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Maisy Says The B Word

Maisy on the Stairs, photographed by Erin Virginia Jackson


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.

Josiah, if his big brother is any measure, will not always be a prat. Is it the same thing? I am asking, Beloveds, can we keep one and yet get rid of the other?

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.

38 comments to Maisy Says The B Word

  • elizabeth

    Parenting is hard work. The end.

  • Jill W.

    Great story. Great parenting moment and Go Maisy!

    I get your femininist point, but it could have as easily been a girl calling her a B, maybe not from the same motivation. And it could have easily been girls coming to her rescue. That’s just being good folks.

  • Jen H.

    I do not have an answer for your questions, but I dearly dearly hope the next time I am faced with some parenting crises of this ilk that I will stop and take a deep breath and ask “What would Joshilyn do?” for truly thou art parenting genius!

  • Too bad The Yellow Knight wasn’t there to ceremoniously scoop Maisy Jane to sit with him (side saddle of course) atop his noble steed while lowering his lance to lay waste to Josiah. Just sayin’. THEN. . .OH THEN. . .Maisy could have delivered her speech from horse back looking down upon Josiah’s 8 year old remains after which The Yellow Knight would deposit her on your door step. Chivalry AND principle. THAT is what I’m talkin’ about.

  • BTW–Erin’s photo of Maisy is GORGEOUS. GOR-GEE-US.

  • Ohhh you win parenting 😉

  • 1. Maisy Jane ROCKS!

    2. Your parenting skills in this instance were spot on.

    3. Chivalry does not mean ladies are lesser. Properly done, chivalry protects decency and honor without ever considering it weak. The word “chivalry” is historically rooted in the actions of men and women’s actions are not called chivalrous, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t.

  • Brigitte

    Ditto, Fran!

  • I like to believe chivalry (or as I call it, “Good Behavior”) is less about men protecting women than it is about people helping each other because it is The Right Thing To Do. Regardless of gender – this is about age, about ability, about who has their hands full at the moment a door needs to be opened. If I hold a door open for someone carrying things, that is the right thing to do. When I’m refused because the person with their hands full is an older male who insists that he must hold the door so I can enter first, that is silly. So is a woman taking offense to having a door held for her by a man, if he happened to arrive first. It isn’t about judging someone to be “less than,” simply offering a smidgen of teamwork to another person just because. In the same way, the Josiahs of this world need to learn that riding behind a girl is perfectly acceptable if she is the one with the Rip Rider at that moment.

  • Go Maisy! What an excellent lesson in standing up for herself, and in the proper use of the B-word! And good for you for coaching her on how to handle it herself. I’m not sure many moms would have the ability to suppress the desire to go paddle that boy’s disrespectful rear in order to think of the greater lesson for their own littles. Well done!

    With respect to the other question, of girls being perceived as less-than by boys and chivalry – I do think that chivalry has its roots in less-than thinking. It all goes back to that damsel-in-distress nonsense, where the damsel NEEDS to be rescued by the dashing prince because she couldn’t possibly escape the situation on her own; all she can do is scream and sigh and faint. HOWEVER. People change and evolve, and our societal attitudes change and evolve, and while there is still a long way to go to reach true gender equality, I think we can all agree it’s way better now than it was 500 years ago. And I think that, along with all of that evolving, the modern chivalry has nothing whatsoever to do with protecting we the weaker sex. It’s much more as Sandi has described it – just doing what is kind and decent and courteous. I do like to feel that my husband is protective of me – but not because I’m less-than; rather simply because he loves me and wants to protect me. I want to stand up for and protect him too, because I love him. When it comes to strangers on the street, I will gladly accept help offered in a kind and courteous spirit from ANY stranger, male or female, and will offer my help to the next person when I am able. Modern chivalry = being a good person. I won’t pretend there aren’t men (and women) out there who think women are somehow less-than and act accordingly, but I do prefer to think that *most* people in this day and age realize that’s not true.

