I often think in half-baked comparisons that only I can understand. They flood my mind like movie snippets. And I pile them on like bangle bracelets. See? I know I do this, and l know they’re weird, but I feel compelled to force these thoughts on others. Constantly. At work. At home. I cannot stop myself. I’m aware that I don’t have a disciplined mind. I wish that I did. I want very much to complete an idea, to see the full arc of something and maybe to make myself understood. Or known. Instead, I’m a chronic starter of ideas. Someone who throws out an idea like:
It feels like we are in the mud season of gender roles in our house, everything that is exposed becomes messy, but it needs to exposed in order to allow later growth.
What I’m trying to say here is that my kids are working through what they experience as male and female at very different points of their development. I’m watching it and trying to exert benevolent influence over it. Maybe.
The six year old male child is all weaponry and bluster. If I could drop him off in ancient Sparta at a nice military compound he’d be thrilled. Until bedtime without a nightlight or someone to sing Sweet Baby James to him, then they’d send him back home on the next chariot. He’s still quite snuggly, but only on his terms. It’s not always easy for me to accept the swagger and the fighting themes. I’m probably a bit ham-handed in the way I react to any comments he makes that strike me as sexist. Until he sounds like the Alan Alda of his generation I will have trouble keeping my mouth shut when he talks about girls being this way and boys being that way.
The fourteen year old female is a bit more complicated. She’s just realizing the mess that femaleness past childhood brings. Corners of the world send her signals about being smaller, softer, less. Other places tell her it’s okay to be bold, as long as it’s not bossy or shrill, but cool and attractive to others. She holds her own in this adolescent arena, but it’s not always fun for her to be herself. I feel somehow responsible for this, and I suppose in many ways I am. I led her to believe that she should expect respect at all times. I told her she should throw her arms wide open and run into the sea of life and she would be embraced, buoyed, and lifted. I didn’t prepare her. Never warned her about the invisible fencing she’d come up against once she became a young woman. I didn’t have the language to share it with her, didn’t want to face it myself I suppose. Wished I had been able to pave the way better. Instead I stuffed her full of stories, poems, songs, and quotes about female strength and powerful beauty. Pretended I didn’t still have innumerable moments of rage and disgust at some of the gender expectations out there for her. I think I’ve done the equivalent of giving her a pair of white gloves and a pillbox hat to face a world of misogynistic tweets and diminished expectations.
I remember being angry and disgusted with my own mother for what I perceived as her weaknesses when I was a teenager. I wanted her to be bold, but she wasn’t. I wanted her to tell me, and all of my sisters really, to get out there and take what was ours in the world. She couldn’t, she didn’t have the language for it, just as I don’t have all of the language to help my own amazing girl navigate this terrain. And I probably won’t have the magic words to make sure my curious boy always grows his own strength from within instead of stealing bits of it from females later on. But I will keep trying, at least until I find a metaphor that fits.