Fear of Flying

women long jump

Today, I assisted with the girls’ long jump at Evergreen.

Yesterday, I helped with the boys’ long jump.  What a difference a day makes.

Today it was gonna rain any moment. It was cold and damp. It dripped a little, on and off, as K. got the groups of girls lined up.  The groups are based on age, weight and height.  This first group was the A group.  I didn’t notice it so much yesterday, but the biggest kids comprised the A group.  If you forgot that girls mature before boys do, as I had, I remembered anew.  This group of girls were a bit rounder, taller and heavier.  They were obviously well on their way to puberty.

What struck me about this group is that they were uncomfortable.  They eyed the ramp skeptically.  They plastered self-conscious smiles on their faces. They liked the idea of the long jump, but their pants kept falling down.  They had new indignities to endure, such as breasts.  They were ungainly in their changing bodies and they didn’t want to appear unladylike.  Their jumps were pathetic, a little hop off the blue mat onto the white. They cheered each other on, however. I think the best was a 6-foot jump.

I got angry.  They were in the mist of becoming, I reminded myself.  They were unsure of which identity to embrace:  little girl or young woman.  I tried to encourage them by telling them they couldn’t let the boys beat them.  K. tried to demonstrate good long jump form.  We admonished them to run fast for more propulsion.  No dice.

Finally, a girl who was dressed to run, complete with tights, did it.  She raced down the clown-colored mat, then the blue mat, then she soared onto the white.  Huzzah!  Finally, a 7-footer.  I actually teared up.  Girl power!  Because of her, the mood changed.

The girls progressively got smaller.  And because they were smaller, they were still safely ensconced in childhood.  It was still okay to run fast, wind in your face, embracing flight.  To be fair, they had a lower center of gravity.  They fully committed to the idea of the jump.  Sure, they cheered for each other – and sometimes even the racers doing the 800 meter race on the adjacent track – but they were able to focus on doing their best.  A little insecurity remained but not nearly as much as the girls in the depths of puberty.

Towards the very end, a long-legged lass hit 8 feet.  Thank God!  It wasn’t as far as the boys had gone, but she put her whole self in there.  It gave me hope.

I am reminded again of the paradox of femininity in America.  This dichotomy starts early.  We start off liking to play and run and jump just like boys do.  We are encouraged to acquire the same skills.  We might also like pretty shoes and dresses.  Somewhere along the line, we get asked – or forced – to choose. Never having been a girly girl, there was no choice for me.  I wanted to play.  Dresses were for sissies.  End of story, until very recently.

I don’t think we should have to choose.  Can’t a woman be feminine and attractive and still kick butt athletically?  Is she only worth something if she fits the mold of acceptable girlishness?  Is this just a ploy to get boys to like us and to not be threatening?  I hope not.  I know we have come a long way, but the conflict remains.  Why does it have to be either/or?  I want Ruby to do the things that she excels at and that bring her joy.  She can wear the sparkly shoes and ride motocross.  Anyone worth her time will love both sides of her.

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