By Gwen Rockwood
On our way home from school each day, we pass a big wooden sign advertising a new shopping center that’s coming soon. Just above the “now leasing” banner, there are several silhouettes of women in high heels with long hair, dangling purses and shopping bags from their delicate wrists. One day last week, as we zipped past the familiar sign, 6-year-old Adam made a pronouncement:
“I don’t like that sign,” he said.
“What’s wrong with that sign?” I asked.
“It’s got girls on it,” he said. “I don’t like girls.”
“Really? Why don’t you like girls?” I asked.
“Because they’re yucky, kind of,” he answered.
“Oh,” I said. “Did you know that I’m a girl?”
“No, you’re not a girl,” he corrected. “You’re a mom. Moms are womans. And womans are okay.”
“Oh, I see. I guess that’s lucky for me,” I said.
That was the end of the conversation. Adam is a boy of few words, but he holds steadfast to his core beliefs – the newest one being “Girls are gross.” In the first few months of kindergarten, I’d ask him who he played with at recess and the answer – about half the time – was a girl. But sometime during the course of the school year, the kids waged a gender war. It’s pink versus blue, frilly versus manly. Strawberry Shortcake versus Spiderman. If allowed, the kids will immediately segregate to boys’ and girls’ tables during lunch.
Lately when Adam talks about school recess, he recounts the make-believe battles waged by he and his buddies, the Power Rangers, against the forces of evil. The girls are never part of the story and no one ever speaks of the pink Power Ranger.
I gained more insight into Adam’s rigid stance on girls last weekend during movie night. When 3-year-old Jack picked the movie “Shrek,” Adam flatly refused to see it.
“No, I don’t like Shrek,” he said. “We can’t watch that one.”
“Why not?” I asked. “You used to like Shrek. We’ve seen it a million times.”
“I can only watch Shrek 3,” he said. “Not Shrek 1 or Shrek 2 because those have kissing in them, and I don’t like kissing.”
“Oh, I understand,” I said. “You don’t like it when Shrek and Fiona kiss. Is that right?”
“Right. Kissing is very kind of yucky,” he said. “That’s what girls do. They kiss and they get married. I don’t want to get married.”
“Well, you’re not going to get married for a long, long time,” I said. “But it’s not a bad thing. Did you know that Dad and I are married?”
“Yes, but you didn’t do it when I was there,” he said. “You got married and then you had a baby and that baby was me.”
“Yep, that’s how it happened,” I said. Then I quickly changed the subject so things wouldn’t detour into “Where do babies come from” before I’m ready to answer. We picked a kiss-free movie and started the show.
I think it’s all pretty funny. I laugh when Adam squishes up his face at the girly shopping center sign. It takes me back to second grade when a cute little boy followed me around the school playground constantly. He had just come out of his “girls are gross” phase but I was still staunchly anti-boy. Completely disgusted by his attention, I spent most of second grade ignoring him.
Fast forward 10 years to my senior English literature class. Sitting in the desk directly behind that same, now grown-up boy, I thought I would absolutely die of sorrowful longing if he didn’t turn around and talk to me after class. He was the farthest thing from gross, and I internally berated myself for ruining my chances with him in the second grade. What had I been thinking?
Some day before I’m ready, Adam will reverse his position on girls and decide that the frilly girls who grossed him out are the same ones he won’t be able to stop thinking about. The same ones he’ll spend far too much time talking to on his cell phone. The same ones he’ll one day take out for dinner and a movie – a kissing movie. And I, his gender-neutral mother, will stand by and remember a much different time – a time when boys were Power Rangers and girls were “very kind of yucky.”