There’s Power in the Ponytail


photo credit: Erik Mallinson via photopin cc
photo credit: Erik Mallinson via photopin cc

I’m all about Girl Power, y’all. I’m the hairiest feminist in Piedmont North Carolina, unofficially. That I’ve championed the cause with three girls of my own is not surprising.

But what if I’d had a boy?

His name would have been Tyson. Or Kyle. Or Hudson. He’d have carried on the name, but what else? What expectation? The first and every time he stomped around like a dinosaur in the super market, or snagged a pinch of bacon bits with his bare hands in the buffet line, or made unfortunate noises at the dinner table, he’d be labeled – well, stamped – as unmistakably, hysterically, pathetically Eli Junior.

This is just the way it would have gone. We inherit things, we men. Me? There’s a skill set and a range of expectation and a persona that I established somewhere along the same timeline as, um, I began KINDERGARTEN, that has been as easy to shake as onion breath. Not fair, but true.

There’s a lot of pressure in raising a boy, I gather. From reading. TV. Observation.

Grace can play with Matchbox cars. Marie can tug her Red Sox cap on tightly, and swing for the fences. Elise can rear back and fire a perfect spiral, right on the money.

Nail polish2

Then, they can all do each other’s nails. Thank you, Brandi Chastain, Sue Bird, and Lindsey Vaughn, for making pretty and pretty damn tough and talented a lethal combination.

But if Tyson or Kyle should dress up a Barbie or craft with mom or wear anything pink …

It’s a double-standard, I know. And if I’d had three boys – or even two, or even one – perhaps I wouldn’t have these comments on my columns, lauding my attitude and approach as a father.

How would I handle it?

Would I be that dad/coach who chastises his son when he lets Elise rip a shot past him into the goal? Would I be the father who shakes his head when Marie again fakes his boy out with a little shake-and-bake? Would I be gracious and acknowledge a parity among sexes, teach my boy that he should feel no shame in losing to a girl, that he should give her his best and see how it plays out?

What began as a cute display became more tenuous with every score. You see, that was usually someone’s son getting schooled. Another man’s boy getting burned. A nephew. A grandson.

So the chants began.

Get IN FRONT of her!” moms and dads bellowed.

SHE’S JUST A GIRL!”

Mädchen beim Fußballspielen

I’m usually stellar at muting the parents’ side of the field. But I heard it. I saw boys grit their teeth and take aim. I saw her jersey tugged, her feet taken out from under her. I wondered what I should do.

Then, she got up. She giggled at halftime, asking me, “did you hear that lady, daddy?”, as she covered her mouth in embarrassment. The boys on her team stuck up for her.

Then, the tide turned.

Maybe they saw the enthusiasm, the spirit, the refusal to consider gender when she played. That she just cared about the color of the shirts.

Those moms began to see themselves in those ribbons in her hair, in that expressive face that would scowl at an opponent, then smile at him if she missed a shot.

“C’mon Grace!” I began to hear, even from opposing moms. “Don’t take that from him!”

I like to think that if it were my boy takin’ the schooling from a kid like Grace … I’d show a little grace, too.

Perfection Pending
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16 thoughts on “There’s Power in the Ponytail

  1. Just so you know, boys do have those moments but they are just not allowed by others to have them in pubic. When our son was 3 he told us “when I am 5 and I am a girl I am going to get a barbie car” … his sister was of course 5 and a girl and had a really cool barbie car. Made sense to me … maybe our next gen will do a better job than our gen did at schooling. Grace wiill be a master at supporting equal value on the field.

    1. You’re right – when a boy crosses that gender line, there’s a lot of cultural backlash, isn’t there? Barbie’s car *is* cool – and it take more years than 3 to realize you can *drive* Barbie’s car without exchanging vital parts. I think when kids like Grace do what they do, they make gender a trivial detail.

  2. Love the new site!! I’ve often wondered how life would be if my daughter were a boy. I wanted a boy so badly! Now, I can’t imagine it the other way around. I never thought I’d be any good at painting nails, doing hair and all that girly stuff and believe me, my girl is miss girly girl princess! I dread the day she wants to wear make-up cause I’m at a loss there LOL but she’s taught me so much in her short little life and I’m becoming a little more girly each day! Little girls are quite the blessing…and you are lucky enough to have it times 3!!

