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You know those moments in your life that you will never forget? your first dog, first kiss, when Princess Diana got in a car accident. She died on my husband’s birthday and I can remember waking in bed to learn the news the next day. Death and life, those imposters, two sides of the same coin, like sorrow and joy. The intensity of feeling with the sting of the news or the soft warmth of a puppy’s fur.
My daughter Norah was standing on the other side of the volleyball court today, the game over, parents and spectators shuffling away with their gear. Her coach Brendan said something I hadn’t understood, and it was done softly with a certain intensity. A good kind of energy. Something about watching Norah’s crazy loose ball saves and killing it in the last set.
Norah was wearing her orange jersey. The team has three competition shirts and this was helpful because I could stand on the far side of the court with my husband, sashay left and right around a video tripod, and see the flag of orange in my sight like a hunter’s jacket through a mess of woods. Don’t fire! I’m human.
It was the Army coach. She was talking to Norah who, to see from where I stood, was no sooner a patch of orange in the trees, but a blast and a flash. And like a rocket, she shot into the air, springing with an energy which took my heart right along with it. Her arms thrust upwards, her legs like coils, the joy released with such a force of human energy I could feel it from all the way over here. The Philadelphia convention center is a building several blocks long and tall enough to have its own weather. For spectators that means ski hats, wool socks, winter coats.
Norah’s skyward explosion felt like a jolt in my own body, my heart thumping with its thrill, the emotional umbilical cord of a mother to her child pulled taught with love.
“Did you see that?” I whispered to my husband.
He said nothing.
“Only one reason she would jump like that.” She hit the ceiling with that leap and then threw out her arms and wrapped them around the Army coach.
My eyes filled and I shook my head in disbelief.
Here’s context. Norah is five foot six maybe seven, add an inch or two on a good day for what they call court height. It’s allowed, to get measured with shoes on. What’s the first thing a division one college coach looks for? Height. You can’t teach height, so the saying goes. I had a dream when I was pregnant with Norah. She would grow to be six feet four. I was the tallest girl in my class for years and in my high school class there was one girl taller, but only slightly. She was the basketball captain. I’m rethinking that dream and I realize it wasn’t about physical height.
In the land of volleyball I’m humbled by these beautiful athletes. Norah has four teammates over six feet: six feet two, six feet three. Her sister played with friends who were six feet three and taller. Talking to one parent, I confessed how embarrassed I was as a girl, to be a bean pole and tall was, or so I had felt in the seventies, a liability.
Coaches were calling Army on Norah’s behalf. Jerry, the head Metro DC coach who played Norah’s team in the Baltimore tournament, called unsolicited. The Yale coach called. Regional directors and club coaches. They knew Norah was going to Army because she was going to become an officer and they heard she didn’t have a spot on the team.
The Army coach waved to us from across the court. My husband and I walked over and I wiped my eyes. The club director hugged us; he was one of her biggest advocates.
College volleyball was not something I had wanted for Norah. It was something Norah had wanted. “Mom,” she said to me last year, maybe the year before that. “I want to play volleyball in college.” I looked at her in the rearview mirror. She would have to work for it. Or grow.
The Army coach smiled at us and gave us a hug. “I couldn’t not take her. We’ve been getting calls and notes… so many.” I smiled and like the sap that I am, fought back tears. I had told Norah to write the coach every week, to send clips, updates, to let her know this was her dream.
“She’s good. She’s going to make us better,” the West Point coach said.
Norah’s teammates put her in their social stories, creating photo collages. Shortly after, with my heart hanging out of my chest, Norah’s team was assigned to work the next match. Lily posted a photo of her friend at the scorebook: you just committed to Army Vball ’26 thirty seconds ago but still do the book because you’re a humble queen.
I’ve been hard on Norah. Told her it was an uphill battle and to be ready to accept that she might not have the chance to play, that she is going to become an officer, that she is a scholar. She would have to fight for a spot. My friend who has suffered unimaginable loss this year wrote. Norah’s commitment and enthusiasm is evident every time she steps on the court… I needed a lift today. HUGE congratulations to you all, especially Norah.
Norah is blessed to have such advocates.
She’s the undersized player with a warrior’s heart.
*Norah was in preschool and went to a party with her sister who is four years older. The children sat in a circle. I can’t remember the activity, maybe it was passing small creatures around. Whatever it was, it was something completely different than what happened. Norah got up and announced, “I can do a fire-cracker.” The older children turned to watch. She reached down to her feet with her hands then threw them into the air with verve. I can see her Mary Janes coming off the floor, the curls on her head bouncing into the air. The other children fell backward laughing, her sister a bit embarrassed. Norah stood in the circle with a smile plastered on her face. In my mind, I see her standing there and she is every bit of six feet four inches tall.