To the tune
To the tune
Hold your toes
On the story she tells.
Lean in more
Every image as well.
For no matter
Or the chatter
There’s not much like
Of a big sister’s
And the magic of
In your sweet heart,
He eyed her twirling in her tutu and his heart squeezed with longing.
He wanted to do that, too. It was not fair that it was not allowed.
That only girls could.
Put on make up.
Play with dolls.
Paint their nails.
He’d tried, of course, but he could tell that even those who did not outright take things from him or forbid him or call him hurtful names, didn’t really feel comfortable with his choices. There was that look they gave, the forced smile, the way they inevitably ran out of patience and gave him “other suggestions” or directed him toward “trying other things.” He was given gifts that made it clear that what he’d asked for was not acceptable and therefore required others choose for him.
He could tell his parents were ashamed.
They loved him. He knew. But they didn’t quite love that part of him. The part that he loved in himself the most. The part that he hated. Sometimes.
It wasn’t even that he didn’t like sports, or climbing trees, or making mud pies. He did. It was just that those weren’t fun without adding a bit of dance, of looking for fairies amidst the branches, or pretending that the mud pies were part of a birthday bakery for princesses.
They kept saying how “wonderful it was to have such an imagination,” but their body language told him that they’d have much preferred if his imagination didn’t quite go where it wanted to. That they would have liked better an imagination of the kind they felt was more appropriate for boys.
“Do you want to be a girl?” his sister asked. They were in her room for a tea party. She was wearing one of her ballet-princess dresses and the full set of jewelry she’d gotten from Grandma just the other day. She let him wear the crown. They pretended this made him a princess, too, but they both knew she chose the crown because it would be easy for him to take down if someone walked in.
Or say he was a king.
Sometimes he envied her so much that it carved a hole into the center of his being. The ease and confidence with which she could prance around in rustling taffeta and glittery baubles, the smiles she got when she dressed up and smeared lipstick on her face … It hurt. It hurt. It hurt.
She let him into her world, but they both know that it was not his to live in. They both knew that when her friends came for a play-date he would be excluded. They both knew that even with no dress on, and with a crown fit for a king, at any moment someone might barge in, and frown, and find a reason to ‘redirect’ him.
Her question made him cry.
Because he didn’t want to be a girl.
He wanted to be a boy who liked playing with dolls and painting his nails and having tea parties and trying on dresses and decorating mud-pie cakes for princesses.
And yet … it would have been so easy. If he were a girl.
No frowns. No shaming. No overhearing adults talk of how he needed “toughening up” or was “too sensitive” or was “definitely gay-material” or “headed in the wrong direction.” Not having to know that Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa were kind of ashamed of him.
“I want to be me,” he sobbed, and fingered a dress his sister discarded and that he would give his heart to be allowed to put on without fear. “I just want to be me … and I don’t understand why it is wrong.”
She hangs out next to the couch, wrapped around the floor lamp like a hand in a hand. She’s been there a long time. She lived on other floor lamps before this one, till their time had come and she welcomed a new one. She makes friends with them all, says goodbye to those who lost their spark. Perhaps she thinks of them, sometimes.
She hangs out next to the couch, wrapped around the floor lamp like a protective palm over a young hand. She watches little fingers wrestling beads onto threads, listens as small mouths make words out of thoughts, witnesses big hearts in tiny chests writing grand ideas into evolving minds – theirs and mine.
She hangs out next to the blue couch. She hears the unasked questions that stay behind worried parents’ lips. The questions children ask, sometimes for the first time. She understands. She does not prod. She just knows. They look for her, especially after a long break, reassured to find her there, still wrapped around the floor lamp like a comfy hug.
She’s been there long enough to find the right time to catch their eye.
With a quiet smile.
Blue Belle on her perch by the couch. Patience in her heart, twinkle in her eye.
“My face gets all red,” he noted.
“Oh?” I didn’t know where he was going with this little tidbit of self-disclosure, but oftentimes neutral responses worked the best for those.
“Yeah,” he nodded. His hands continued to manipulate a small figurine: twisting, bending, spinning the head around.
I offered a box with a some accessories: a chair, a bike, a car, a bath, a bed, a backpack.
He raised his eyes without really looking at me, and returned his attention to the object in his hands. He wasn’t exactly aggressive as he was persistent. I found myself wondering when he’ll realize the head could come off.
“My face gets all red,” he repeated. “I watched.”
“Hmm?” I responded.
“Yeah.” He looked up, this time meeting my eyes in part-challenge, part-fascination. “In the mirror. Did you know I have ropes in my neck?”
He touched the sides of his neck, then grimaced and twisted his face and torso into a representation of intense muscle tension. Strain or fury or struggle or all.
“See?” he grunted.
The veins in his neck bulged and a small tributary pulsed at his temple, sprouting a delicate delta underneath the almost transparent skin.
“Yes, I do see.”
“It’s what happens every time,” he sighed as he relaxed his face and shoulders. Fierceness gone. Vulnerable.
“It’s what happens, when?” I had some inkling as to what he was describing but I wasn’t fully sure … and not assuming was often the right thing to do, anyhow. Especially with children who’d had so little opportunity to question or discuss or explain or inquire or straighten worries out. This little guy had had almost none, and for a boy who talked with almost no one, it was progress that he could speak about himself at all.
His eyes sought mine and the rising pink in his cheeks competed with the retreating redness from his earlier maneuver. He bent the figurine to sitting position, to a stand, to sitting again.
“When I go,” he muttered. “You know, when I … um … have to, uh, push the poo out.”
“Oh,” I noted blandly. “In the bathroom?”
The boy nodded. The blush spread down to below his chin.
“I think most people strain when they poo. It can make their faces red.”
His eyes widened at that, or perhaps also at my matter-of-fact discussion of matters too many in society render embarrassing even though these are naught but normal body-functions.
“Did you look, too?” he tried.
“At my face? You mean, when I use the bathroom?”
He bit his lower lip and nodded, balancing a tightrope of shame and disclosure and curiosity and possibly worry. Perhaps all. Perhaps more.
“I can’t say I have, but it is just what happens when people move their bowels. It is normal to strain or push a little.”
He thought about it. Continued to play with the figurine in his hands.
I wrestled with whether to say anymore. I wanted to reassure him but also wanted to know if it was hurting him to go to the bathroom, so I would know whether there was a problem that needs to be checked. I wanted to know if anything changed recently … if something happened … Heavens knows plenty had in the past, even if I did not know exactly what. Was this him just being more aware of his own body, or was it an attempt to speak of other things … of other kinds of red-faced strain he might’ve seen? Was it both?
He didn’t look distressed. Then again, Toy-figurine Man had lost his head a few times.
Another moment passed.
“Yeah, Dara does it, too.” He stated, asked.
The new infant at his foster home.
I nodded encouragement.
“Sometimes her face gets really red and funny and then Mama Molly changes her.” He looked at me, shame and blush seeming to recede. “You can smell it,” he giggled, testing.
“I bet,” I smiled.
“It stinks,” he took himself into full-out-laugh zone now. “Mama Molly says Dara’s poo stinks to infinity and beyond.”
I grinned. Mama Molly was a keeper. “Poo sure can.”
“Mine does!” he chortled.
Toy-figurine Man got his head back. Kept it on. Got put onto his bike and taken around the table and into the box.
“So,” the boy raised his chin in the direction of his folder and the games on the chair next to me. “Can we start?”
And the stories that we tell
To small ones under
Good tales’ spell
Become the fabric
The yarns they’ll spin
Or might dispel.
For the SYW-Revisited Challenge
“Can animals be naked?” he asked, his little forehead creased in perplexed concentration.
“Naked how?” I responded. “Animals don’t usually wear clothes. People may dress their dogs with coats or booties if its raining or snowing, but even that only sometimes.”
He waved me off. “I’m not talking about dogs, even.”
I smiled. The kindergartener’s contenance was a smaller version of adolescents’ exasperation at the ‘know-nothing-adults’ they are somehow expected to live with.
“Oh, okay.” I conceded, “I guess I misunderstood. What did you mean, then?”
“Other things. Like, um … snakes.”
“Snakes?!” I repeated.
“Yeah.” He moved his head up and down for emphasis. “Because I think maybe a snake took his clothes off and ran away and now he’s naked.”
Comprehension slithered in to lift my confusion. “Was this when you went to visit your grandma in Arizona?”
He nodded again. “It looked like a snake but it was only snake clothes.”
I grinned. “I think you saw a snake skin shed! How cool! But don’t worry, it still has skin on its body. You see, when a snake’s skin is too small for it, it grows new skin underneath and then it wriggles out of the old skin and sheds it inside out like a sock.”
The little boy narrowed his eyes and inspected my expression to see if I was perhaps pulling his leg. What he saw in my face must’ve reassured him.
“Good,” he said. “Because I didn’t want everyone to see his privates.”
For The Daily Post
“How did you learn how to know everything?” she asked.
“I don’t think anyone knows everything,” I responded, only half-attending. A siren from a fire-engine distracted me. The driver leaned on the horn. Someone must have not given the emergency vehicle the right of way.
“But how did you learn how to know everything?” she insisted.
The First Grader’s tone brought me back to full attention. She hung her big brown eyes on me.
“You mean, how do people work on knowing more and more?” I tried.
A shadow of a frown passed over the small visage, then the girl seemed to decide this not-at-all-what-I-asked-about-reframe is as comprehensive as this adult in front of her can probably muster at the moment. She nodded.
“Different people may have different ways of learning,” I replied, “but for me, I like finding out new things. So I observe and try to listen. I read a lot, and I ask plenty of questions …”
“… you do ask a lot of questions,” she interrupted. “But sometimes I think you already know the answers.”
I grinned. “Sometimes I do … And sometimes,” I teased, “I think you know the answers to your questions, too …”
For The Daily Post
If you take time
Who will sit
To listen …
Because what you
Is what you teach
For The Daily Post
There is the hum of traffic in soft undertone. The contralto of people punctuated by the crescendo of a child who was refused a treat or dropped his toy. The bark of dogs weaves in: one low and deep, another yipping in the determination of the pocket-small. A truck lumbers over a rut in the road, a phone rings, a door slams. A bus beeps as it kneels for passengers, again when it rises up. An ambulance wails, its falsetto undulating in inverse proportions to distance and urgency. A firetruck follows in a fortissimo of horns. In the relative silence that ensues, a bird chirps and a pigeon coos response. Pianissimo. The city breathes. Then a traffic light changes, a motor revs, and a few notes of rap beat an open-window-escape. Another bus rolls to a stop, beep-kneels, sighs-up. More people’s voices modulate the presto of a toddler’s laugh. The rumbling of a motorcycle answers the low groan of a heavy truck. More dogs yip and bark. Someone inexplicably whistles Brahms.
City Symphony. An orchestra of urban life in virtuoso intervals.
For The Daily Post
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