"Goddess in my garden
Sister in my soul
Angel in my armor
Actress in my role..."
No easy trick when you watch your eldest from the edge of a dance floor, shuffling back and forth, dancing a little here and there, and following various friends racing back and forth, seemingly just out of reach.
Plus, she actually wore a dress for the school Valentine's dance, something she doesn't do all that often. She was so excited to hang out with her friends and run around and dance. And she did, although every time our eyes met, she feigned a smile. I sensed anxious awkwardness and isolation that only comes with the social awakening in late childhood and the tween and teenage years. Sometimes extending throughout adulthood. I know, Beatrice, I thought. We get into our own heads and we can't get out.
But again, this is where I have to be careful. Because she does have friends and she does have play dates and she also likes being alone at times to recharge. Like many people do. Like I do and the Mama does (what I lovingly call my wife) and even our gregarious younger daughter. This is also the age where girls hang with girls, and boys hang with boys, and girls hang with boys, usually irrespective of gender. For now, anyway.
Recently the term "tomboy" came up. I don't know exactly what the specific context was, whether or not someone called Beatrice a tomboy directly, but it sounded like that. The Mama discussed it with her one day and asked her: "Does being called a tomboy bother you?"
"No," Bea said. It was a definitive no, devoid of emotion or hesitation. I don't think she knew what it meant, even after we attempted to define it, and still doesn't.
In the 16th-century the term first appeared and meant a "rude and boisterous boy." By the end of that century, it evolved to mean a "wild, romping girl, [a] girl who acts like a spirited boy." (There's a brief article on the history here.) While she is spirited, although much more muted compared to her little sister, her identity is more complex than calling her simply a tomboy.
Bryce, on the other hand, is just as complex, being a more traditional female, and yet can be highly aggressive and acts like a "spirited boy" at times. She may dress and act the part, but at the end of each day, she's playing a part all her very friggin' own, thank you very much. And there she was, dressed to the nines in her Valentine best and dancing the night away with her friends.
Either way tomboy can be dangerous since the term connotes a negative context of being a feminist and even gay, among not being a true feminine female, which wouldn't matter to the Mama or me either way. Unfortunately since the 16-century, it's been used as a derogatory sexist and even racist term (again, ready the brief history of it linked above) no matter how much we've romanticized it over generations.
And like being called a tomboy, I've been called a girly-man many a time over the years. For decades I've been in touch with my feminine side as "they" say (whoever they is) being more emotionally accessible and in touch with my feelings than the average heterosexual North American male. I'm more than comfortable with who and how I am, and I've also given my good friends plenty of rope to hang me with the "faggot" sentence. And for decades I haven't thought much about it, knowing they were teasing me, just like I teased them time and time again.
But when your identity is disparaged, even if you don't identify directly, it's just not okay anymore. I love my friends, and yet, I no longer like calling each other that. This has nothing to with being politically correct and everything to do with who we are as human beings -- complex individuals whose make-up is much more than the sum of subjective prejudiced observation. Of being forced into traditional gender roles with so-called "normal" sexual identities. We make it hard on each other for not sanctioning beyond our own biased comfort zones. We create separation and resentment with labels. We make it hard on each other by denying ourselves. Even with the best of friends.
And that's where I need to again step back and reflect and to not project me onto them. Because as parents, both the Mama and me know we can't live their lives for them. There are times we want to, where we identify with what they're going through because we went through it as well, or something similar. These are also the times we know they have to go through it, and we're just here to help as much as we can.
So I stood there at the dance a witness to my own competing amygdala messages flowing back and forth across my field of vision -- Bryce streaming by with friends in tow, the Mama streaming by talking to friends and other parents, Beatrice standing in the middle of the dance floor dressed to the nines herself in a red dress and leather jacket looking off in the distance with that awkward social signal, and me standing on the fringe mirroring the signal. Because sometimes we all feel alone again, even with the best of friends.