I’m not going to pretend to understand women- or that there’s anything universal about women that’s capable of being understood, analyzed and evaluated. All I know for sure, is that girls can be incredibly mean sometimes- and yesterday you got to experience that for yourselves.
One of the things we’ve always wanted for the three of you was to grow up in a neighborhood where there were kids everywhere- just like your mother and I had. I remember a little over a year ago when our doorbell rang and I answered it to find several curious little girls ages 3-10 asking if the two little boys they always saw coming and going from the house could come outside and play. I swear my heart almost burst out of my chest that day as I watch you excitedly throw on mismatching clothes and beg me to tie your shoes as fast as I could. Watching you run out the door to play with your new friends… that was a high point for me, for sure. A great moment to be a dad, and a great moment to be alive.
Soon however, in true “be careful what you wish for” fashion, our doorbell was ringing upwards of 20 times a day, almost always during your littlest brother’s nap time. Our dogs, who have displayed impressive levels of intelligence when it comes to obeying commands, or hatching incredibly elaborate plots to acquire scraps from the dinner table, have proven to be hopelessly moronic when it comes to the damn doorbell. In true Pavlovian fashion, I have become conditioned to expect the ringing of any bell to be followed by a bark, a cry, and a litany of whispered curse words.
But I digress.
Having neighborhood friends has meant that the two of you get all the pros and cons of interacting with other human beings in an unorganized setting. It’s been funny to watch little people attempt to assert dominance over activities and imaginary scenarios, and fascinating to see what kind of compromises you’re forced to make. The two of you effectively introduced the entire neighborhood to the intricate details of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mythos, only to have the young girls in the neighborhood hijack the back stories you religiously cling to. If I’m following along correctly- Michelangelo has been forced to abandon his hard-partying ways and settle down with Princess Elsa from Frozen, and Raphael has engaged in an on-again-off-again volatile interspecies relationship with April. Apparently “Apraph” (That’s the celebrity couple name I gave them) seem to have adopted Leonardo and Donatello as their children. I’m not really at a point where I’m ready to point out the 400 reasons why this storyline is neither plausible nor appropriate.
Blurred plot lines are hardly the only bit of adversity you’ve had to face when it comes to the female-heavy dynamic of this neighborhood group. You’ve also had to wade the waters of feminine (lack of) conflict resolution and the seedlings of passive aggression. Last week, you came home and told us that the neighborhood girls had decided to have a “fight” and you were to judge the winner. My male brain instantly assumed that you had been given the role of Herb Dean in what was to be a hair-pulling extravaganza, and I angrily barred you from participating. It turns out that what they meant by “fight” was a beauty pageant consisting of sneaking make-up out of their mother’s purses, and that deciding who won the fight meant you were to decide which girl looked the prettiest.
Holy shit. That is SO much worse than a fistfight.
I instantly forbade you both from walking through that field of land mines, and started paying closer attention to exactly which activities the neighborhood girls were goading the two of you into participating in. I made the decision that I’d play a more active role in the inter-gender conflict mediation that I was sure you’d be needing- drawing my expertise from having managed to co-habitate with your mother for nearly a decade without her murdering me.
I overestimated my abilities.
Yesterday, you both ran through the front door. Micah was in tears. Jett looked on curiously as his brain tried to process whether his older brother crying was something to revel in, sympathize with, or openly mock. Micah explained to me that he had been kicked out of the neighbor’s yard by the 3rd grade girl who resides there “for being mean to one of her friends.”
“But I wasn’t,” you sobbed. “I didn’t do ANYTHING.”
“I didn’t do anything” means nothing to a parent. It’s up there with “That’s not fair,” and “but so-and-so’s parents let THEM do it.”
Positively sure that on some level, you deserved this girl’s wrath, I told you to apologize. You protested. I told you that it doesn’t matter what you did, it matters how they felt, and that if they felt hurt by your actions, it’s OK to apologize.
(I was either being incredibly wise, or completely sexist and patronizing. It probably comes down to however any girl that’s reading this feels (ah, there I go again), and for that, I do or do not apologize, depending on whatever makes them feel better.)
You both looked at me with skepticism. It was obvious that neither of you felt like you did anything to deserve her wrath, so I said “trust me- apologize, then just come right home and give them a chance to digest it. They’ll be back over to ask you to come outside in 10 minutes.”
I have never been more wrong about anything in my entire life.
After one minute passed, Micah burst through the door crying like he had suffered an emotional killshot. Jett- you followed behind looking as if you were ready to give up on human interaction. When I finally got you to calm down, you explained that they never gave you a chance. When you approached them they told you to shut up and go away, and that they didn’t want to hear whatever you had to say.
“I’ll make sure they give you a chance.” I said, playing the hero.
“You STILL want me to apologize?” Micah said, incredulously.
“Yes. You’ll be the bigger person. Let’s go.”
As I walked you to the neighbor’s driveway, the eleven kids who were playing there all scattered like cockroaches, the same way that I used to when a parent would approach me in my driveway as a kid. “We’re here to apologize” I announced, as if I was on an alien planet shouting “WE COME IN PEACE.” I waited with the both of you and soon some of the girls began to come out from behind bushes and cars. The offended party, a girl who lives next door with her cousin’s family came out on roller-skates, which are apparently still a thing, and came face-to-face with you boys.
Micah had defiantly wiped his teary cheeks with his dirty hands, leaving him red-eyed and covered in muddy war paint. It was appropriate look for what happened next. “Micah…” I prompted.
“I’m sorry for hurting your feelings, and for hurting your friend’s feelings” you said, your voice quivering.
“He didn’t even do anything,” said the only other boy in the driveway. A young man of about 10 years old who apparently gave zero shits and had nothing to lose.
“Well, they said that he did, and we’re trying to respect their feelings,” I countered, settling into my role as the Dalai Lama of young gender and communication-based conflict.
“The thing they’re mad about happened like three months ago,” he retorted.
My head snapped back around to the girl. “Is that true!?!?”
“Well, yeah, but…” she started. I didn’t let her finish. All my frustrations with attempting and failing to successfully communicate with and understand women in my 30 years of life came out before I had a chance to remind myself that I’m and adult talking to a 3rd grader.
“Never ring my doorbell again.” Her jaw dropped as I grabbed your hands and led you away from their driveway like an action hero walking away from an explosion.
Probably 30 seconds went by before I recognized that I had just achieved a new high score in the game of “Asshole.” I didn’t mean to overreact- the plan was to go over there and provide an example of upstanding character for you to emulate. Instead, I basically showed you a glimpse of what will undoubtedly be your future when it comes to relations involving the opposite sex- great intentions with disastrous results.
I’m not sure there’s a point to this letter. Especially considering the fact that it was me trying to make a point about how boys and girls relate to each other that ended up backfiring spectacularly.
Here’s what you need to know. No one has figured this thing out yet. That doesn’t mean that you give up trying. Sure, when two boys have a disagreement they can wildly throw their fists around, and once exhausted, can go back to being best of friends. Does that seem like a better system than the psychological warfare some females wage ranging from passive-aggression to aggressive-aggression? To me, yes. Especially considering that most men who aren’t Neanderthals never let the male brand of conflict resolution spill over into how they interact with the opposite sex. Girls don’t have that barrier. They can come at you sideways whether you’re male or female, young or old. Today I’ve gotten the death-stare from our neighbor girl at least three times. On one occasion she had an ice cream cone. I did not. It takes a true evil mastermind to realize at such a young age that eating ice cream in front of someone who doesn’t have any is the ultimate checkmate. You boys don’t stand a chance against this girl, and unfortunately, I don’t think I can help you.