Alysa Auriemma: Why the biggest fight I've ever had with my mom was about nail polish

Julie Foudy looks at how Kathy Auriemma, wife to UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, has played an important role in the winning program.

My mom places a furniture catalogue in front of me.

"You might need a new desk," she says.

I look at it. Some of my furniture does need an upgrade, and my desk is several years old. "Well, what if I just repainted it?" I ask.

"Why repaint it?"

"Uh. There might be nail polish stains on it."

My mom shrieks like she just caught me snorting cocaine. "ALLY!"

I burst out laughing. "We've been having the same fight since I was 9!" I say.

"And I will keep fighting you about it until you're 50!" She tries to be a drill sergeant, but her eyes are dancing. Before long we're both laughing.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the most significant fight I've had with my mother since my early 20s. About nail polish.

Why is this important for me to note? Because there is no one in my life I want to get along with more, no one who scares me more, and no one I want to emulate more than my mom, Kathryn. I always felt like I was OK because my mom was a strong guiding force in my life. It's why the biggest issue in our mother-daughter relationship is whether or not I paint my nails at my desk, or if I ate her leftover Brussels sprouts, or if I've cleaned my bathroom.

(Have I mentioned I'm 31 and live in my own house?)

My mother grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. Her mother was a child actress who knew Judy Garland; her father was a decorated war hero. As a kid, Mom learned the value of independence, progressive politics and being a nice person. She also developed a backbone of steel.

My earliest memories aren't of UConn basketball courts or championship banners. They're of my mom sending me off to school with cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. Of the smell of her apple crisp in the oven. Of watching her working out to Jane Fonda tapes that I quickly adopted as my own when I got old enough. Of my mom being her own, valuable person, independent of whatever was going on with Dad. 

Dad was there and present when he could be, but when he had to travel (which was common for him) Mom held down the fort. She's a handler, like "Scandal's" Olivia Pope. A former English teacher, she knew how to wrangle kids into doing their stuff. Sure, there were times I didn't do what I was supposed to, but the guilt of not doing it would be so bad that I'd end up apologizing profusely before her yelling ceased. My mom didn't inspire fear so much as a desire to be good.

Courtesy Alysa Auriemma

Alysa Auriemma, left, and her mom, Kathy.

Mom's a mom. She's perfect at it. It's why members of the UConn women's basketball team feel the way they do about her. It's why she's been to several former players' weddings, even participating in some (she, my sister and I were all involved in Meghan Culmo's wedding). While the culture of family within the UConn community is only one reason why the team is successful, it's a pretty large, important cog in the machine. My mom is able to talk to them in a way Dad might not be able to. They trust her. As they should.

My mom's independent streak is what makes her marriage to my dad work. When Dad isn't coaching during the season, he's running conferences or going recruiting. Someone more accustomed to co-dependency would not be OK with all that alone time. But my mom shrugs it off. A couple weeks ago, the team was on a road trip, and I called her to check in. "What are you up to tonight?" I asked.

"Watching 'The Bachelor,' probably gonna get into my PJs the second I get home!" she yawned. Zero regrets, that woman.

Don't get me wrong, there is no fan more passionate about the game than Mom. God forbid you talk to her at a game. The other day at the American Athletic Conference tournament, I had to ask Mom a small question about some work stuff. When I tried to get her attention she whipped around and hissed "Ally! I cannot talk right now!" We were up 35.

When someone catches me making a face like one my mom would make, or using the same turns of phrase she does, it makes me glow. There's something she's given me, and I'm reflecting it back into the world. Along with, I hope, the other things that make my mom an icon in her own right.

Alysa Auriemma is a contributor to espnW. Her work has been recognized in the Hartford Courant and the New York Times. Alysa also contributed the afterword to "Unrivaled" by Jeff Goldberg. When she's not yelling at her computer to make words less difficult, Alysa resides in Manchester, Connecticut, and eventually she will stop visiting her parents solely to steal food out of their fridge. @allyauriemma

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