    1. Thanks Nina – I’m still moving in boxes, but it feels like home. I could write a post about what life would have been like with three boys – Elise wore a bunch of my clothes one day, and I imagined her as this awkward, lanky boy, not this svelt, kick-ass girl. I think your girly girly princess is bringing out your own girly girly side – and maybe mine did too … after all, one writer once said I’m 30 percent girl.

      I can see your baby curling your eyelashes for you and putting on mascara. I have a pretty good idea of what mascara is, actually, but I’m not positive. I *am* lucky to be three-times blessed – especially when they are so picky about the boys they think are cute.

      I tease them that not all dudes are as awesome as their dad. Cut them some slack.

  3. Well we women have to stick together! LOL… My daughter, Becca, had a funny thing happen to her. She was a gymnast for MANY years and in gym class the girls and guys would compete against each other for push ups…. well gymnasts are VERY strong and she beat out the strongest kid in her high school class! At first it was the …”gasp”…. then it was “way to go Becca!”…. it works out how it’s supposed to! 🙂

    1. Well, we guys also have to root for you. Today at Elise’s soccer banquet, the boys faced the girls in a penalty-kick challenge. I found myself kicking for the boys and rooting for the girls. Atta girl Becca …

  4. Love the new blog! The colors look awesome. This entry is FANTASTIC!! Much like your girls, I spent a lot of my youth playing baseball (before I switched to softball) against boys, and I also was not afraid of playing to win. Anyway, I enjoyed reading this because it brought back memories. 🙂

    1. Thanks AT! I’d highly recommend all of you to check out Ashley’s blog, too. I do love the color. Kind of reminds me of Modern Parent. Anyway, I could use some hitting tips. There’s the misconception, too, that girls are out there to run and giggle. So misguided. Girls are out to win, and I definitely want to write about that.

      Glad this brought back some memories. I bet you were gritty as heck. And I’m glad the memories it conjured up weren’t the traumatic kind. I can get those in another blog.

  5. I always wonder what my life would be like with girls. Probably I’d be a cheer mom or a dance mom or something. Since that’s the kind of chick I was growing up. Life with three Dudes, all of which are heavily into sports, is a strange thing for me, but it is quickly becoming one of beauty. I LOVE seeing my Dudes tearing up the soccer field (or the court, or the pool, or whatever). It’s cool that you get to have both; a soccer star with expertly painted nails.

    1. Maybe we should do a week of kidswap, and find out. I think you might just be able to handle these three. I took them all to get their hair cut yesterday. Total fodder for a blog. I think your existence with your Dudes is probably not unlike what I’d know with my girls on a given Saturday – minus the pretty nails. Oh, and the boy smell, too.

  6. Sounds like you have some awesome girls! I have two daughters ages 3 and 5 and I know they will continue to bend those gender stereotypes and kick some ass!! 😉

    1. They really do amaze me – not because of goals scored or games won, but by the way they approach the game, and life. There are such dynamics your girls will experience as they navigate life, opportunities the girls before them have helped pave … it’ll be a beautiful ride, Megan.

      I look forward to reading your blog soon.

  7. This is awesome!! Sounds like she taught everybody a valuable lesson too. 🙂 Incidentally, my son’s name is Kyle. I have plenty of pictures of him with princess crowns on, and he even said his favorite color was pink for a while. I have to say too that when he was at his little basketball clinic today, there was only one girl with about 16 boys. I was watching her and super proud of her hanging with all those boys!

    1. Thanks Meredith! She definitely made a point. I think society makes it tough to be the father of a boy. If a girl picks up a football, no big deal. If a boy wears a tutu, I think dads feel an obligation to put their foot down.

      I wonder how I’d handle it.

      Love that you rooted on the ponytail among all those boys. Like with Grace, I think there’s an instant rooting interest, isn’t there?

  8. As a soccer family, we’ve also heard those chants from the parents on the sideline. Sometimes, it was even about our daughter. I admit, it upset us at times, but our kids always handled it with grace. I just don’t understand parents that yell inappropriate things at these kids during games. They are kids. It’s just a game. *sigh*

    1. Isn’t it crazy? And it doesn’t matter what socio-economic circle you run in, or race, or anything. I’ve learned a lot from how the girls have handled such raucous din.

      I think spectators at cock fights probably behave better.

      Maybe our kids will get it right as parents.

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