Mikey sat on the back step and thoughtfully pushed an exploratory finger up his nose. He was gazing with some satisfaction at the result, when his heart began to beat uncomfortably fast. What if Nana saw him? She had more than once expressed disapproval of this activity.
“Stop that, Mikey! Little boys should not take dirty things out of their noses.”
He usually removed the finger guiltily, but once had responded in an aggrieved tone. “I’m not taking it out. I’m putting it back.”
Nana had turned away then, her shoulders shaking. She must have been very cross and very sad that he had told such a fib.
Now he hastily wiped his hand under the step. Not only was God watching him from heaven, but Nana was too. Nana was now dead-Nana. He felt he liked live-Nana better.
His mother had sat him on her knee. “Nana died last night Mikey,” she said. “That means that we won’t see her again; but she’s in heaven with God and she’s looking down on us all the time. She loved you very much, Mikey.”
Mikey considered this solemnly. The other Nana, live-Nana, was fun.
She read him stories, made him cakes and played cricket with him in the backyard. She cuddled him when he was sad and was altogether a satisfactory Nana to have.
Dead-Nana was different. She couldn’t talk or play or cuddle, she just ‘looked down.’ This created something of a problem for a little boy who wasn’t always good. A dead Nana looking down was a serious threat to his activities.
He had sidled up to his older cousin, Jeremy and asked him what a dead-Nana might look like.
Jeremy was quite specific. “She’s got a white nightie on and her eyes are closed. They put her in a box with silver things on it. Then they take her to church.”
The idea of the box appealed to Mikey. There Nana would be, splendidly gift- wrapped, in a yellow box covered in silver stars. There would probably also be a bow. Ladies liked bows on presents. There would be a card, too maybe. Mummy had been getting lots of cards since live-Nana became dead-Nana. After they were sure she was neatly wrapped, they would take her to church and give her to God. God would probably put the box on a plane or even a space ship and take her to heaven that way. Mikey could almost wish he were dead if it meant going to heaven in a space ship.
He was dreaming happily of shooting up among the stars with Nana, when a sudden thought struck him. Jeremy had said, quite clearly, that dead people’s eyes were closed. He closed his own eyes experimentally. No. You definitely can’t see with your eyes closed. How could dead Nana look down with her eyes closed? Yet Mummy has said she was looking down. Was she or wasn’t she? A worried frown crossed his chubby little face and he moved his finger absent-mindedly toward his nose, stopping mid-air. It was the uncertainty. Could he ever again squash a caterpillar, or pinch his baby brother or steal a biscuit? Could he say ‘bum’ or ‘girls smell’ without fear of the disapproval of a dead Nana?
At this thought he brightened a little. Perhaps dead people couldn’t hear.
He trotted off to check. “Do dead people have ears?” he inquired of both his mother and Jeremy.
Surprised, they both replied in the affirmative, and he gloomily reflected that there was no doubting that dead Nanas could hear, even if seeing were still a matter for debate.
But wait! His problem was solved. Dead Nana could hear! She was in heaven but she was still his Nana and she would listen to him.
“Hello Nana. It’s me, Mikey. I hope heaven is nice. Did you like your ride in the space ship? Has God unwrapped you yet? We are all having a party down here. Mummy was crying and so was Aunty Jenny, but they’re laughing now. They’ve got a picture of when you got married to Granddad. They are saying you looked just like Mummy. Can we still play games sometimes? We could play one now. Close your eyes and count to a hundred real slow. Ready Nana?”
And with a sigh of relief, he returned to the satisfactory business of picking his nose.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem