The Cast: The neighbors across the street have a teenager boy named Trent, and then a couple-three younger kids who are in the HERD of neighborhood children that Maisy plays with. One night, the neighbors had friends over, and the friends had two kids: Teenager Jacob, who hung out with Trent, and a younger boy, Josiah, who joined the pack of Cul-De-Sac Littlies.
Necessary Exposition: A lot of these kids (but not all of them) have Razor Rip-Riders, which are like Big Wheels on Steroids. If you are unfamiliar, peep the video:
ALL The Cul De Sac Littlies LOVE to take turns zooming and skidding and spinning on those things. There are always more children than Rip-Riders, though, so it is not unusual to see an extra kid riding pillion.
Their little frontal lobes are not developed to the point where they can easily see that actions (standing on the back bar of a rip-rider and clutching the shoulders of the driver) can have consequences (falling in such a way that the asphalt peels every bit of your skin off).
So the other night, Maisy is having a turn on a Rip-Rider, and she looks up and sees the GUEST child, Josiah, standing off to the side, not getting a turn. One of Maisy Jane’s many nicknames is Julie-Your-Cruise-Director, because she is one of the most inclusive, socially adept children I have ever seen. NOT THAT SHE DOES NOT HAVE HER MOMENTS! She IS a ten year old girl, after all. But she is always pulling kids from the sidelines into the thick of things, and she’s been this way since she was two.
So she notices Josiah hanging back at the edge and says, “Hey Josiah, want to ride on the back?”
SO! Among many of the boys, there is an unwritten code about who can ride pillion with whom. OF COURSE THERE IS. Maisy Jane was utterly oblivious to it because girls can, with no subtext, ride pillion with anyone. Boys can’t ride behind a younger boy, or a smaller boy, or ANY girl. Period. Not without bringing great shame upon their houses and having to commit ritual seppuku with a Play-Doh knife.
So Maisy Jane, all unwitting, has basically emasculated this kid in front of GOD AND EVERYONE.
Josiah, who is all of 8 years old, tilts his head to a cocky angle, puts one hand up with his pointer finger extended and waves it back and forth like he is a guest on Jerry Springer, and says, “I don’t think so, bitch.”
A few minutes later, Maisy Miss Jane is in the house, pouring this all out into my lap, absolutely horrified. The jist: No one has ever TALKED to her like that before. It is NOT okay.
Me, I am torn between wanting to go pinch the kid’s head off and trying not to laugh because Maisy Jane is SUCH a good mimic. She puts her head to the side, waves that pointer finger, and NAILS the inflection, except what my sugar-mouthed and moderately prudish darling actually says is, “I don’t think so, B-word!”
Because she won’t cuss. She has never cussed. She is one of those rulesy kids who prefers repressing other children to rebelling. She can make a disapproving mouth that could rival the cruelest spinster aunt from 1857’s prim frown.
Also, you know, this is playground politics. If I get directly involved, she loses face, and once kids know being called the B word bugs her, it will of COURSE become her regulation name.
On another level, I feel exasperated, a little, because I watch how different a thing RACE is to my kids—when I went to school there would have been TWO Cul De Sac Crews, a black one and a white one. When my MOM went to school, there would have only been one because there would not have been any black kids in a white neighborhood and vice versa.
Maisy Jane and her contemporaries play in a wad of colors, all mixed up. They do not have THOSE lines, AND YET! Here is a tiny boy-bastion of my daughter’s generation perpetuating this, IF I RIDE BEHIND A GIRL MY PENIS WILL FALL OFF crap.
Me: Maisy Jane, you march your butt back out there. You go right up to him, and this is what you say, EXACTLY. You say, “Josiah, you will NOT call me a bitch. You will not call ANY girl a bitch. That is NOT okay.”
Her eyes get wide as owl eyes as I say the B word, right in front of her.
