Peril Lurks in Gender Gap--Even at Age 6

April 25, 1993|DIANNE KLEIN

My husband is watering the lawn when the new neighbor wanders by. This neighbor appears to be scoping out the scene, looking for nothing and everything in particular, killing time.

So my husband stops her before she goes any farther, introduces himself, and tells her he is a father of two.

"What are their ages?" the new neighbor asks, an eager note in her tone.

"Two and six," my husband says.

"The 6-year-old, is that a girl or a boy?" she shoots back.

"A girl."

"Ohhhhh," the new neighbor says, clearly disappointed, or maybe even crestfallen.

You see, the 6-year-old in her house is a boy, she explains. And he needs a friend. She , however, is 9 and can take care of herself.

But you know boys.

Not that this new 6-year-old in the neighborhood is hiding behind anybody's skirt. (And for the record, his sister was wearing shorts.)

Fact is, it was reported on good authority that this very same boy approached another, apparently 6-year-old male in the neighborhood park. Then in a brazen display of friendship, the newcomer intoned, "Hi, I'm Miles and I need a friend."

And . . . it worked. At least for the afternoon.

The problem is, this person fitting the ideal-friend description (i.e. male, first-grader, about 50 pounds) doesn't live all that close. His park visits are an occasional thing, thereby putting plans for a steady male-bonding kind of friendship on hold.

But my own 6-year-old is nearby--if not quite the girl next door, then the one a few doors down.

And she easily tires of playing with her little sister after school. Their meaningful conversation tends to reduce to: "That's mine! . . . No, it's mine ! . . . Mine! . . . Mine!" Variations on the theme are frequently punctuated with tears.

Plus, one of her three cousins is a boy, 6 years old, too.

What I am saying is that my older daughter does have a modicum of experience in handling these beings with the (generally) shorter hair who are prone to protesting vigorously before they finally give in and play house. (But only if they can be the dad.)

And Miles doesn't seem to have many choices, does he now?

So they met at the park.

I am assuming this, of course, because neither of them went knocking on the other's door. Yet they know of each other now.

In hindsight, I would have liked to have seen the initial sizing up.

Is he a Ninja Turtle type, all bluster and swagger and frequent sword swipes at the air? Is she a tattletale, someone who can't take a joke, a baby better left alone?

Apparently not.

Because during a perfectly peaceful visit to the park--as in, just my daughters and me with the place to ourselves--the 6-year-old comes in close to whisper in my ear.

This she does often when the thought of conveying her words in a normal tone would "embarrass" her far too much. One can only imagine the trauma of having her 2-year-old sister overhear a snatch of our conversation as she swooshes by us on the swing.

"Mom, Miles said I should come by his house," my daughter hushes into my ear.

"Huh?" say I.

"Miles!" my daughter says, with a hiss.

"Miles? What about Miles?" say I, apparently much too loudly.

"Mom-my!" she says, now finally moving away from my ear.

OK. Fine. I get the message. Miles and she have an understanding that they will play. But my daughter says she is too "embarrassed" to visit Miles' house on her own. And I am picking up on something else.

It's because, you know, Miles is a boy .

This does not mean boy in a girl's sense of the irrelevant, not the toddler who insists upon hammering blocks instead of hugging stuffed bunnies, not the preschooler who wears Spider Man T-shirts in manly colors like black and blue instead of those frilly numbers featuring Belle.

No, this is boy in the sense of Barbie and Ken. These are people who "go out" instead of play. They have been known to kiss.

The thought of all this makes me gasp inside. But, still, I am cool.

We saunter over to Miles' house, with the 2-year-old in tow, and naturally, Mom has to do the talking when we are met by Miles' dad. "Hi, can your son come out and play?" I say. Or something to that effect.

Miles can and he does. When his dad goes in to get him, he bounds out of the house in a flash. He grabs a sled and a big, pedal-operated plastic car. My 6-year-old's eyes are wide and she's wearing a smile.

So the big kids start engaging in "age-appropriate play" at the park. That is, they climb a hill, and take turns bumping down it in the sled, laughing and hollering about where it hurts. The 2-year-old and I are watching from afar.

Other kids come a bit later, joining my daughter and Miles. Everybody seems to be having a blast.

Then as we're leaving, already crossing the street, a few of the older neighborhood girls yell out in that sing-songy whine that kids have down to an art.

"Miles likes you," they yell to my daughter.

"See, Mom, I told you!" my daughter turns to me and says.

But let me state for the record that she told me no such thing. Lord knows what I would have done.

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