Lately, Jack has been singing what he calls the “Lady Song”. While singing it he moves his arms slowly and gracefully. His movements are almost balletic, similar to the flowing arm movements of a traditional Hula dancer. And in a very soft, gentle voice, he will sing something along the lines of,
“Lady. Flowers. Beautiful. Christmas.”
It is always slow and quiet and soothing. He often requests that I sing the “Lady Song” (which I don’t actually know) when he wants to be lulled into sleep.
Then there is Kristin Davis. No, not the cute brunette from Sex and the City— the former “Manhattan Madam” of the glossy pink lips, bleached blonde hair, and pronounced cleavage that ran for Governor of New York State. When I am checking the mail, I frequently give some of the junk to the boys to peruse, just to keep them occupied. They will happily flip through a Land’s End catalog or look at the Phat Albert’s circular while we wait for the elevator or while I search for my keys. During the lovely Ms. Davis’s campaign we were inundated with soft focus, glamour shots of her stamped with provocative campaign slogans. One day I handed one over to Jack.
He was immediately smitten.
He gripped her head shot in his little hand. He stared at it. He kissed it. For a few weeks he would ask for his “Lady” picture before he left the house. In his seat, in the lower-deck of the stroller, he would clutch it tightly and gaze at it. More than once he fell asleep in the stroller, her photo pressed to his cheek.
I was shocked and a bit horrified by these obvious demonstrations of clear ideas about gender and female beauty that my child had developed at such a tender age. It didn’t come from me, of that I’m pretty sure. So where did it come from? Could this be nature at work?
And it’s not just Jack. Once when Zeke was about 15 months old, we rode the Q train into Manhattan pretty early on a Saturday morning. Sitting across from us were two youngish “ladies” who were wearing lots of makeup and not much clothing. They were clearly heading home after a fun-filled Friday night. Zeke was sitting in my lap while I stared into the vague middle distance, lost in thought, when my attention was caught by the enthusiastic cooing and clapping of my young son. He was mesmerized by these women. He stared intently as one of them applied lip gloss. He flirted with them, playing peek-a-boo, smiling broadly, and waving.
The women were completely charmed. They laughed and smiled back, waved at him and exchanged giggly comments about how adorable he was until they reached their stop. When they got off of the train, Zeke followed them with his eyes, waving, and eagerly shouting “Bye-Bye!”, clearly trying to extract the last bit of their alluring feminine attention.
Recently, we went to a gathering at a family friend’s house. There were two tweenish girls there. They were all braces and lip gloss, skinny jeans and flat-ironed hair, and they sat sullenly at the margins of the party, rolling their eyes, slouching and texting. As I mentally thanked the good Lord that I do not have daughters, I watched Zeke size them up and wander into their general vicinity. He lingered casually with his Lego Star Wars guys, just close enough that they just might talk to him.
Of course they noticed him. He’s an adorable, floppy-haired, pink-cheeked little moppet.
“Oh look at him! Look at those blue eyes!” they squealed. “What are you playing with, cutie?”
And Zeke went in full force, talking to them at length about the coolest possible topic he could think of– STAR WARS! It was an endless incomprehensible monologue and he shifted nervously as he described in complex detail the way he was setting up his guys and the incredible adventures they were having. My heart ached for him. I could hear, from the lowered pitch of his voice and the way he was peppering his speech with “totally cools” and “that’s so awesome, rights?” how hard he was striving to impress these girls, and as I watched their eyes glaze over and listened to their perfunctory “uh-huh’s” and as I heard Zeke’s speech drag on and on and on, it was all so painfully clear:
Girls are going to happen to him.
This little scene will be re-enacted again and again and again and his poor little heart is going to hurt, and I’m just his Mom, and nothing I say is ever going to make girls anything less than devastatingly hard.
Then one of them interrupted him and said,
“So, which one of us do you think is prettier? Me right? Don’t you think that I look just like Megan Fox?”
And instantly, I wanted to cut a bitch. Why do girls have to be so much more sophisticated and freaking conniving than sweet, sincere little boys? Doesn’t she see how hard he’s trying? Couldn’t she play along just a little bit, and make him feel good about himself?
And that was when I noticed the chocolate ice-cream painting a pencil-thin mustache across Zeke’s face. Without thinking, I automatically dipped a napkin into my water glass, walked over, and began dabbing him clean.
Time slowed as I noticed the smirks emerge on the girls’ faces and watched Zeke squirm angrily away from me. How much more uncool had I just unconsciously made my poor little boy feel? And are these the roles we are just going to fall into without thinking, moms and sons, girls and boys, awkwardly interacting until somehow self-confidence takes over for him and this stuff doesn’t feel so fraught? Or is this all just me?
A few weeks later, we took the boys to First Saturday at the Brooklyn Museum. Zeke and his Dad were off checking out the galleries while Jack and I listened to jazz in the atrium. Jack was dancing when I noticed him notice a curly-maned brunette in a cute red flapper-style dress. She was sitting alone, bopping her head to the music. He walked directly up to her, passionately embraced her legs, and exclaimed loudly,
“I like you!”
She melted instantly, beamed at him, and gave him a hug back. Then she took his little hands in hers and danced with him for the rest of the song. I glowed with joy. It felt so good to watch someone appreciate my delightful little boy, just as much as I do.
It occurred to me as I watched them dancing, that when we are very young, we are naturally sincere, but that it is not until we are a bit more mature that we really appreciate and value sincerity.
My boys are going to reach out to all kinds of girls, some of them the plastic polar opposite of what I would deem appropriate. And I can’t do much more than watch uncomfortably and assure them, if and when they’ll listen, that there are girls out there who will appreciate them for just exactly who they are. Even if that is the same corny shit that I found completely unhelpful when I was young and insecure and my Mom said it to me.
I’ve got my role to play.