When Pigskins Fly (September 10, 2013)

Although I am stereotypically “girly” with regard my personal grooming and hygiene, I’ve always been, by society’s standards, one of the boys. An inherently competitive nature yielded a natural gravitation toward traditionally male-dominated activities: schoolyard rugby, tree climbing, baseball and skateboarding. I was the proud owner of a toy car and truck collection that was the subject of neighborhood envy, until tragically, I left them behind in a Wisconsin park after a family reunion. I was inconsolable for days.

My sister and I don’t owe our mentally challenged, neglectful parents much, but one thing I’ve always appreciated was their lack of adherence to traditional gender roles. My mother was our family’s primary breadwinner for most of my childhood, while my father played the role of stay at home dad. Beyond the unconventional modeling they provided (because it still was in the mid-1980s), the gender neutrality carried over into the way they raised us. Jenny and I played with Barbie dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids, and wore dresses on notable church holidays. But we also had Transformers and GI Joe figures. My father aggressively coached my younger sister’s t-ball and basketball teams, while I was encouraged to participate in any and all sports that caught my fancy: soccer, bowling, cross country, volleyball and more.

My younger sister Jenny spent half of her formative years in the emergency room, usually the result of injuries incurred during raucous horseplay. Ours were not helicopter parents. I sprained my arm once during a serious game of Monkey in the Middle gone terribly wrong. My folks took us to my father’s softball game, and then to a bar where I slept across two chairs while clutching my injured appendage, before we finally made our way to an ER.

Bored Saturday nights at home could typically find my sister and I having competitive kicking fights (a Me Decade precursor to MMA) or WWF wrestling with our father. During joyrides down steep alleyways found in our Portage Park, Chicago neighborhood, my dad encouraged us to sit in the passenger seat window, legs dangling outside the vehicle, so we could enjoy the rises and falls amusement park-style.

The point is, we were not coddled little girls and both Jenny and I grew up knowing very well how to take a hit. Our mother Gloria was a registered nurse so we were also usually up to speed on the latest in first aid treatments.

So I suppose it’s only natural that I grew into a woman who finds strenuous workouts exhilarating. It must be a feature of this competitive legacy that found me drunkenly destroying sawhorses situated along Clark Street in 2008, the last time the Chicago Cubs broke my heart. And I must conclude it is that ongoing gladiator spirit that has me leaping across my living room, alternating between pain and ecstasy, with each play of an NFL football game.

This facet of my personality has elicited mixed results from romantic partners. I’ve been accused of “trying to be a man” by more conservative mates, threatened by my temperament’s refusal to remain in the prescribed box. Conversely, my ex-husband Eddie dried my tears after failed Cubs playoff runs, and once pulled the car over on a side street in the Ravenswood neighborhood so I could jump out and angrily kick over another sawhorse (see: 2008 outburst above). My current love actually conducted my fantasy football league draft for me last year when I was in class and unable to participate. Apparently I put the fear of God in him (we’re both atheists, but you know what I mean) because his roommate reported that he practically had to breathe into a paper bag for fear of saddling me with mediocrity.

My favorite way of identifying that someone might be relating supposed facts in error is to query, “Wanna bet?!” It’s an unconscious reflex, and those who know and love me best report that it’s a surefire tell that I’m probably right. Therefore, no, they don’t “wanna bet.” For the less experienced, you’ve been warned. I have won Amtrak beer car funds and other semi-fabulous prizes in this manner.

I guess the point is I don’t do demure well. Life is not a spectator sport and nothing worth having is “won” by sitting on the sidelines or waiting patiently for your turn. Girls aren’t told this often enough in my humble opinion.

Though I can be equal parts loving and cuddly, I am aggressive. I chase. I get knocked down, I lose and I lick my wounds for a bit. Then I get up, dust off and go right back on the field. That’s the way I raised, but moreover it’s who I am, the same Becky who got sent to the principal’s office in first grade for smacking the much bigger Jimmy Liberto in the face after he scraped my arm with a protractor (note: the principal took one look at my angry, red little mug and after I entered my plea of self-defense, he dismissed me without prejudice). I like that I’m no shrinking violet. I love that as children, my sister’s enemies well knew that messing with her meant messing with me. I am no less a woman for being strong.

And I’ll consider changing when pigskins fly.


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