Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Explaining the world: Act Two, Just us Boys

[In case you missed it, Act One: Manikins]

Act Two: Just us boys

Monday, JB went for a follow up ENT appointment.

He was so good. So tolerant of people sticking things into the holes on his face. So willing to listen. So "Chill-ax" for a 2.5 year old. (This is a new thing we are saying around here... the other day JB told ML to "chill out" and Katy and I thought that sounded a little harsh even though we knew it came directly out of our mouths, so we started saying, "Chill-ax".)

The audiologist left the room after her initial round of tests and my son and I were left alone together. I was quiet, a little zoned out. Even though I expected nothing but good news, I was a little stressed coming in that we might be told his tubes were not in place. I was enjoying the peace of knowing that was not the case. JB was swinging his legs gently; looking around the joint. He asked me what a few things hanging on the wall were: oxygen, suction setup, electrical outlets, decorations. Then he slapped his hands on his lap and said in a sort of sigh, "Two boys."

"Two boys" He repeats, as he looks up at the ceiling and down the opposite wall.

"Hmm?" I snap out of my mental vacation, but have no idea what he is talking about. "Who?" I ask. "You and ML?"

"NO," he replied with increased urgency: "Two boys! You and me."


I look at our matching jeans. Both wearing boots. The LLBean coats I'm carrying around: One is red and tiny- a miniature replica of the green one that keeps me warm, yes- but more importantly, it's pockets eliminate my need to carry around a "purse" or bag for the winter.

I smile to myself as I consider exactly what characteristics that he might associate with "boyhood". I certainly still dress pretty tom-boyish compared to a lot of women out there, but I'm pretty big chested and don't really see myself as someone who would be mistaken for a boy (by adults).

"There are two of us, but Mommy's not a boy." I tell him.

He brings his hand to his mouth and cracks up because he thinks I am kidding: "That's silly, Mommy."

I laugh because because his giggles are infectious and because we have taught him to be comical and to assume that we are joking with him and to recognize teasing and appreciate a good joke. Last week I did something he thought was funny and he told me I was "hilarious"...

Katy and I have talked to JB about the "penis and vagina" thing as a way to differentiate between boys and girls, but that day in the ENT's office, no one was naked... and people are not always going to be naked when we are looking at them to decide if they are boys or girls; and gender is so much more complex than that.

The truth is that we have a lot of friends and family that fit into very stereotypical "girl" and "boy" labels. But we have a lot of friends and family that might blend or blur those labels either in the way they dress, or keep their hair, the way they act, the jobs they do, or the hobbies they enjoy. And frankly, I'm much more intrigued by his perspective. I'd rather spend this time learning the things that he thinks make someone a boy or a girl (for my own curiosity's sake) than drilling into him that girls have penis' and boys have vaginas (Strike that, Reverse it: I wrote that wrong, but I think I'll keep it wrong to let you measure how close that statement comes to making your head explode.)

"No it's true," I tell him. "Mommy is a girl and you are a boy. Mommy and Mama have two boys, you and ML, but we are both girls." He looks at me with a crooked smile waiting to see if I'm serious or not. Then we review the boys in our life and the girls in our life. He's fine with it. No more commentary. No questions. No discomfort. And a practically alarming lack of "whys" considering how often that word normally pops up in any discussion with him.

We finish the visit and he charms everyone with ongoing cuteness. On our way home, we stop at the mall and at one point run into a sales woman with a 1/2 inch long horseshoe shaped mustache. She was wearing a skirt, a v-neck shirt that advertised a push up bra and an ample bosom, and a pair of fashionable, women's high-heeled boots. She was working at Lord and Taylor and even my "well-educated, feminist, homosexual" brain was wondering if we were being "Punked". The mustache grew down beyond the corners of her mouth and the hair was dark and grew thickly. She did not seem to be old enough to be menopausal. I mentally applauded her courage. This juxtaposition of gender characteristics is rare in salespeople; and whatever the back story, she must face a fair amount of public scrutiny.

A different kid, a different day, a different moment, JB would have would have been all over this. He would have pointed to her and asked me about her "whiskers" because he is exceedingly attentive to details, incongruencies, and is generally curious about facial hair. But that day, he was totally un-phased.

Later, we're driving home after picking up ML from day care. JB and I pepper him with questions he can't answer, "How was your day, ML?" "What did you do?" "Did you have a good day?" "Are you hungry?" As we turn onto our street, JB sighs a satisfied sigh, like he just ate a good meal with some buddies and says, in his singsongy way that turns 2 syllables into 6: "Three boys..."

I laugh out loud. "Three boys? In this car?"

"Yes-" he starts to say, and then, "Nooooooooooooo..." his cooing elongates the word as if that is necessary to cover the mistake. He remembers: "You are a girl mommy."

We have a lot more conversations ahead of us. There will be a lot of car rides and times waiting together in offices and late night chats about the differences between boys and girls... And what it means to be a girl or to be a boy... And how to satisfy and combat the associated expectations of those labels... And why there is not a dad in our house and what that means and how that feels.

There will be a lot more to come about how some people are girls and some are boys and some are both and some look like one but feel like the other. There will be a lot coming up about how the world has generally treated girls and boys, set them apart, set them up to compete, and sometimes hurt each other or hold each other in contempt. We will have to discuss how history has sometimes been cruel to both genders and things can still be unfair and hurtful. There will be a lot about what it means to be a real man and how being tough and strong sometimes means standing up for yourself or others, and sometimes means holding someone while they cry, and sometimes means walking away and refusing to fight. There will be a lot about what being gay means and what being straight means and what being bi- means and how sexual orientation is different from gender identification.
We have a lot ahead of us in explaining this part of the world... but for now, I don't want him to care too much or even know too much about the difference. Right now, he is perfect not really understanding. We just have to give him a little so that he gets enough of it "right" at school that no one calls DCF on us!

I smile into the rear-view mirror: "I am a girl who loves my boys," I tell them.


Sarah said...

awesome post. just what i needed tonight!! Thanks!

June said...

Add this to your first book of essays...beautifully written and a great picture of our precocious Jake. Keep them coming!

Michelle said...

Great post! I am trying to raise my daughter up to believe, "Oh, two moms/dads, no biggie." I know i'm not the only one, and it is my hope that a couple generations from now, there will not be a lot that need be explained to kids about why some kids have two moms, two dads, two grandmas, one mom, etc. I hope...

Aaron said...

Have you seen this?

I love the fact that the kid immediately makes the inference to "You must love each other". And then just as fast he moves on to playing ping pong.

Tracy said...

yes, I saw this yesterday... awesome.
My favortie part is how he's like, "I ALWAYS SEE husbands and wives, but THIS IS THE VERY FIRST TIME I SEE A HUSBAND AND HUSBAND!!!"