I showed up with three humble expectations; dust-off my game, burn some calories, have fun. My daughter wanted to spend an hour+ in the nearby weight room, so it was a family exercise "win-win" of the best kind.
I love to play volleyball and know the fundamentals well. I have a mean serve, a steady bump (that can handle a lot of heat), and once in a while I even manage to make a winning set. When considering whether I'd be able to keep up with the others, I estimated that my game would be about 80% Rec-League ready. I was wrong.
I forgot that I should have measured my abilities according to the "fit male with no kids" standard of play. Oops, right away my score went down.
When I arrived at the gorgeous, state-of-the-art gymnasium, delighted by the low price of admission and the opportunity to play for a couple of hours on two regulation-sized courts with a diverse group of adult players, I was surprised to observe only a few other women in the mix (out of approximately 25).
Before my play could be evaluated fairly, I felt already like an "undesirable", given my age and gender. They meant business; no one took time for intros, no one smiled at me, no one wanted to mix. Two of my male teammates sandwiched me out of adequate positioning repeatedly, until I earned acceptance into the "fit male without kids" tribe. Silly me to forget that of course they assumed I couldn't make an impact.
It took a muscle of a different mother to stay in that game and persevere. But I did. I stayed in and won and lost shots not to prove myself and my abilities, so much as to train myself how to endure this kind of hostile energy when it threatens one's core confidence and freedom to play. Volleyball at a rec center is play.
After 90 minutes of consistent, winning serves, feeds and set-ups, our match broke with the side I was on the obvious overall evening winner. It was time to reassemble. The play was fast and I still knew no one's name when it was time for me to go. Although I was drenched with perspiration and had a few "gym burns" as badges, I didn't think the evening was much "fun". It felt like I was on trial.
... But I just might go back next week. Here's why:
That 90 minute volleyball session taught me and perhaps my middle-school age daughter who stood watching for the last twenty minutes, so much more than the lighthearted play session I had envisioned. What happened on that court happens at every meeting. It is the real deal and whatever my invisibility was at minute one on "the court of fit males", my daughter saw me playing and succeeding 90 minutes later. Plus, seeing one's daughter fist-pumping for her mom provides an unnamed health benefit no mother should live without!
So ... play like a girl. Don't quit, ever. Play in all ages, shapes and sizes and stay in the game. Because this IS the game. This is the ONLY game and by playing we stay relevant; we show up; we join teams and win points; we contribute to society. Cardio-lifts are a mere bonus.
And while I would never ask any of my male compadres from last night's game to stay home next week (their level of play was exciting!), I would like to give them a maternal scolding of sorts to nudge them. Guys, a winning team at the rec level is a balanced team; think screaming spike shot meets consistent, well-placed serve. Let's play together ...
Later on at home, after I had recounted the experience to my son he said it sounded "like life with a bully on the fifth grade playground". Maybe he's right.
Maybe I should expect this, but I am always surprised. Perhaps it would be better if I treated these encounters like those always-engaging recycled plots from Animal Planet; the ones about tricky rodents and pests interrupting domestic bliss. Rodents and encounters with invisibility are just part of our lives and we have to defend against them.
Something to consider. But with the convention in Charlotte underway, I didn't want anyone at our house, neither my son nor my daughter, to miss the First Lady's speech to the American people. We shifted our focus and settled in for the evening, just as we had a week earlier to listen to Ann Romney's address.