Wednesday, January 2, 2008

No Woman is an Island, Unless She Lives in a House Full of Men

Today was quite obviously garbage day in our little corner of Fox Valley as I drove Ben to his job bagging groceries. (Fortunately for us, he's not relying on family money is his schemes to be filthy rich.) Cans lined the curbs, and because it was the first pickup since Christmas, many people had piled extra bags alongside. One yard had so many bags they were spilling out into the street. “I can’t believe those people,” I said in my looking-down-my-nose voice. “A person’s got to swerve into the other lane to avoid those.”

“If it was me driving, I’d swerve to hit ‘em,” Ben said. “That’s just part of being a guy.”

I’ll have to take his word on that. I may live in a House Full of Men (kind of like a Barrel Full of Monkeys), but I wouldn't in a million years swerve to hit anything, much less a garbage bag. I don’t exactly get my guys. And they certainly don’t get me.

I was born the girliest of girls. My favorite toys as a child were Barbies and eye shadow, and when I used my imagination, it was to picture myself being really well made-up as I married somebody famous. I ran like a girl and got picked last for teams and was terrified of balls of all sizes. Figure skating – as a spectator, not a participant – was my favorite sport.

Nothing changed as I got older, either. When I was single, I once found a half-dead mouse in the middle of my living room floor and called a friend’s dad, who’d been asleep a couple of hours, to come over and get it out of there!!!!! It happened to be snowing heavily at the time, but really, what other option did I have? And when the managing partner at my law firm insisted that I play on the firm softball team, I promptly burst into tears. (The legal term for that is “career-limiting gesture.”)

Yes, I married a man, but being heterosexual, I really didn’t have much other choice, now did I? Besides, I’d grown up in what one friend tactfully described as a “matriarchal family.” I assumed Bob would find girly stuff just as compelling as all those women I’d grown up around, or else just go along to get along like the few men in my family had learned to.

It went without saying, of course, that all my children would be girls. I was so certain of this I bought a pink quilt before I was even pregnant. That turned out to have been a bit presumptuous on my part. The only kids I’m ever going to have turned out to be boys. (I finally ditched the quilt a few years ago.)

Once I got over the initial shock of ultrasounds showing penises (penii?), I discovered that there are some distinct advantages to mothering sons. As a rule, they do not care nearly as much about the presentability of their homestead as do girls. The ones I live with don’t really care whether I iron, and when Bob needs a crisp crease in his pants, he’s really good at putting it there himself. I happen to enjoy a gross-out movie now and then, and there’s always someone up for one around here. Most importantly, boys are far less concerned about what their mothers wear in public than all those girls my friends gave birth to. Ben likes it when my clothes look “Fox Valley-ish” (translation: expensive), but he’ll still get in the car with me when they don’t.

Still, there are many times when Bob and Billy and Ben start talking and I feel a wall go up around me. I don't understand what they're saying and worse, I don't want to. I could live with these guys a thousand years and still not care to talk about computers, tail lights, farts, or how airplanes work. And when I'm choosing a paint color for the bathroom, they are no help at all. They think there is only one shade of white and that it’s called “white.”

When things get really bad – when I’ve felt alone in the midst of my men for too long -- I’ll interrupt their discussion of the difference between volume and mass and say “It’s like I was telling Valerie just the other day.” They know that Valerie is my imaginary friend. She knows that there are thousands of shades of white and that not a single one is called “white.” She knows that a black sweater does not necessarily match a pair of black pants; she watches Giada De Laurentiis for her recipes, not her boobs. She knows how to pin up a hem and flute a pie crust, and there is nothing she would rather do than drive around and look at houses.

Usually the mention of Valerie will bring the conversation around to a topic we all care about, like politics, or where to eat lunch, or what a piece of crap our van is. (Mercifully, these guys care about team sports only marginally more than I do.) We’ll all be one big happy family again, until the next time they go off on a testosterone-juiced tangent.

Lately, I'm pleased to report, we’ve found a new activity we can all enjoy together: watching Project Runway, which is on tonight. I like the clothes and the tailoring technique and all the reality show drama. And the guys think the models are hot.

An update: For those of you who read yesterday’s entry, I am happy to report the sofa is gone. Garbage trucks must be roomier than I thought.

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