A few years ago, after four weeks of gloomy August weather and cobbled-together childcare, I couldn't take it anymore. I know it's drastic, but now I pack up the girls and spend the summer holidays with my parents in California. We swim everyday and the girls come home browner than bears with surfer girl hair and an appreciation for artichokes.
This summer, however, was different. The girls discovered it was cool for females to play football.
It was by chance really. I walked onto a 7 am flight to a blogging conference in San Diego and sat down next to Brandi Chastain (the footballer who gained celebrity status overnight when she ripped off her top upon kicking the winning goal against China in the 1999 World Cup). I didn't know who she was at the time, but hubby told me later she was perhaps the most famous female footballer, ever. I just thought she was another mum, and put down her extremely fit bod to her being a soccer coach.
We had lots to talk about. I had just posted on BritMums about the new FA WSL (duh, the warmer summer league may prove more popular than a WINTER one). We chatted about hairdressers, her 5-year-old son, Jaden, and my girls (ages 6, 7 and 9). When she said she said founded the non-profit, ReachUp, to help girls fulfill their full potential and that she had met the President, it started to dawn on me that this was no ordinary mum. I told her how in the UK football is popular, predominately with males, and peer pressure is so great that my oldest had decided to give it up when she got to Year 2, because "football's for boys mummy."
That's when Brandi began her campaign. Sports are so important for young girls, she told me. It's healthy. It helps build self-esteem. It gives girls valuable teamwork experience, which boys are exposed to so often.
This touched a nerve. Of course I want to give my girls equal footing to boys.
But England is cold, I told her. It's not California, where it is warm year round and it hardly rains.
Brandi groaned. I could tell she thought that was a pathetic excuse.
How will your girls ever know what they are capable of if they aren't given the chance?
Touche. It was one of those come-to-Jesus moments. She was right. As a mum, I need to be a role model and present opportunities to my daughters. Even if it is muddy and 6C outside.
So when Brandi asked me to bring the girls to watch the Santa Clara Broncos (of Bend-it-like-Beckham fame) so she could kick the ball around with them, I didn't refuse. They ran around with Brandi, long blonde hair and footballs flying everywhere. She even got me out on the football pitch (See video).
When we got back into the car, the first thing my nine-year-old said was that she didn't know so many girls played football, that football was cool and that she wanted to play again when we got back from England.
We're going to take the girls to one of the FA WSL finals this September. I can't wait to bring the girls to a big stadium event, not to see some self-absorbed pop star, but to see WOMEN play a professional sport to a high standard.
That speaks volumes in terms of role models and breaking barriers.
Yes, our summer was filled with the usual sunshine and artichokes, but also the realisation that football isn't just for boys. It's cool. And it's for girls too.
Now I just need to find a local girls football club for my daughters, there doesn't seem to be many options. Anyone want to start one with me?