It’s getting chilly at the outdoor movie but most of the moviegoers are braving the cold. My daughter is clad in a soft sea-blue hoodie that highlights her perfect coloring, the freckles on her nose, the roses on her cheeks. She jogs easily through the crowd while carrying a balloon, her face relatively expressionless. Her eyes fall on me and just as she reaches my outstretched hands she begins to cry, surprising me: “They called me a sissy girl!”
“They”. A few boys my children have spent the last half-hour running around with; I’d noted one of them using a lady friend’s cane to perform mock-bludgeon on my son, who’d seemed agreeable to the scheme. I suppose my children are playing with these boys because they’re of about the right age and have parents or caregivers also relatively lax in their play range. I am surprised and displeased a bit at the company my children are keeping tonight: Sophie reveals to me that not only did they call her a sissy girl but they also insisted repeatedly my son Nels was a girl – depsite his protestations of the fact – because he has long hair (notice: having a vagina, or any trait that might hint at having a vagina = bad).
I am as human as the next mother, meaning that since their cruelty caused my daughter to cry a part of me wants to seek out these boys and beat the shit out of them. This is only a very small part of me; I do know these are children (and when I think of the likely adults who contribute to this sort of thing, I just get a wee headache and a bleak feeling of exhaustion). It helps in a moment like this that I have no doubts, none, that my children can withstand meanness on their own and come up with their own solutions (after all, Sophie and Nels do train one another in this regard).
Sure enough, the solace my daughter found in my arms immediately satisfies and she is no longer crying. “I want to find them again…” she is looking about. “I need a name to call them. Help me think of one.”
I say a very naughty word. As I predicted, she laughs and shakes her head. “No, nothing with the s-word or the f-word or anything like that.”
We sit for a few beats, then I ask: “Where do you think they learned to speak that way about girls?”
“From their grownups,” she replies.
I wait a second longer to see if she has anything else to say before I continue: “Well, do you really want to call them a name? How did it make you feel when they did that to you?”
“Bad,” she says, her eyes filling with tears again. Then her focus turns inward: she’s thinking. I can tell she’s discarded the idea of verbal retribution.
“I’m going to find them,” she announces. “If they call me a name again I’ll come back here to stay,” she says firmly.
And off she goes.
My children played most of the day today: with other, better-behaved (as far as I know) children, with their grandmother, and with their father. Lots and lots of bike and park time. I had a pretty good day too – a yoga retreat, a potluck, bike riding, visiting with friends, hosting a miniature luncheon, garage sale-ing, sunshine, sewing, dinner at a favorite restaurant.
But I think one of the best things that happened was once the outdoor movie started and our kids flooded back to Ralph and I immediately (we had been of no interest to them before that as we could not compete with the free-range play to be had in the green grass of the stadium) and Nels climbed up on my lap and giggled at the parts of the movie – his laugh makes my heart sing! – and periodicaly picked up my hand and kiss it tenderly.