It’s often the little moments during an impromptu mother-son wiffle ball game that demonstrate just how much a ten-year old knows. You don’t necessarily think you’re in for enlightenment when you head to the front yard and start your wind-up, but that’s how it happened one recent hot day.
Red was having a sleepover. That fact alone isn’t remarkable. What was new and noteworthy was that it was a mixed sleepover. Red invited three straight girls and one gay boy to sleep over. I won’t identify the boy by name, but he’s identified himself as gay – a bold and admirable move for a teenager in this world, no matter how much we like to believe times have changed.
Dimples was hitting pop flies when a car pulled into the driveway. Out came a tall, thin young man with an overnight bag. His father leaned out the driver’s side window and asked if I was sure this is okay, to which I replied, absolutely. The high schooler went into the house, and Dimples - a child who generally thinks he has it all figured out, but clearly needed help with this one - looked at me with his head askew. He’d heard about the sleepover and his resultant ousting from the video game room, but who was this non-girl and was he really spending the night with a bunch of, well, girls?
I ran over to home plate to talk to him. I relish the opportunity to talk to my kids about things that could be a big deal, but aren’t...things that might open their minds to the unexpected...and finding the right language – truthful, yet age-appropriate without being condescending - with which to do it.
All kinds of possible explanations were brewing. When I reached Dimples, he greeted me with, “what the?” and what came out in response was that ordinarily, Red wouldn’t be allowed to have a boy sleep over, but this was fine because this boy doesn’t “like like” girls. He likes girls in that he likes to do the things they do (and a night of group make-up application confirmed that), but no one worried that any kissing would be going on.
Anticipating some confusion, some questions, maybe some shock on his part, it was me who reeled in surprise when Dimples said, “oh, he’s gay.” “Um, yes,” I articulated (if you call that articulate). I followed up with, “just a few more pitches before I have to start dinner,” and resumed my place on the makeshift mound.
I suppose I should have expected a higher degree of understanding considering our household, but I don’t think I’d gotten as far as thinking he could see other people this way, or that he knew the meaning of the word gay, or that the notion could be so normal when it applied to someone just a few years older than he is.
I’m pretty sure when I was ten, I’d been exposed to exactly zero gay people, or if I had, no one was there confirming it. I love that he gets it, that he’s not afraid or uncomfortable, and that it merits as much contemplation as swinging at a good pitch. I’m not sure what will happen when Red meets a transgender friend (I give this ultra progressive teen two weeks) who comes to spend the night; maybe by that time, Dimples will answer the door in shaved legs and a blond wig himself.
Enlightenment comes when you least expect it.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she teaches Special Education and Basic Skills at a local elementary school, writes poetry and columns about her family, and directs The Writers Studio. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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