"Can girls play football, mom?" asked Caroline as we were riding home from school in the car.
"Sure," I replied.
"Then how come no girls ever play football with the boys at lunch time?"
"Maybe no girls have ever asked to play," I answered. "Do you want to play?"
Caroline looked thoughtful. "Yeah, but I don't know how."
"Maybe if you ask them they'll tell you how to play," I suggested.
Caroline gazed out the window, silent. Then "After I do my homework, can I have a popsicle?"
"Simone and I are going to ask!" announced Caroline, as she slammed the car door shut when I picked her up from school.
"Ask the boys if we can play football!" She bounced excitedly on her seat. "We're going to ask them to show us how to play and we'll be the first girls to play football with the boys on the playground."
"Great!" I hope the boys are kind...but with third-graders, you never know. And I'm thinking they wouldn't be playing tackle football...would they?
The door wasn't even open when Caroline started to tell me the good news. "We did it! We did it!"
"You did what?" I thought it was the football thing, but -- having made this adult-assuming-she-knows-what-the-child-is-thinking mistake before -- I replied cautiously.
"Simone and I asked Scott and Lucas and the other boys if we could play football with them! And they said yes!"
"That's really great!" I answered.
"Well, actually, Simone asked and I ran away." She's honest, my daughter. "But they still said we could both play."
"Are they going to teach you how to play?"
Caroline wiggled with happiness. "Yes! They said we could start on Friday!" She rolled down the window, sticking her face into the wind and opening her mouth to catch the air. "Oh, and mom? I'm gonna have to wear my jeans on Friday because I think I'll get lots of grass stains."
On Thursdays, my friend Ann and I take turns driving Caroline and Ann's daughter Sarah to gymnastics class. Thursday was my day to drive. On the way, Caroline suddenly turned to Sarah, who is a year younger:
"Guess what! Simone and I are going to play football tomorrow!"
Sarah was puzzled. "Football?"
"Yeah! The boys at school always play football at lunchtime and Simone and I want to play with them and we asked and they said yes!" Caroline was excited and proud. "We're going to be the FIRST GIRLS to play football at lunchtime!"
Sarah paused. "Why do you want to do that?" At Sarah's school, according to her, the girls chase the boys and try to kiss them, and if they actually catch and kiss a boy, the boy then becomes a "girl" and has to be on the girl's team. Football plainly doesn't appeal to her.
"Well, it looks like fun," answered Caroline. "Plus," she added with a serious tone, "we want to make a difference for ALL the girls."
I just kept driving, silently, feeling very proud.
"So, how'd it go today?" I asked as Caroline climbed into the car. No grass stains on the knees of her jeans, I notice.
"Fine," she said, in that "nothing happened" sort of way.
"Did you play football today at lunch?"
"Well, sort of."
"What do you mean, 'sort of'?"
"Well, they're giving us lessons. So today we started and George was teaching me how to throw and catch a football."
This is interesting. George has been in Caroline's class since kindergarten, and he's a nice, smart, but very challenging kid. Caroline normally steers clear of him.
"That was nice of George," I added. See how good I am at those non-commital mom statements? "Was it fun?"
"Yeah. It's sort of hard to throw a football," she answered. "Mikey was teaching Simone while George was teaching me. I think we're gonna get to play the real game next week." Long pause. "Can I have some popcorn when we get home?"
Later, at bedtime, I said to Caroline, "So, how'd you feel about playing football today?"
"I felt good." Caroline rolled toward me on the bed. "But it wasn't as much fun as I thought it was going to be."
"I don't know. "
"Well, you're just learning. Maybe it'll get more fun when you've learned how to do it better. Do you still want to play next week?"
"Yeah. Simone and I are going to keep playing. We agreed."
I wondered what sort of motherly advice was required here, if any. "Well, you know, sometimes it's good to know you CAN do something, even if you decide later that you don't WANT to do it."
Caroline looked solemnly at me. "Yeah, that's what I think, too."