Fast forward thirty years and my daughter and I hiked the well tread trail over the wooded ridge behind the house, debriefing her first week of first grade. She was still wearing her school clothes, jeans and shirt, an all-purpose unisex sartorial version of what I had worn in primary school. Denim had come into vogue along with Title IX nearly three decades earlier. Nowhere in my daughters view plane could they perceive my distant history of Title IX’s immediate effect of throwing out girl’s rules for basketball and replacing them with boys rules in gym class. Stifled by girls rules it reassured me to know boys rules were truly the natural order of things. Also gone was the pants prohibition for girls. Before Title IX the temperature could be forty degrees below zero Fahrenheit and girls still had to shed their snow pants in the classroom to reveal stocking covered legs beneath a dress. (Yes, we really did attend school in those extreme weather conditions.) In contrast, my daughters’ chose their attire according to the whims of the moment, striped shirts paired with floral printed skirts, a boa and ski pants, jeans and a spangled top. Today she had chosen jeans and a simple shirt.
“Mama?” my daughter ventured. “Yes, Sweetie?” I smiled down at her. “The boys won’t pass the football to me.”
The sorrow of her bewildered admission strummed my heartstrings. She had just moved onto the big kid’s playground for recess. The terrain she was navigating had expanded from the intimately appointed kindergartener’s monitored play area to the primary school’s couple of acres terrain stationed with monumental swing sets, merry go round and climbing apparatus. Burly mouthed ruffians mixed in with tender artistic innocents were figuring out where they fit, before which slide or swing set to wait in line, which ball game to play, or with which group to meander the territory.
Until entering first grade my daughter had grown up playing with the boys, too, as an equal on the soccer field, and often leading them down the ski slopes. It was a new era, with parents officiating fair play on the field and choreographing the leagues, planning the dips in the local lakes, and arranging custom ski groups to ensure appropriate matching of young athletes and coaches. Still, she had also enjoyed the freedom of unchaperoned time with her playmates, and the big playground was her first encounter with exclusion by friends who customarily included her. She didn’t realize that culturally, it was still unusual for a girl to jump in with the boys.
“Sweetie?,” I paused. “The boys will never pass the football to you. You have to intercept it.”
Gossamer thoughts flutter across her pensive brow. As the furrows melted she looked at me with trusting eyes. “Ok.”
A few days later my daughter bounced into the house after school. “Mama, I intercepted the football! Now the boys will let me play!”