I admit I find a lot of people guilty of idiotic statements that for some reason I allow to deeply annoy me. One high on my list is: “blah blah blah see how boys are different than girls because blah blah blah“. About a third of the time I’ll be telling a story about my son and how Hell On Wheels he is in some particular situation the person I’m talking to – without being asked, and for no reason relevant to the conversation – will offer up, “Well he’s a boy, and boys blah blah blah” or some such drivel. I never know exactly how to respond to this, because it’s annoying, and usually this person has selectively ignored the myriad of “girl” that my son exhibits (examples below), and bottom line, I think gender stereotyping in social conversation is just plain lazy (interesting: I have never heard the converse – someone attributing an aspect of my daughter’s more compliant persona to femaleness). There’s probably some really snappy phrase describing the phenomena of someone wanting to see a certain connection and lo and behold finding “examples” everywhere. Maybe I need to look that one up and arm myself with it.
In any case, speaking for our family, “boy” vs. “girl” seems to be most obviously delineated by genitalia differences and chromosomal count, less descriptive regarding my children’s preferences, affinities, or temperaments. For instance it is my son who loves pink, passionately enjoys gardening, cooking, and washing dishes, has a more forgiving nature, wears his blonde hair long by choice, adores playing with Barbies and watching Disney Princess films, and on lunch dates likes to eat a small salad and order Diet Coke and then for dessert a big piece of cheesecake because he’s been so good all day.
So understand the reason I was surprised that it was Sophie, and not Nels, who dropped trousers to piss in the small hedged-in hilled area behind the Hoquiam Transit station today is not because I think it is more “boy” to urinate in public places but because one thing about Nels is he has generally been rather free in general to mark territory with his urine. And why not? We’re an outdoor, active family. Kind of difficult to instruct a small child in the finessey differences when semi-public urination is a perfectly good solution (like a camping trip or long highway trip “bathroom break”) versus when it’s a kind of regrettable idea.
I think Sophie could have known better though, especially given there are perfectly normal actual bathroom facilities on the premises. In any case, I have no idea if the kids had ever previously peed back in this miniature no-mans-land, so in a way I’m glad the kiosk Transit employee caught my daughter red-handed.
The woman’s reaction, however, is near apopolectic.
I look up as she’s striding toward the kids and yelling, “No, NO! No!” In fact her voice is raised so angrily that for a moment I feel a stab of fear that something terrible has happened. Then I hear the woman continue in a thundering lecture: “You don’t do that back here!” as my children obediantly and with open, agreeable faces trot out from the shrubbery, my daughter re-seating her linen pants and heading towards the bathroom.
Witnessing this interaction I feel sadness, disappointment, and anger. A month ago this same woman had spoken nearly as harshly to my son for the grevious sins of attempting to make a call on the public phone (which was in fact out of order), and a few minutes later, not sitting in one spot on the cold metal bench I was located (adults are, of course, allowed to roam freely). In the case before I’d disliked how rude this woman was to my son but I’d figured hey, she was having a bad day or whatever. Even now as she stomps behind my children I’m thinking I’ll just file away her behavior and give her another chance next time because of course my kids are doing something “naughty” that to those without small children could seem shocking.
But no, even as the kids have obeyed and are on their way back towards me she’s still angrily lecturing on the point that they need to use the bathroom and not the bushes (I counted, and she literally repeated this four times). Sophie and Nels are now of their own volition in the restroom washing their hands (see? their manners are actually quite Fancy) as she barks at them from a few feet away.
So I step forth and say, “Ma’am. Ma’am. I’m sorry, I can see you’re upset. But you really don’t need to use that tone.”
She’s angry but is attempting to avoid eye contact. She starts in, for the fifth time, to explain to me the problem. I hear her out for a minute and say, “I completely understand. I will talk to them,” I promise, “but this is the second time we’ve been here you’ve spoken to them in that tone, and I can assure you it isn’t necessary.”
This brings her up short. Someone has actually watched and noted how she treats the public? Who’d have thought? “Well good then, okay, fine,” she says, stomping off, admitting a kind of defeat: upset I’d confronted her (as anyone might be) but grudgingly convinced in my overall Decency because I had not defended my child’s right to soil the public facilities willy-nilly.
(Incidentally, as we waited for the bus we did see the Transit’s Code of Conduct posted on the wall. Rule #3 reads “No spitting, urinating, or defecating.” I guess they do have to spell it out, even to some grownups. By the way, I heard later from a friend this exact woman had had the unfortunate circumstance of discovering a grown man’s bowel movement back in the bushes, on an earlier occasion. Once bitten, twice shy I suppose).
Sitting with the kids and I make sure they understand the decorum I expect of them at the transit station. I’m a little irritated, rubbed raw in the way I get when I feel the world is unfair to my kids. “I’m sorry she spoke so rudely to you,” I wind up.
“I didn’t mind,” Sophie says. Yeah, and I get it, because I know I raise my voice in a similar assy fashion to them, they’ve heard it before – and some days more than once. But perhaps even more striking, I’ve observed children seem to have a more rugged Ego when it comes to being corrected in public. It’s like they hear what the person is saying and aren’t as angry or defensive as an adult might be. This is a humbling thought; and a great trait I’d like to have myself.
But when it comes down to it, my kids don’t have to mind one way or another, and I’m not one to swoop them up in big, protective arms each time the world is a shit to them. But every now and then I do say something to adults who think it’s perfectly permissible to speak to children as if they were second-class citizens.
We continue on our way, loading the Xtracycle up on the bus and venturing out for Sophie’s soccer gear and some groceries. We arrive back home at four o’clock, a day without driving, a beautiful sunny one at that.