Saturday, September 9, 2006

Gotta be a Girl

Gotta be a Girl
Meg Ferrante

My oldest son is going through a kid’s catalog and among the art kits, rocket ships, musical instruments and geography globes, he’s picked out a favorite item: a sewing machine.

I know plenty of moms are probably jealous of this. I know some of my friends (the crunchy ones who ban Kool-Aid except to dye their wool, who shun Barbie and Power Rangers for sticks and sand) would give their left Birkenstock to have their boys be thus enlightened. I can almost hear the rousing feminist cheer. A year ago I would have said I was proud to be raising a boy without borders, with an interest in the world instead of just transportation machinery. Lately, I’m less certain. These days, a passing notice of pro football just might be a welcome relief.

He's giggling, dancing, twirling and I swear his eyes are twinkling. Like in those cleaning product ads when the floor shines a fake little sparkle… DING!

“Why are you so cute?” I say.

“It's because,” he says and he grins huge, “I'm wearing a headband.”

The headband goes to bed with him.

I tell him how thankful I am he's in my life.

“You mean you're thankful for Savannah the Girl Jet Plane, Mom."

He’s just back from a basketball game with Dad and I’m soon to mark this down as The Night it All Began.

“What did you think?” I ask him.

“Great, Mom!”

“What was your favorite part?”

No hesitation, “The Trick Girls!”

Trick Girls? Without mention of basketball, players or scoring, I get to hear over the next hour how the ‘Trick Girls’ came on at breaks and halftime – in a fairly limited amount of clothing – and did splits and jumps and backflips and all sorts of tumbly things. I get to see every day over the next several months how a Trick Girl walks, talks and well, does her tricks. I watch my son attempt to adapt his little boy clothing into a tight fitting, short-short Trick Girl suit. The closest he comes is a very small, snap-crotch romper left over from his early 3T days. He complains endlessly that he just doesn’t have the right outfit.

And so it goes. We play girl firefighter, girl dog, girl waiter. After seeing a local production of Peter Pan, we aren’t Peter (who wears tights for cripes sake, why not Peter?) but rather ‘Wendy the Girl in the Dress.’ A book from the library about Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees? Why of course – it’s Glitta the Girl Monkey.

“Tell Lucca his sister is hiding over here,” he shouts from behind the green chaise.

I don’t know who is more confused -- him, the “sister’s” little brother or me.

We thought the 2004 Summer Olympics might open his eyes to both sexes in action in many various amateur achievements. But he was all about girls’ gymnastics and cried when they got the silver. Sigh. Well, at least he’s not just “The Girl Gymnast.” He has assumed the name Courtney Kupets instead.

The Mortifying Restaurant Incident took the cake.

We were climbing into a booth, Robby sliding in quickly ahead of me, when the table leg stopped him short.

“Ouch!” he yelled.

“What is it?” I said, looking over to the next table where four set of older adult eyes had swung our direction at the sound of the shout. Oh, where is a time machine when you need one? Where is the FCC with that bleep button that drowns out callers cursing on the radio? If only I’d coughed loudly during the fateful statement that followed.

“I just bumped my vagina!”

I’m a mom who doesn’t even wear makeup, let alone hair bows and girl clothes. The only nail polish I own is 12 years old, clear-colored and used to stop runs in the one pair of panty hose I wear to Christmas Eve midnight Mass once a year. Where, I cry, is this girly girl stuff coming from?

“It’s a stage,” says my mother.

“It’s only bothering you because it’s repetitive,” says my friend Katy. “Anything repetitive is annoying.”

“He's learned it's good to be a girl and that's okay,” says my mother-in-law.

Why am I not as calm as all these people? Then again, have their four-year-olds taken to wearing leotards and using feminine monikers? For the record, even hubby is calmer about this than me. His only concern is that if it keeps up, Robby’s going to be in for one heck of a walloping from the first bully he meets.

I step back and try to take a pragmatic look at the whole situation. Pre-baby, my husband and I discussed the possibility of raising a tomboy. We both said that if we ever had a girl, she'd be out camping with us, hunting and fishing and going to ballgames with Dad. You know, it never once came up how if we had a boy he would love to watch chick flicks and comb the thrift stores with me.

I hold back for as long as I can humanly muster, but finally ask Robby why pretending to be a girl is so important to him. “Because,” he says, in immediate and perfect response, “I just really want to have a baby some day.”

Now how beautiful is that? So what the hell is wrong with my son being a Trick Girl? Do I worry about his adulthood – that he might be gay or transsexual? Haven’t I always said that would never matter to me, only his happiness would?

Why is it fine for girls to be more boy-like… but not for boys to want to pretend they’re a girl? I have stood up for my right to be who I want ever since my seventh-grade ERA project. So where does that leave me now? And how ashamed am I that this is bugging me? Still. I can’t help but toss up a silent prayer for my deepest wish -- that this whole girl phase will soon pass.

Today he’s wearing a backpack. Filled with outdoor supplies – a pair of binoculars, a compass, a small bug net. A plastic golf club is tucked in his waist band. I feel buoyant. At last we’re exploring a gender-neutral adventure.

“Are you going on a hike?” I ask, gesturing to the club that I assume is a walking stick.

“No, Mom…”

It turns out he’s dressed not for camping, but for combat.

“I’m a soldier,” he says, “and I’m going to kill some people.”

Sigh. And sigh again. The ubiquitous motherly sigh.

Careful what you wish for.

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