Maisy: No because then *I* am the cusser! I do not want to be the cusser! What if I say, ‘Josiah, you will not call me a B word. You will not call ANY girl a —
Me: No, no, no. Say bitch. You have to show him that word has no power over you, and you aren’t scared of it. You have to stand up for the principle, Maisy, otherwise, if he realizes how much the B word bothers you, he will just say it more to get your goat, and he’ll miss the point. This isn’t about the word, this is BIGGER than that. This is about the IDEA. You be bold. You march right up, and you say Bitch. Let me hear you say it.
Maisy *suspicious*: Will I get in trouble?
HERE I almost lose it, because she is searching my face carefully, seeking the MOM-trap. Like, if she ACTUALLY says bitch, I might leap up and say AHA! YOU CUSSED! YOU ARE GROUNDED FOREVERRRR BAHAHAHHAHAHHA.
Me: No ma’am. I don’t want you running around cussing every minute like a hootchipap, but in this case, I feel the word is justified.
Maisy: “Josiah, you will NOT call me a bitch. You will not call ANY girl a bitch. That is NOT okay!”
Oh, but she nailed it. Firm and strong and absolute. This will not stand! Excelsior! Alba gu bràth! Tonight We Dine in Hell!
I deployed 60 pounds of curly-topped righteous army, and went and secreted myself in the dining room sheers where I could watch this play out. I, of COURSE, could not be outside. Any hint of parental backing would make it a weak sister move. It had to be all Maisy. I couldn’t hear—I could only see the body language.
Here comes Maisy Jane, spine straight, head up, proud and righteous, SUPREMELY focused on her target, Josiah, who is sitting on her abandoned Rip-Rider, feckless and insouciant, by the storm drain.
SO focused is she, she does not see Trent and Jacob, the teenager boys, ambling up from another direction. They are deeply involved in some teenager boy conversation, so they do not much notice her, either.
As she marches into B word battle, the teenager boys are converge on that very spot, shambling into earshot exactly as she reaches Josiah, puts her hands on the hips, bends slightly at the waist and delivers her line, curls atremble with righteous fury.
Both teenagers do these simultaneous, huge, recoiling double takes.
Immediately, Jacob and Trent descend on upon poor, hapless Josiah. He shrinks down to the size of a buglet as they loom over him, gesticulating and finger shaking and CLEARLY eating the kid’s lunch. GOOD BOYS, I think…but.
I recognize the source. These events, they are both MAN things. Well, pre-man things. Did Jacob and Josiah’s actions grow from the same place? I think so, which is odd, because I love one behavior and I want to paddle the hind-end of the other. There is that lovely protective thing men can feel—watch some man hit me in the face, then see if Scott will let that fella live to draw another breath—and I want to retain that. This is valuable. It is a good thing I saw, watching those older boys unleash a nascent version of —-let’s call it chivalry—on my child’s behalf. I LIKE chivalry. It is the baby in the bathwater of discarded ideas, like chattel, and the ongoing idea of less-than.
You see, I suspect the “I don’t think so, B-word!” thing that says “I can’t ride pillion behind you because you are a chick and chicks are weak and less than I am” may be the soil this grows from. Is it a less mature version? Or the same thing in nicer clothes? Old School feminism says chivalry is ABSOLUTELY rooted in the idea of less-than, but those of us privileged to grow up in this post-feminist America of amazing opportunity want to KEEP that baby. Is the good part rooted in the bad? Do some men grow up PAST of the idea that less physically strong is…less of a person, or are they different things entirely? I post-femmishly want them to be different things.
Lord, these little men and women, how beautiful and terrible they are. I love to watch them staggering toward adulthood.
As for Maisy Jane, she dropped her first verbal B bomb in the service of justice and equality, with no idea that two teenage Batmans were about to magically appear and back her play; I could not be more proud. And then? She did not even stay to gloat and watch Josiah get reamed out by the teens. Instead, she pranced off to ride shameless pillion behind another of her friends on a different Rip-Rider, a little less innocent, but a little more bold.