Last Friday night, my son summoned me to come downstairs. He was entertaining seven friends, all female; by entertaining I mean cooking them dinner, which would be followed by card games and watching a movie in our living room. He laughed when I poked my head out of the bedroom and gestured for me to follow him. What I saw astounded me: teenagers crammed into my tiny kitchen, cleaning, scrubbing, loading the dishwasher—it was like a scene out of the animated Cinderella, where the mice sing “We can do it. We can do it. We can help.” They were either barefoot or in socks; they were laughing and chatting, and one—a dancer—spun around in the small space before taking a sponge to the sink full of pots. Another, one of his close pals, looked up from wiping down the counter and grinned. “See, Ma,” he said, only half-joking, “This is why I’m friends with so many girls.”
Good reason. Although he’d exhibited a propensity for the “fairer sex,” long before he reached adolescence.
As a toddler, my son was drawn to babysitters with long, flowing hair: the lovely early childhood grad student, freckled and smiley, with the mass of strawberry blond curls; the exotic Argentinean actress who showed up in her high-heeled dance shoes, her sleek, thick ponytail bouncing down her back when she strode, pigeon-toed into our house. In pre-K, he befriended adorable girls whose tresses befitted their names, Bianca and Coco; my husband and I jokingly referred to them as “the supermodels.”
In elementary and middle school, my son’s tastes in playmates changed. No longer gravitating toward girls, he hung out with a nice, but quiet, group of boys and, for most of those years, had one best male friend. During that time, when I fished for information, I rarely received enthusiastic responses from his companions. If I asked a specific question of one of the boys—about his family, school, or any of his favorite activities—I’d usually get a response along the lines of, “Huh, Good. Everything’s, you know, good.” The child would avert my gaze, shrug, maybe smile shyly, then return his attention to the video game he was playing or ask my son if he wanted to go outside and skate board. When I tentatively queried my son about what his friends felt about any situation, he’d answer begrudgingly, “I don’t know. We don’t talk about it. Boys don’t talk about those things.”
Soon after he entered high school nearly four years ago, my son’s social life blossomed—and the best part (for me, at least), the girls were back! Many afternoons, I drive him and a couple of his female friends to coffee shops to study or to our house to work on science or history projects. While there are usually boys in the mix, the majority have double X chromosomes—which is fine with me, as I’ve spent over two decades in an estrogen-deficient home (three males and me). These kids sing, roll their eyes, gossip and guffaw; they freely share their disdain for incompetent teachers and sexually, um, “loose” peers. They text my son when we’re sitting at the dinner table or on the road to visit his brother. Occasionally, they lasso me into the conversation, seeking advice on a fallout between classmates or concern about more serious matters: anxiety attacks over college applications or worry over an acquaintance’s change in eating habits. Unlike the guys, they notice when I color my hair and when I lose a few pounds. They compliment and console and berate my son. In other words, they emote.
In one of my favorite novels, Pride and Prejudice, the perpetually congenial Mr. Bingley declares: “ ‘It is amazing to me . . . how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are. . . . They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.’ ”