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Made It! 040

On Being a (Kind-of) Girl

“So, has she blown the house up yet?” My Uncle Rey’s usual way of asking my mom how I was doing. He wasn’t asking if some baking lesson had gone wrong, he was referring to my frequent experiments with household chemistry. My mom still reminds me of these hair-greying episodes today, but with much more nostalgia and humor than in years past—she did have to start coloring her hair fairly young.

I often hear blanket statements regarding the nature of women or a “woman’s heart.” Sometimes more egalitarian authors or speakers insert the word “most” before their statements: “Most women want…” or “most women think…” or “most women feel…” Some even include statistics like “ninety percent of women…” In any case, after reading or hearing these statements I am often left wondering “but what about the rest of us?” Those whose child-hearts are more interested in explosives or nature or archaeology than dolls and dress-up or at least as much. In all fairness, I am not saying that generalized statements about women don’t apply to me nor am I necessarily making negative judgment against my gender. What I am saying is that I often feel like I’m standing on the outside of the cultural party—sometimes looking in longingly and sometimes wanting to sprint as far away from it as possible– and at this point I have no doubts about my freakish nature. I’m not saying I am manly or want to be a man or that being a man is better than being a woman. I’m not speaking to what I think men want or “how they are” either because I am not a man and I have no idea. The only thing I can speak to is my experience as a girl-freak growing up in 1980’s America. I’ll share a bit about in the hopes that some other freaks will find a kindred or perhaps a little inspiration.

The thing that makes me thing that I am different from “most” women by nature that I believe I have been so from the very start. It’s evident even in my baby pictures! Take my favorite photograph of me as a child. It isn’t one of the numerous images of me wearing a little lacey or velvet dress (often a little disheveled due to wriggling through the “jungle” of some playground or backyard). Instead it is an image of me wearing naught else but a diaper and one of my dad’s trucker-style snap backs backwards while wielding one of his hammers, the handle of which extends the length of my then barely-able-to-stand body and the corners of my dimpled grin hanging from each ear. I don’t think I was quite a year old.

Okay, some will argue that maybe that is an example of something nurtured in me, some parental preference or leading. So then let’s use is my experience with that great American retail institution of consumer indoctrination: Toys R Us. I vividly recall walking through towering isles of endless toys. To my right a pink and purple nightmare. Dolls with layered dresses and comatose eyes stared down at me through lashes that rivaled Tammy Faye Baker’s. Mesh bags filled with play fruit and light pink ovens lay about waiting to fill the domestic desires of little girls and those boys with daring parents.  To my left lay a blue, red, grey and black block-city. Sharp angles on Transformers and bulldozers crashed through cardboard packages and Leggo masterpieces lay temptingly behind glass barricades. I would walk, fast then slow then fast again, my attention caught by some noise-making plaything until I remembered my goal, all the way to the sexless section. You know, that genderless place in the store where the art supplies, play dough, “learning toys” and science kits are. Because I was effectively a spoiled only child my parents were pretty much willing to let me have the run of the store and choose whatever toy I wanted—within reason and wandering quietly and respectfully of course.  Without skipping a beat I’d head over to this genderless section of the store and stare at all the wonderful things–tools that would help me explore the world around me. I remember one Christmas in particular, actually it was just before Christmas, my mom had taken me to T-R-U to get some ideas. We were standing in the pink nightmare with me insisting that I wanted a chemistry set and a tool set and some other boyish things. Hesitant and resigned, my mom sighed and we left the store. I was expecting to open a stove set that Christmas, and maybe I did, but much to my delight I got the tool and chemistry sets. It was the best Christmas ever! I begged my dad for a piece of wood try the plane out and later barricaded myself in my room with the chemistry set (remember, it was the ‘80’s and parents used to drive around with their kids in the backs of pickup trucks with no seat belts and no one said anything), leaving my bewildered parents shaking their heads in the living room.

And then there is the comparison between me as a little girl and my female peers. Here are some examples in conversation format (hyperbole included):

Interacting with other humans:

“Most” little girls: Wanna see me dance or hear me sing? Watch me twirl in my dress/tutu!

Me: Did you know that pterodactyls aren’t dinosaurs? Great White Sharks are also called chark…car..carchard…, umm car-car-OH-don!

When an expectant family member or parent’s friend visit:

“Most” little girls: I want to hold the baby! When is the baby going to be here!?! Can I feed the baby?

Me: Seven weeks? You had sex seven weeks ago. The baby is a fetus. It is starting to grow arms and legs. Want to see my slide of a human baby foot? We need a microscope.

On Santa’s lap:

“Most” little girls: I want Fashion Strip Mall Barbie, a stove like mommy’s and a dulucks make-up thing.

Me: Okay, so I NEED a new canteen and a flashlight. Definitely a microscope. Okay, I can settle for a snoopy snow-cone maker and a Pound Puppy.


“Most” little girls: I want to be a ballerina! Can I take dance lessons?!?!?

Me: Mom, can I take fencing lessons? But MOOOM! Okay…archery?

