“I’d hate to be old,” she said with just a touch of sympathy.
I was picking up my granddaughter who was going to spend the day with us.
“Because you can’t run.”
“It’s not so bad. There are really good things about being old.”
“Well, I don’t care what other people think so much anymore.” I don’t think she believed me.
“Gran, did you ever have a pair of bathers?” she asked.
“Yes, of course I did!” She still doesn’t believe me.
She then took to examining my elbows.
“They’re funny,” she mused. “Rough!” She then moved on up to my neck. “Why do you have so many wrinkles?” and patted the loose skin under my chin.
I began to wilt under the scrutiny. “Time to go,” I said walking out to the car.
The new cats eyes on the road, outlining the new speed humps, caught her attention. “Why do they put lights on the road?”
“They’re not lights, but pieces of glass that reflect the cars headlights at night. Let’s stop and have a look.” Better the cat’s eyes than my elbows, I thought. So we took to crawling around the nature strip and onto the road in-between cars.
We arrived home. Yesterday she had informed me that there was a spider in our toilet. I could see that she needed to go.
“Do you want to go to the toilet?” I asked hopefully.
“I don’t need to go.”
“There’s one each. Do you want the one with the spider or without?”
“Without,” she said and hurried off.
We went out onto the veranda with our drinks and toasted sandwiches. It was a very hot day, and we were hot and sweaty from crawling round the side of the road in the sun. The flies were annoying. They persistently explored all my uncovered orifices with the same diligence as my granddaughter had explored my elbows and wrinkles.
“I don’t like flies,” she announced.
“They’re alright. They all have to be somewhere, you know. See, there’s a left nostril fly and a right nostril fly, one over ear and one over ear, several spots before my eyes, as well as a few at deep throat.” I pointed to the bits of myself.
“You’re silly, Gran!”
End of conversation. I gave her a hug.
“When you go to America next year, you will find it’s different in lots of ways. For instance, there are no fences between the houses like here, and the trees are different.”
“Are there any gum trees?”
“No, not in Seattle. There are a lot of pine trees, and two-storey wooden houses. There are also black African Americans. You will see many more black skinned people there than we have here. A long time ago, the white people sailed to Africa and stole the black people, put them on ships and took them back to America to be slaves. They did most of the hard work in the cotton fields and were treated very badly. It was a terrible thing.”
“I wouldn’t have a slave.”
“No. They ended up having a war about it and the slaves were eventually set free. When you are there, keep an eye out for the things that are different and come back and tell me.” The primary school teacher from long ago was stirring in me.
“Why? You’ve already seen it.”
What is that old adage that truth is no excuse for lack of tact? At what point do they get that?
“If I had a slave,” she pondered, “I would let them have an hour off for lunch, and I would speak to them nicely and say please and thank you.” I didn’t believe her. There was scant evidence of it in our conversations.
“I don’t think that would be quite enough, somehow. I think they want to be in charge of their own lives.”
This is going to go nowhere I thought. What does a six year old know of being in charge of her life? Life is a long series of commands like: put on your shoes; line up at the door; time for maths; clean your teeth…
Just then Grandfather walked in the door. She raced over and gave him a big hug, and then imperiously, “I want a horse ride.”
Down on his knees he went, crawling around the carpet. The tyranny was relentless. The poor horse collapsed onto the couch, exhausted with crippled knees.
“I don’t want to get old.” She was emphatic.
“You’ve got all your life ahead. You’ll grow-up and have your own children. You’ve got a long time yet.”
“Yes I have! I’m going to be around to see your children.”
The exhausted horse was soon snoring. He was abandoned and we moved out on to the swing chairs on the back veranda.
We settled down together to read the life of Helen Keller – a book interesting to us both, and soon the push and pull between our generations was gone. But there is always love… lots of love.
“Next term when you’re in America, Gran, I don’t want to go to Afterschool Care. I want to come and do silly things with you.” We talked about this for a while. It was lovely to know that we were a safe haven. Somewhere else to be besides home and school – another reference point.
What a pity she has to grow up, I thought. I would like to freeze her right now.
“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