Latina grandmothers help raise our children.

As we sat around the dinner table the other night, my ten-year-old son seemed a little confused as to what to do when pushed or shoved or kicked on the soccer field. We all had words of advice for him, but it was my mother who captured the essence of what needed to be done.

She looked at him and said lovingly, “Mi amor, you must defend your balls”—meaning he needed to keep attackers off the soccer ball by any means necessary. Of course, we did not need an explanation.

My mother is known for her inadvertent one-liners caused by her mixture of English and Spanish. Nonetheless, we all knew—and always seem to understand—what she meant.

When I was my son’s age, my swim coach tried, unfairly, to take me off of the A relay even though my time was faster than the favorite butterfly swimmer he wanted on the relay. I was ready to cede my place. My mother was irate. She walked me over to the coach and gently nudged me toward him, “Go on. You tell him you had the fastest time and that you deserve to be on the A relay.”

I was a scared, skinny ten-year-old, but as I walked shyly up to my coach (a man who called us imbeciles and threw kickboards at us in practice), I made my case. He stared down at me, furious. He scanned the times and realized that indeed, I had the fastest time. He scratched the other girl off the list and put my name on. As I walked away to get ready he turned and growled, “The pressure is on, Mooonios.”

My mother said she nearly peed her pants when he said that. But she never let me know it. I simply swallowed and put my swim cap on. She kissed me and wished me luck. Our relay won that day and more importantly, my mother taught me something very valuable: When something is rightly yours: Defend Your Balls.