I began the conversation early.
"Listen, there will be male people in the nursery," I warned, the moment her beanie-clad head hit my bosom. "You may be placed next to them. Do not worry. Just do not look, no matter what they do. And they will do things. They will attempt tricks. They will make noises. But remember, whatever you do, do not look. You look, you're sunk."
Some might say that I could have waited until we were wheeled out of the operating room and lifted off of the gurney, or at least until the stitches were removed from the six-mile incision across my lower abdomen, but I thought differently, having birthed a daughter, a daughter who would one day encounter boys. Knowledge is power, I knew, as a nurse removed the shower cap from my head.
In light of my success with males up until that November day in 1995 and, I should say, following it, I feel a certain concern, okay, terror and penetrating dread regarding the notion that I am the wizard who will steer my daughters through the choppy seas of romance. I, a girl who spent most of her adolescence and well, adulthood, hiding in broom closets or diving into running taxis as if from a political uprising, must now impart advice into the brains of impressionable little women. How can a person with such a clear and calamitous resume guide the process of love? How can someone who failed the class teach the course?
Naturally, I want my girls to grow up and find the most wonderful mates, yes I do, despite the trail of testosterone in my history. I am not lying, really. Boys are okay, I think. Or at least, two boys are okay. We only need two.
For the past 15 years, we have been continuing the chat that began under anesthesia at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. I realized a while back, oh, at some party in a really white and poufy dress, that I would need to rely on theory, not personal example. Please, do not make the choices I made, make the choices I would make now, the ones you don't actually see. Make those.
Following a few too many traumas, and other circumstances described in a recent post, I decided to slip off the relationship train for an undefined period of time, feeling the need for peace and contemplation, the kind you do by yourself. During these years, yes, years, it has become painfully apparent that my teaching method would have to be conceptual. I would invent scenarios about bliss and mutual respect. I would dream up boy characters with, well, character and the ability to fold. I would use books. And films. Films are good. Around age eleven, though, my kids began to notice the absence in my curriculum of true-life illustrations, of tales in which I actually participated. They started to demand specifics.
Ultimately, one asked the obvious question. "Mommy, have you ever had a good experience with a boy? I mean, something that wasn't a catastrophe?"
Ah, that. "That is a viable question," I said, "and well-formulated. Very good."
"Mom, that is not answering the question."
"Yes, it is not, you are right," I said. "Well, sure. To answer your question, sure, I have had non-catastrophic experiences with boys. Of course I have."
"Okay. So, just to get it straight, you mean name something that did not include any sort of mortification or law enforcement official? You mean something like that?"
"Okay, sure, I have had one of those."
"Truly. Just give me a sec."
And so it went.
"You are like a movie," she said. "Real people don't make boys drive into highway overpasses, on purpose."
As if she knew.
What I know, now, is that my imperfect true-life tales have turned out to be much more instructive than the fictionalized ones ever could have been. Following the public revelation of my boy sabbatical, thoughtful friends have come forward with gentle encouragement and understanding. One, though, has done no such thing. She has come forward with zero-tolerance and the goods to back it up, in the form of boys. Lots of them. I must say I feel a bit like a released convict, re-entering a society full of confusing electronic devices. The rules of dating have changed while I lay sleeping, and, crazily, or naturally, guidance has come full circle.
"Mom, if you closed down the restaurant, you need to call him," said my 15 year old.
"I don't call boys," I answered.
"Ridiculous!" exclaimed my other daughter, just fourteen, and breathless after an impromptu rap and dance performance. "Live with no regrets, baby!"
I offer a first draft, struck by her message. She had no idea how much.
"Are you crazy? You can't say that," they say in tandem.
"Can you type it? I can't make capitals."
She spelled it out and asked if I was ready. I nodded, squeezed my eyes shut, and she pressed the button. It was no big deal to either of them, to step up and take an emotional risk. It was phenomenal, really, to witness the ease, the confidence. Despite my fears about the potential effects of divorce, they have emerged as strong young women whom I can emulate. Whom anybody can emulate. Whether the absence of another man during a certain period of time, or my wacky stories, or their genes and brains and hearts are to credit, they are on a solid path, and I am not worried.
As for the boy who was lucky enough to have received our message, it would be lovely if he were to reply favorably. For now, I put the thought in my pocket, dazzled by how far we three girls have come.