Introducing my daughters to the superheroes of the WNBA
In May, espnW's weekly essay series will focus on new beginnings and changes.
On the way home from school, my kindergartner is a bullet, skipping and dodging the throngs of people, the fruit stand loaded with avocado and mango, the piragua man making shaved ice sweet with coconut milk. She is part of the community, and she's fast. My 3-year-old races after her, and it makes me in awe of how they commune, how they engage all the other bodies making their way through New York City.
It's true, my daughters were not born into the most athletic of families, and true the only sport I engaged in was gymnastics and cheerleading (where some of those mediocre skills were employed), and it's true I am anxious about both of their skills and the fact that they stumble more than they glide.
They flail through the jungle gym, race each other through the field and play chase until dissolving into fits of laughter. They live full in their small bodies. They move about with abandon. Their frames are for speed, for dancing and shaking, for hiding in small spaces and bursting forth when they're found. They riot awake in their skin and to watch them move is to watch them bloom, to watch them discover who they are and how they want to interact with the world.
It makes me want to search role models for them, makes me hungry to see how other women demonstrate their power and skill to the world. We talk about what it means to have a healthy body, what it means to feed ourselves and be active. We study what it means to be an athlete and realize we all want to be as fierce as the women in the WNBA. When we start to watch videos, we all start to sit up a little straighter, move our feet a little faster. We explore the way they move on court, the way they pass and drive across the floor, the way they make a community with the other players, just like my daughters do in their world.
As their mom, I am always in constant motion too, thinking of the women they will grow up to become and curating the kinds of images they see. We gobble up old footage of Lisa Leslie dunking the ball, witness her grip the MVP award high atop her head, smiling to the endless cheers in the crowd. We see Sheryl Swoopes spin and swoosh each basket, she becomes electric and bold in the gold medals hanging against her chest. We study the National Team Training Camp and watch the way Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike and Tamika Catchings talk about will power, what it means to push through, stay on their toes, train, work, work, run hard, compete with the best of the best -- be the best of the best. My daughters mimic the high jumps and passes, when they slide around the living room floor.
My oldest wants to know everything she can -- Who are the players mom? What are their names? How many points does it take to win a game? How high do you think they can jump? So we look up the all-time leaders and read their names like a list of superheroes -- Tina Thompson, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Candice Dupree, Cappie Pondexter, Seimone Augustus and Nykesha Sales. We search them one by one. These women become monumental for us. Their collective names become a chant in our home. They become louder than the Kardashians and the Bad Girls Club and Monster High Dolls with their itty- bitty skirts and five- inch heels and not a thing to do.
For a week, the new #WatchMeWork ad for the WNBA is on repeat in our apartment. My girls stand in front of the TV and say play it again. We watch all 6'9 of Brittney Griner do her slick one-handed dunk. We cheer. We spot Sue Bird pass the ball behind her without looking and we try it ourselves, see Skylar Diggins shove the basketball with such force and call herself a nightmare on the Wings, and we high five at a woman who knows who she is and has all the know how to say it and be it on the court. Yes, my daughters are young, but what they see reflected back to them is essential and makes such fierce impressions.
They are girls who will be women, they are lively and wild, and they deserve to see themselves celebrated. They are mixed race girls, who are Filipina, Assyrian, Irish and Italian. I want them to see a reflection of their own powerful and willing and brown bodies making that same brilliance on an international arena.
We're going to our first WNBA game on June 26th at Madison Square Garden. The New York Liberty will compete against Phoenix Mercury. My daughters are already seeing themselves revved up and winning. Who knows who or what they will become, but what I do know is how lucky we all are to have the women in the WNBA leading us toward championships -- both on the court and out in the world. It makes me grateful for this gift of legacy, the reward of witnessing dynamic and influential professionals commanding a global spotlight. We see how women can ignite everything around them.
Ellen Hagan is a Kentucky writer, performer, and educator. Her latest collection of poetry Hemisphere, was published by Northwestern University Press, Spring 2015. Ellen's performance work has been showcased at The New York International Fringe and Los Angeles Women's Theater Festival. She is the recipient of the 2013 NoMAA Creative Arts Grant and received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts.