[A little over a year ago, shortly after Melissa invited me to join the crew at Shakespeare’s Sister–which you now know as Shakesville–I started my own little blogging effort and called it The Last Duchess (now it’s simply litbrit). This was one of the first pieces I wrote, back when the number of readers visiting my place could be counted on two hands, tops. Within a few months, I was forced to press my toes into service, and by the end of the year, the math was getting to be well beyond my capabilities (as in, numbers higher than 20). Anyway, I thought it would be fun to post Nightmare again, as a way of introducing myself and my chaotic crazyquilt of a life to the many new readers and friends whose acquaintance we’ve been fortunate to make in recent months. Now you’ll know where I’m coming from and to whom I’m referring when I mention Sons One, Two, and Three, as well as why I sometimes call myself Deborah, Duchess of Testosteronia.]
I think I’ll write about the difficulty of raising enlightened, non-biased children in a troubled, chauvinistic world. Let’s see. Hmmmm…
We progressive, open-minded parents like to think we’re doing our best to raise like-minded children. There are lots of ways one can reinforce such positive values as intellectual curiosity, kindness, patience, and tolerance in the wee buggers who routinely drive one to lock oneself in the only bathroom in the house, stare at one’s exhausted countenance in the mirror, and begin sobbing uncontrollably, all the while blaming said progeny for the deep furrow between one’s eyes, the near-complete loss of one’s voice…
Allow me to start again.
After having awakened from the medically-induced coma and gathered my thoughts well enough to ask the attendants in the room to Please undo the straps—I promise I’ll remain calm, using only non-vulgar words arranged in the sanest syntax I could muster, I took a look around me and sighed.
They were still here. All three of them.
It was at then that my inner and outer feminists got together and agreed: You can still change the world for women, even though you’ve gone and added three more men to it.
Yes! That was it! I would raise feminist sons. Sons who wouldn’t look at the world before them and see it divided into Boyland and Girltopia. Who wouldn’t see clothing as inherently macho or feminine; who wouldn’t divide up chores into two groups: Things That Involve Power Tools and Things That Girls Are Supposed to Do, which is to say, everything else.
Fast-forward to the present day, where I live with my Agents of Entropy in a one-bathroom rental house while we await construction of the real house. The house that will have one really beautiful bathroom with sparkling marble floors and walls, a huge soaking tub, and dozens of fluffy white towels hanging from towel bars where they bloody well belong, and three concrete-and-cinderblock pissoirs, each consisting of four walls and a sloping floor with a drain in the middle, plus motion sensors that set off a sprinkler system to hose the place down once its aim-impaired occupant leaves…
I will begin again.
I don’t like toy guns. There. I said it. I have never bought one for my boys, as I believe toy weapons—even those obviously non-lethal lime-green plastic water pistols with day-glo orange triggers—encourage aggressive, even deviant tendencies in children. I much prefer creativity-encouraging, gender-neutral toys such as modeling clay and Lego.
“Mama! Check out the awesome gun we made with the Lego you just bought! It’s almost as big as Dad’s Desert Eagle!”
I try. I really do.
Anyway, I was shopping for a birthday present, something for a girl. This is the best sort of present to look for; I mean, there are only so many kinds of Lego and modeling clay to buy before one falls asleep from boredom and the cashier has to shake one’s arm a bit violently in order to loosen one’s grip on the credit card.
I strolled up and down the all-pink Barbie aisle, inhaling the estrogen fumes and thoroughly enjoying myself. One particular Barbie caught my eye. There are lots of different ones these days—did you know? When I was in my Barbie-playing phase, we lived abroad and the island’s lone toy store carried only two versions of the doll: the slim, blonde, flat-chested Francie, and the melon-breasted, caramel-skinned Pamela Anderson-precursor known as Malibu Barbie.
This modern Barbie I was holding had fabulous highlights and wore a pair of surfer baggies over her crocheted bikini. And she had friends, too. They were all cool, surfer-dudes and chicks with faint, politically-correct tans and totally happening accessories: Barbie-sized surfboards, little picnic baskets, reclining deck chairs, and precious little flip-flops. Then I spotted the Tiki Bar.
I placed Cali-Barbie and her amazing Tiki Bar in my basket, and picked up Blaine, a guy-doll this time. He must be the new boyfriend, I thought, having read somewhere that Barbie and Ken had broken up, due in no small part to the fact he couldn’t sit idly by any longer as she squandered her considerable royalties on yet another range of professional oufits geared to the latest detour along her wildly schizophrenic career track.
Nurse, ballerina, equestrienne, race-car driver, hooker…make up your fuckin’ mind, woman! Ah, I’m outta here…
I studied Blaine for a moment. Then, a pink lightbulb came on: social interaction! Of course! These lovely dolls—no, make that small, fashionably-dressed model humans—might be just the thing to teach my lads how to talk to each other in a civilized manner, not to mention construct useful beach shelters using plastic bamboo poles and mix tiny pretend-cocktails (hey, they have to start somewhere).
Into the basket went a second Cali-Barbie and Tiki Bar, along with Blaine and Kayla.
“Boys! I brought you a present!” I sang merrily, piling the bags on the dining table.
“Oooooh, let me seee….what?” Son One was puzzled. “This is Caroline’s birthday present, right? What about us?”
Son Two came over and was even less impressed. “Oh, great. What the hell are we supposed to do with those…wait, they’re for Caroline, right?”
I was encouraged by Son Three, though. He tore open the boxes and immediately started to put the Tiki Bar together. Ah, my little architect.
“I thought it would be fun to, you know, play with something different,” I said.
I was reaching, yes. But I was also remembering how Son Three’s old speech therapist often used Barbie dolls and action figures to simulate social situations and have him provide a “voice” for one of the characters, in his case, it was usually Batman. Barbie (played by the therapist) would hop over to the Caped Crusader, proffer a tiny plastic candy bar, and say things like. “Hi, Batman! Do you want to buy some choc-o-late?” and Son One would roll his eyes and gamely say, “No. I hate choc-o-late”. So this might be good for him, I thought. He’s still working on his speech and articulation issues; having a decidedly more normal-looking “model human”, namely a tanned, cool-looking one to whom he could better relate, would encourage him.
Son Three was taking the Tiki Bar into his room; the dolls were still on the table. “Look,” I said, pulling them out of their boxes and handing them to Sons One and Two. “These are going to be great for helping your little brother with his speech and social skills. Go and play with him! And stop snickering.”
The phone rang. My husband was joining us for dinner after all; I’d better get started on something more substantial than Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Fifteen minutes later, I had garlic all nicely minced and bubbling away in the pan; the lettuce was soaking in the sink and the pasta water was on the brink of boiling. Suddenly my aromatic little domestic reverie was shattered by sharp squeals of laugher.
Son Two ran into the kitchen, doubled over; tears were streaming down his face and he was actually laughing through his nose, snorting, almost. He fell in a heap and rolled to one side, slapping the tiles repeatedly to make his point.
“Oh no, oh no, Mama, you gotta see this…”
“See what? See WHAT? What have you done?”
I ran into the boys’ room and found what can only be described as the dirtiest, naughtiest, and, okay, funniest mannequin mise-en-scène imaginable. The Tiki Bar was all set up and, apparently, the party was going full-tilt—they’d laid out the tiny platters of fruit and burgers and strung the colorful miniature lights from one bamboo pole to the next. Barbie and Kayla were now topless, sharing both a deck chair and a pint-sized piña colada. And poor Blaine…well, suffice it to say, Son One had dug out some old Toy Story figures, and the leading actor of said animated blockbuster, one certain smiling cowboy, now occupied a rather subservient position beneath the buck-naked Blaine.
“Blaine…Blaine…” My eldest could hardly get the words out. “Blaine has a Woody!”
At which point all three of my innocent babes collapsed into a pile of denim and brown hair, their arms flailing about as they shrieked and howled and generally congratulated themselves on their profound cleverness.
Cali Barbie and her debauched surfer-doll buddies have since relocated to a pink plastic Rubbermaid box in Mama’s garage. It is not known if that is a Democratic, Independent, or Green district.
Also at litbrit..