  • I think one is about respect and the other is about disrespect. I think you can have chivalry without the disrespect some feminists place on such actions. What I cannot abide is the attitude that being a girl is somehow less. That there are things you cannot do because you are a girl. “You throw like a girl.” “He screamed like a little girl.” With girl being practically sneered in a most horrible fashion. One of the neighborhood boys told my daughter she couldn’t do something because she was a girl. He was 5. She was 6. I hate this because while I will never play touch football or climb Mount Everest or be Prime Minister of Great Britain, it’s not because I’m a girl. It’s because I have a horrible back, I’m out of shape, I don’t want to, and I’m not British. I tell my kids that boys are awesome and girls are awesome. I really want them to view the opposite sex the way they do those of differing races: perhaps noting the differences but caring not a whit.

  • Mir

    This is my favorite post of yours EVER.

    That’s all.

  • Michelle-who-is-Shelley

    I don’t want to take away from what the teen boys did, but are you sure it was chivalry? Maisy Jane was already leading the charge of righteous fury. She had the power. She was not the damsel in distress, and they merely backed her up. Would they have done the same if they had been there when the boy pointed his finger and called your lovely and friendly daughter the B word?

  • I love this post. Love.

    If the two olders had been older girls instead of older boys (and certainly, Maisie will be this kind of older girl), we wouldn’t be discussing whether we need to question the psychology behind their behavior. I agree with Sandi–this isn’t so much chivalry as Good Behavior.

    Did I mention that I love this post?

  • paulabuck

    I love this post and the comments. I will be filing this under “Things to say to my kids when…”

  • Chivalry was born out of courtly love, which was all about paying tribute to the beauty and honor of a woman, not necessarily rescuing her. So, true chivalry — protecting a woman’s honor — is still something that’s worthwhile, in my opinion. Because while I might be able to fight back physically and even stand up for myself verbally, if some boy goes around telling everybody he “got” me, then there’s not a whole hell of a lot I can do about that except tell everybody that it’s not true, though there’s no guarantee they’ll believe me because a juicy story is always way better than the truth. Not that I know anything about that or anything. I think I sort of got off topic there for a second and I’m not sure I made my point, but what I was trying to say was that I think chivalry can be a wonderful thing. I mean, one of the best parts of a song ever is when the Coward of the County exacts revenge on the Gatlin boys for “taking turns” with Becky, amirite?

    And for what it’s worth, I would have paid good money to see Maisy Jane (who CANNOT be 10 — we all know she’s still barely 3) stand up to that boy.

  • Kathy

    Fantastic and thought provoking post! You get a gold star in parenting for that one!

  • Maisy, you are AWESOME! I don’t think I could have stood up for myself at age 10, even with the (truly excellent) parental pep-talk. This was a totally appropriate use of A Bad Word.

    I like to think this is more of a stand up for what’s right/look out for the younger ones thing than a chivalry thing. Good for those boys for jumping in and backing Miss Maisy Jane.

    Also: ZOMG! BEAUTIFUL photo of Maisy on the stairs!

  • I teach my boys to be gentleman, and they see their dad always opening doors for me and letting me go first, etc… BUT, this is also in their world where their sister can whip their tails, should she choose to do so. A few weeks ago, Haydn was pitching and the other team had a girl player. When she came up to bat, he struck her out. He took as much pleasure in doing so as he would have for a boy batter. I told him I am proud of him. If a girl is playing with the boys, then play like she’s a boy. If she were afraid of the ball, she wouldn’t be out there to begin with, so do not go easy on her. On the flip side, you don’t purposely go harder on her because she is a girl and you are a boy and think you are better. Neither extreme is acceptable.

    PS I LOVE that you had your girl tell the kid off. I would have done the same.

  • Aimee

    O! M! G!!!

    This post is perfection. I love it. I love your lesson to Maisy, and I love that she carried out your advice so precisely.

    And that picture of Maisy is striking.

    As for chivalry, I would like to think that it can be a separate thing. More and more, it seems like basic politeness is just getting tossed by the wayside. People don’t say please and thank you. People let the door close rather than holding it for someone right behind them, they slam the phone down. It makes me sad. I think there are plenty of men out there who can open a door for a lady because it’s a nice thing to do, not because they think that she can’t (or shouldn’t) open it for herself. I believe that chivalry and feminism can exist hand in hand, as long as the chivalry is not served with a side of condescension.

  • Jennifer Kepesh

    You can be as proud as you want to be of Miss Maisy, but I will tell you that you nailed Intermediate Parenting. Many of us know that what you did is the right thing to do. The thing is, you did it in the moment, instead of realizing 36 hours later what you should have done.

  • Wonderful!!! and not to worry . . . Good men standing up for a woman and her rights and dignity enhance, not diminish, her power. Every stage of the feminist movement enjoyed the involvement and support of strong and intelligent men, who saw equality as a strengthening of all, not the diminishing of some . . . (oh, and I did, really, LOL)

  • Diane Russom Harrison

    MAISY AND HER MAMA BOTH ROCK!

  • Chris

    This is wonderful – I am truly in awe of this perfect parenting moment.

  • Jessica (the celt)

    I don’t believe chivalry is born out of a “less than” mentality. I am “the woman who could,” which basically means that if you tell me I cannot do something, I will prove you wrong. (Alas, I still cannot fly under my own power, but I am still devising schemes!) However, I have married “the man who wants to help,” otherwise known as the kindest, most compassionate and loving man in the entire world. His own mother asked me how I trained him to be as kind as he is. I did not train this man for anything! He came that way! I don’t know how his own mother missed this development, but everything was included in the package when I purchased. I didn’t even have to buy batteries separately!

    That said, if I am driving, I will unlock his door for him instead. I open one door for him and he opens the other for me (when there are two in an entryway). We take care of each other. We stand up for each other (try to say something bad about this guy, and I will bite your head off) and are fiercely loyal to each other AND to our friends and family.

    Chivalry is about kindness. It’s about putting others first. Feminism killed that in some ways (I will admit, no matter how much it pains me), because now no one wants to help anyone else for fear that they will be snapped at, “I can do that myself, you know!” I don’t care if you are a man or a woman, you should stand up for the little guy or gal. If you get to the door first, YOU open for the person behind. Anyone who is less strong (physically or otherwise) deserves someone who is able to stand up for them and, spine straight, declare, “You will NOT act in that manner to this human being!”

    How about we get the point where chivalry is expected of everyone, man or woman. How about we get to the point that every girl can not only say, “You will NOT call me a bitch!”, but also will say, “And you won’t call anyone else one either!” and mean it.

    (In other words, you done good, Joss. You done real good.)

  • Christine in Los Angeles

    Apropro nothing at all – when we were young-ish, my Mum told my sisters and me: there’s nothing a man can do that a woman can’t – except father a child, but by the same token, nothing you can do that he can’t – except give birth. We’re slowly getting to the point where only physical (in)ability stops us from doing ‘guy-things’. And, some day, I shall be Queen of California, because, after all, I am British !!!
    Go Maisy.
    God bless, Christine

  • edj

    I was going to wax all profound but I read the comments and I don’t need to. I agree that “chivalry” is “respect” under another name, and that Josiah will hopefully turn out ok, and that you rock and that pic rocks and this was the best post ever!

  • :applause:
    :standing ovation:
    :whistles & cheers:

    That was amazing!
    Lesser be damned. I love when a dude opens and holds a door for me. About the only act of chivalry this old married woman gets anymore. I always reward the holder with my biggest brightest “oh-you-the-most-kindest-man-in-the-world” smile. But I will also hold a door for a man if he’s the next person to be coming through. I don’t think it’s polite to just let it slam in his face.

    Yay for Maisy. I’m so proud of you both!

  • DebR

    I read this post yesterday (and loved it) but didn’t comment because I couldn’t seem to organize the thoughts swirling around my head into coherent sentences. Then I came back today to see what other comments had been posted (because your blog has some of the very-most-awesomest comments ever!) and realized I don’t even need to come up with any coherent thoughts because I read this —-

    Aimee said, “I believe that chivalry and feminism can exist hand in hand, as long as the chivalry is not served with a side of condescension.”

    Yes. That ^^^^ pretty much sums up in one sentence what my brain was trying to say. Thanks, Aimee! 🙂

    Also, Joss, would you please pass along to your niece that I think she is amazingly talented!! That photo of Maisy is mesmerizing. The composition, the quality of light (especially the way her skin and hair glow like they are lit from within), the expression on her face that leaves the viewer wondering what she was thinking in that moment – WOW! I hope you have this printed large and framed so you (and later Maisy) can keep it forever because this is Art.

  • Oh, that was even better than I’d hoped. I love your advice to beautiful Maisy, and I love how bravely she acted on it.
    Wonderful.

  • rams

    Card-carrying second-wave feminist here. In its best form this isn’t about feminism, it’s about the large protecting the small (especially from the slightly-larger.) In a larger sense, it’s about not harshing on people trying to do you a favor — jerk. (Notice there isn’t a male equivalent of “bitch” — bastard is far too grand and resonant.)

    Okay, they’re southern and it probably was chivalry in its finest flower. Hell with it. She was magnificent and it worked, which will keep her brave for next time.

  • rams

    “I would rather have justice than chivalry if I cannot have them both.” — Lucy Stone

  • elizabeth

    “They’re southern and this probably was chivalry”…Rams, you are funny–and right!

    As a transplanted Southerner, I have noticed that while Southern women will comment on another woman’s problem, Southern men will fix it (whether invited to or not.) However, every time I have been helped voluntarily with hauling something up the NYC subway stairs, my helper has been a woman. My stroller friends say the same thing– a woman will help you carry your stroller up the subway stairs, a man will pretend he can’t see you… unless you almost drop the stroller and the toys fly everywhere, in which case he will have miraculously quick reflexes and save your child’s life and then rush off, (embarrassed or late for his meeting?). However, I have (a few times) asked for help when only a man was around, and it has been kindly given each time…I never make lift it all, only the 15% that I can’t manage…

    Humans need each other.

  • “This isn’t about the word, this is BIGGER than that. This is about the IDEA.” Dear, this is truth, sister. I am with you, hoping the next generation grows more of the sort that enjoys the ride, no matter who they are or what size, and whether they are the driver or the one on the pillion.

  • Also, you are brilliantly nurturing a grand one in this garden… I cannot imagine the superpower boost you gave Maisy with the noble and brave response for that kid. She is a lucky girl to have a mom like you 🙂

  • stephanie

    it’s funny the “rules” that boys seem to be born knowing. here they have a term for riding on the pillion. my brother complained about having to ride “bitch seat” on my older cousin’s four wheeler. next thing you know, my dad (who never even helped ME get a car), has bought my brother his own four wheeler. God forbid he have to suffer the humiliation past the age of 10 of riding “bitch seat”. no lesson on respect, or anything like that. just BOOM, new four wheeler. similar thing happened when he turned 16, but with a truck.

  • Would it help to not make it about chivalry, but about the Golden Rule, and that name-calling in the face of generosity is never right?

    The important thing is that she handled it before the teenagers arrived. They were her back-up team, not rescuers.

    Two things I recently learned about the word “bitch.”
    1. It stands for Being in Total Control of Herself.
    2. Tina Fey says, “Bitches get things done.”

    Beautiful photo of Maisy.

    Lastly, she had just the right mom to teach her that words hold power, but that power can be harnessed by both parties. You just have to be the one with integrity.