We’ve all had them: those conversations with our children in the car that start out simply enough and invariably result in a far more loaded thought process than anticipated or, frankly, desired. You know, like when your six-year-old asks you from the booster seat how babies are made. Or when your eight year old learns the word “asshole” as you spew it at the driver of the car that cut you off. Stuck in the tight quarters that are one’s car, uncomfortable, unplanned and perhaps undesired follow-through on said queries is a sure bet.
Such was the situation I found myself in earlier this afternoon whilst I was chauffeuring Jessie to her art lesson which, while totally fabulous, is located in the most headache inducing part of town you could possibly imagine. Add to that the fact that I had worked all morning, rushed to get her at school and had to further hurry to make it to an appointment I had, it is fair to say that I was not quite in the mood for anything heavy. I had dutifully greeted her at school with a snack and a bottle of chocolate milk and hoped that she would chatter about the events of the day or maybe even her excitement for her lesson. At first, all was going to plan. She sucked down the milk, turned her nose up at the (yummy, delicious, fresh from the oven) chocolate chip bagel I lovingly brought her and chastised me for not remembering that it was me, not her, who likes them (yeah, I ate it…don’t judge me). We chatted a bit about the traffic and how insanely cold it was. All was fine. Until, as things go in these parts, they weren’t.
“Do I look like a girl?” she asked, very matter-of-factly, with no bravado or particular intensity. Really? Today? The same day that I happened to look at you and think to myself that you looked more like a boy than you had just last week? (I was quite sure I hadn’t said it aloud, but I will admit to wondering if perhaps I had.) I am not sure what it was about her appearance that felt so, well, masculine. She was in a simple outfit: jeans, sneakers and a white Disney World hoodie (which, admittedly, was purchased for George upon getting caught in a torrential downpour several years ago). She had put particular care into her hair this morning, rising early to flat-iron it to within an inch of its life resulting in a coiffure reminiscent of the Japanese straightening technique favored by curly tops like myself. (Note: Jessie’s hair is not curly.) Yeah, one would think that would “feminize” her, but alas, it seems to have yielded the opposite result. Bump.
As we were side by side in the car, sitting in traffic, there was little to distract from the question. I was forced into an honest answer: “sometimes you look very much like a girl, other times you look more like a boy” I replied. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than I wished I could have suctioned them back in. I wanted to be honest, but not mean. I wanted to support and protect her. I wanted to turn the radio to top volume to drown out any further conversation. Damn, can nothing be easy?
Not content to leave well enough alone (or not quite well enough, as the case may be) she inquired as to a time when she looked particularly “girlish”. That was easy. Just a week or so ago she was in an adorable (age appropriate) dress, her hair blown out (by me) with the bangs pulled back in an assemblage of about fifteen bobby pins, her behavior demur. She was all girl. But I could just as easily point out a decidedly less feminine presentation when she was in Levi’s, a plain navy zip front sweatshirt, her hair a hot mess of knots, crooked parts (yes, there were more than one) and about two days past the point where it should have been washed. I am willing to bet that there were some farts thrown in for good measure, too.
It is all okay, though. It is all part of this ever-increasing foray into gender fluidity. And, I will admit, it all throws me a little off kilter. Just when I stop stumbling over the pronouns and calling her Jessie, she oozes into another sphere of gender and leaves me scratching my head. Just when I think, “I’ve got this” I start to wonder if I really do. And just when I think we are on a straight trajectory, I am reminded that we definitely are not.
“Do I look like a girl” she asked. I am beginning to think that there is no correct answer to that question. Bump.