And into adulthood…reassurance and pathology:

“Most” girls: Do you think I’m beautiful?  Am I as pretty, organized or as good a mom as she is?

Me: Do you think I’m competent? Am I as smart as he/she is or did I do as well on my performance evaluation? Do people like me as much?

A nature to nurture

Several times in my life, usually when speaking to another woman about kids (my lack thereof) or family or some pathology, I have been subjected to the phrase that is something to the effect of “You just want to take care of…to nurture because it’s a woman’s nature” and my first thought is usually something like “Yeah, maybe bacterial cultures.” Yet they insist: One of these days I will have children and magically woman-ness will just spring-forth from within.

These “encouragers” are often the one’s who pray that God softens my heart or encourage me that I will come around once I find my prince charming and have children. I get the distinct impression that these folks see me as wayward or damaged or rebellious in some way. Not that I am not those things, certainly I am, but it has nothing to do with my gender, it’s just who I am.

Even as a child the “instinct” to care for children eluded me. I was always horrified of babysitting. The month before school was out my friends would be setting up their summer gigs watching neighborhood kids and I was busy praying my parents wouldn’t force me to do the same. It isn’t that I didn’t want to do anything, it’s that I was terrified of children. However, my very first job ended up being a babysitting: my neighbors had two prize-winning show dogs that I absolutely loved. I’d spend hours caring for and playing with a Russian Wolfhound and an Afghan hound, often wrapping my arms around the Borzoi’s neck, who was as nearly tall as I was at the time, while she leaned on me until we collapsed. It was our routine. I had two other babysitting gigs after that, both while in college and yes, both watching dogs or other pets.

I think I preferred dogs over kids because, as some have heard me say, I wonder if I ever was a child. I know that’s extreme, but suffice it to say I was a pretty eclectic kid and just didn’t “get” most other children. I still find it hard to relate to kids and just know my limits. I was once part of a church that was in the process of seeking volunteers. Ooooh! I could type things or spackle and paint or help fix things! I went to the pastor and his wife who stated they would love to have my help and felt I would go far in the Children’s ministry. I tried to explain that I didn’t work well with kids but they would have none of it, insisting (without even having to consult God) that it was right for me. A short while later, as part of a member of a new Church, I found a pastor who actually listened to me and placed me in a volunteer position that involved co-organizing a large community event. It was a huge challenge but God used it to bless a ton of people. I honestly believe the children’s ministry at any Church is one of the most important and admire those who serve in this capacity, but I just know it isn’t for me. I felt bad and guilty about refusing to serve in the children’s ministry at the other church, but during that community event I realized that each of us has a responsibility to find out what we are (and aren’t) passionate about and have talents in and invest in those areas, regardless of gender norms.

After my nephew was born I mellowed a bit with the kid thing. I remember seeing him for the first time at the hospital, just born, and knowing I was in love. My immediate second thought was “Oh-mah-gawd. I am going to have to hold it then I’ll dropt it or it will poop!” I still remember sitting nervously on the couch with my sister grinning at me with “nah-nah” delight as she handed me the oversized jelly bean, more blanket than baby. Talk about rigid. I got through it and held him all the time after that point and I did a lot—a lot—of diaper duty. I survived. I still don’t have any more or less talent or desire to work with kids. I just have more confidence in my ability to get one into adulthood relatively unscathed and with a good counseling fund.

Being a Good Woman, Being Me

Sometimes the people who pray or hope I’ll grow into womanhood get scared when I tell them about things I have done. I don’t know if they are scared for me or at the horror that comes with knowing that a woman could “go through” the things I have been through. I’ve been through some painful things, and those I can’t blame them for being frightened by. It’s their fear about the positive things that puzzles me, like travelling alone both in the US and in developing countries, driving long distances by myself, mowing my own lawn or installing a kitchen sink. I’d love to have someone to do things with and those closest to me have certainly heard me say I believe I would conquer the world with a good friend at my side. Certainly I would like some counterpart male freak to come crashing into my life sometime and knock me off my feet, sending us both hurdling out of my comfort zone on some adventure (mark my words, I will regret I said this someday). For now I am learning to simply be content with who I am and who I am yearns for little adventures and seeks them, even on my own.

As I sit here writing this entry, sipping Teccino out of my favorite mug (emblazoned with the image of a Flying Fortress being escorted by two P-51s) I realize that more than anything else I am simply Jessica. A girl, yes, and a sister and daughter and a rabbit-mom and a friend and an animal license checker and an explorer and a scientist and a Follower of Christ who is still trying to figure herself out. I do like “girly” things, really I do! A nice pedicure goes great with explorer’s cargo pant’s. I suppose it’s  just that what I am made for, who I was made to be, goes so far beyond the gender norms of my culture, and in some cases even  flies in the face of their convention. I am learning to be okay with that. I am learning that I was made to serve, to be a follower and the specific way I do that best, at heart is through exploring cultures and creation and telling others about them. My itinerant mind and heart are always calling me to some new adventure, real or imagined, and those adventures are where I hope to find out more about who I am.