“Harvey, why are you so lazy and uncommunicative?”
There was no answer eight-year-old Harvey could give without risking further reproof.
“Why can’t you help? Look at your sister, she’s half your age and carrying three bags.”
Harvey shifted his eyes. He would prefer not to look at his sister, especially this morning. His hand slid inside the pocket of his shorts and checked the contents. Satisfied, he pushed his sister out of the way, grabbed his body board and noisily bumped it down as many steps as he could before reaching the sand.
“I said carry it not break it. For goodness sake Harvey, it’s only nine o’clock and I’ve had enough of you already.”
Harvey shrugged and headed for the cover of the jetty kicking his board into position against a wooden pillar. Behind him tumbled Belle with her three bags followed by Mum dragging the pram slowly across the sand.
Harvey could hear Charlie wailing from where he stood, when was that baby ever going to stop crying? The sand was already hot and another little family sheltered under the jetty in front of them.
“Well aren’t you a good girl?” they said to Belle as she placed the bags carefully on the cooler sand in the shade and started to unfold the beach mat balanced on the larger bag.
“Your Mummy must be so pleased with all your help.” A young woman jumped up and helped Ginny pull the pram down the rest of the beach.
“Harvey, Harvey, wait for me, let’s play.”
Harvey ignored his sister and ran off as fast as he could towards the water’s edge.
“Harvey, have you put sunblock on?”
“Yes,” he lied and ran further along the edge trying to get out of earshot. He would make a point of getting sunburnt today, that would serve Mum right. She might even feel sorry for him.
“New baby?” said the young woman to Ginny. “Little boy?”
“Is he good?”
“I wish. Very colicky, not much sleep for the last few weeks.”
“You poor thing, exhausting, isn’t it?”
Ginny settled Belle down with her bucket and spade and lifted Charlie from the pram. Another feed. She looked across the beach for Harvey. He stood staring out to sea, shoulders hunched and kicking at the wet sand. She sighed. All she seemed to do these days was shout at Harvey, why was he being so difficult? And there was another issue brewing. She shook her head. Belle played happily in the sand beside her. Chalk and cheese these two. How would Charlie be?
Harvey turned his back to the jetty and pushed the ten dollar note further into his pocket. He felt another ‘Power Ranger’ coming on, or maybe a ‘Transformer’. He sniffed and looked at the horizon. Or even a Yu/gi/oh! pack. Could be lucky and get a rare card this time. He wiggled his fingers in his pocket.
Under the jetty the feed went well and Ginny laid Charlie down gently in the pram, it was cool under the boards and maybe he would sleep for a while. Ginny yawned and wished she could close her eyes too. She looked again towards her oldest child still standing on the shoreline, unmistakably boy.
“Excuse me,” she said to the young woman in front of her. “Would you mind keeping an eye on these two for a few minutes?” She stood up and walked slowly towards her son.
She reached him and put her arm on his shoulder. “Enjoying the water?”
Harvey pushed her arm away and stared at his feet. Ginny was not sure how to broach the subject. It wasn’t going to be easy. She looked out to sea for inspiration. As she did so two grey fins glistened in the sunlight.
“Harvey, look! Dolphins!”
Harvey straightened his shoulders and followed the direction of her fingers. Sure enough, two dolphins leaped out of the water only a few metres away from where they were standing.
“Mum, I can nearly touch them!”
They watched the dolphins playing for several minutes; they seemed in no hurry to leave.
“Mum, one’s much bigger than the other, do you think the small one is her baby?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised, Harvey.” She paused. “Hey do you know what, Dad and I used to call you our little dolphin.”
Harvey stood very still.
“You were a lovely little baby, all round and cuddly and we used to put you in the big bath right away when you were only a few days old. You were so happy kicking and splashing and sliding down the slope into the water. You loved water even then. We had so much fun with you, you weren’t afraid of anything. I used to bring you down here and stay all day until Dad came home from work. And sometimes we all used to have tea on the beach together. Do you remember, before Belle was born?”
Harvey looked down. “Maybe, not sure.” He rubbed his pocket and felt funny inside. Waves broke and receded across his feet.
“Doesn’t feel too good, does it Harvey?’
Harvey couldn’t speak.
“Taking someone else’s present money.”
“What were you going to get with it – another ‘Power Ranger’ - or a Yu/gi/oh! pack?”
Startled, Harvey swung his head round, his eyes level with his Mum’s armpit. How did she get to be so clever? His lips wouldn’t work and he felt dreadful.
“I saw you take it this morning, before breakfast, when Belle was counting out her birthday money.”
He wished he could return to this morning and leave the ten dollar note where it was on the table.
Ginny knelt down in the sand beside her son. “Harvey, sometimes we get all worked up, no one seems to listen then we do something wrong and we don’t know how to un-work it all. Do you think that’s what happened to you?”
Harvey’s throat felt very tight and all he could do was nod.
“How do you think you could un-work this problem?”
“I have to tell Belle what I did and give it back.”
“Do you think you can do that?”
He nodded and grabbed in his pocket for the ten dollar note wishing he could be rid of it already. He felt the tide wash over his feet and take the loose sand back out to sea. When he looked up he could hardly believe his eyes.
“Mum, look – more dolphins, look there’s five.” He turned his head. “Do you think they’re a family – just like us?”
“I reckon so, what do you think?”
“I think so too.” He put his arm around his Mum’s waist and smiled for the first time that day. “I love you Mum,” he said gruffly.
“Love you back and more, Harve. Just one thing, you get back to the jetty and put your sun block on.”
He grinned. Ginny looked down at her son. “Mums don’t miss much, Harvey. Anyway, get that cream on, I don’t want my little dolphin scorching his flippers today.”
“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