little girls on the soccer field?

But then, after a few lessons, I saw Mari go out on that soccer field and push her weight around. I mean, this kid was hustling for the ball, and when someone tried to take it away from her? Or dared try to stop her moves? Whoa! She’d back into them, nudge them, put her weight into it. And then, fast as a bullet, she’d pass to a waiting team mate, or take the ball to the goal herself.

And the look in her eye as she was doing this was magical.

I saw courage where there once was fear.

I saw strength were there once was weakness.

I saw a winning attitude where once there was defeat.

My daughter was learning how to play soccer. But even more valuable: She was learning that it was okay for an emotional girly girl to be tough.

This post appeared on the MyBrownBaby blog on THE PARENTING POST.

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