The gang of kids came wandering up as I was attempting to cut the weeds out of the ditch so my neighbor’s yard wouldn’t flood the next time it so much as sprinkled. I tried to look like I could actually hold the weed-whacker up for more than ten seconds at a time as I idled the engine. I felt the need to look cool even in front of fifth-graders.
One kid spoke up. “Can Saadia spend the night?”
This is not an unusual question in our household. Overnights at this age are at least a once a week thing. There’s almost always a strange kid or two sitting down to some heavily sugared cereal in shades of some color not found in nature in front of Top-20 Countdown on Sunday morning.
But this request came from a boy. Her neighborhood friend, Eric.
“No!” I said, my gut kicking in. I tried to nonchalantly lower the weed-whacker to rest on my knee. Perhaps households with fairly low combined upper-body strength – like most lesbian households – should hire lawn boys. Or lawn butches.
“Why not?” Eric called me back from my reverie.
“She just can’t. She has things to do.”
The kids wandered away and I fired up that damn machine again. Immediately I had second thoughts. What kind of lesbian am I anyway? Do I really think that sexual experimentation only happens between boys and girls? Have I completely blocked out the games I used to play in my bedroom with Carolee Kringle? Maybe I find Saadia and her best friend huddled together under the blankets of her twin bed in an indistinguishable lump on sleepover mornings because they were “experimenting” the night before.
So why should I care if her sleepover buddies are boys or girls?
This was a serious question, and I thought it worth shutting off the weed-whacker to go find Claudia. Anyway, I was getting itchy from flying bits of grass, weeds, and probably poison ivy. Don’t ticks hide in tall grass? Besides there wasn’t any rain in the forecast until Monday.
I found Claudia in the kitchen. “Eric asked if Saads could spend the night,” I informed her.
“She can’t spend the night with a boy!”
I knew her outraged expression well; I’d felt it etched on my face just moments before. I decided to play devil’s advocate to see if I could resolve this question. Actually, I was still mad at her for drinking all the coffee that morning and felt contrary. So it just came bursting out.
“Why should a boy be different than a girl? What kind of lesbian household are we anyway? For all we know Saadia and Kirstin have been up there experimenting all year!”
There is one thing about Claudia I love maybe more than anything else: she can admit when she’s wrong, even in the face of my bitchiness. (And don’t ask me if that’s really what I love most about her. There are some things that can’t be printed in respectable publications.)
“That’s true,” she said. “But… it’s Eric. And Saadia.”
I wandered off with a glass of lemonade. Iced coffee would have been better but we already know why I couldn’t have that. I had to consider what really had me saying no to this particular sleepover request. Usually when Saadia was asked to stay overnight I was driving her there post haste at above the posted speed limit, steering and shifting gears with my knees while making reservations on my cell phone for a romantic corner at the local diner as a prelude to a coveted night without children. Not this time.
Why? Well, there’s Saadia herself. She might be just-turned-eleven-years-old, but she looks about sixteen. At 5’7″ and a size 11 shoe, she’s bigger than most adults and still growing. She’s been wearing a bra since third grade.
And then there’s her looks. Her first grade teacher told me she was so tall and beautiful she should be a model — I suggested basketball player, although she might have to supplement her meager WNBA salary with a Covergirl contract. Whenever the school nurse calls me (which is often, as Saadia is a bit of a hypochondriac) she first says that Saadia is fine, then tells me how every adult in the building talks often about how she’s getting more gorgeous every day, and only then gets to the latest health complaint. And her fifth-grade teacher feels the need to evaluate Saadia’s beauty along with her reading, writing, and arithmetic skills at every parent-teacher conference and quarterly report.
Does it make me heterosexist if I worry that she’ll preyed upon by the opposite sex, but don’t give a thought to the inappropriate attentions of other girls and women?
I started to squirm, and it wasn’t just that I was sure there were ticks crawling down my shirt.
Thankfully I thought of Justin. He also lives in the neighborhood — we watched Candice Parker’s unfortunate shoulder separation on his two moms’ high-def T.V. Justin does not do wheelies in our steep driveway, tease our dog, or play footsie with Saadia on the couch. As far as I can tell, he has never looked up from a Playstation game when a cute girl wanders by. He talks basketball and hockey and baseball fluently and watches his little brother without beating him up every weekday afternoon. If ever Justin asked if Saadia could spend the night, I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes and start planning the pleasures of a child-free evening.
So is it really a boy-girl thing? Or is it just a who’s-the-most-likely-to-lead-my-kid-down-the-road-to-ruin thing?
Justin doesn’t know it, but I’m grateful to him. Realizing that I’d have no trouble letting the two of them have a sleepover saved me from feeling like a sexist. Or worse yet, a heterosexist. Lemonade finished, I headed back outside to find anything to do other than finish the weed-whacking.
And if I’m really lucky, Justin will never ask if Saadia can spend the night.