The other day I finally borrowed a big ladder from my dad to finish painting the trim on the high sections of the house (the lower regions have been done for over a year.) I managed to complete one side of the house with the big ladder, though it was not without peril. A Cape is a very adorable style of house, I think, until one contemplates painting all those dormers and odd angles. To paint the trim on the dormer, I had two options: crouch on a fairly terrifying ledge of pitched roof about a foot and a half wide, or brace my legs against the top rung of the ladder and lean out at an ill-advised angle and flail at the trim with a dripping brush. Five times I climbed the ladder and stood at the top, horrified by both prospects. The ladder clattering with my shaking legs, I five times climbed back down deciding that the trim really didn’t need to be “Spice Delight” after all. Finally, I elected to adopt the harrowing, lean-over-the-ladder technique, and was stabbing at a corner just out of reach… when the wasps came. As I stood frozen atop the ladder, and the wasps brushed against my arms and face on their way to scout nest sites, the smell of baking came wafting out of a downstairs window and up to my nose. Christophe was making bread.
Although I feared for my life up there, and was suffering adrenal burnout from the prolonged stress of ladder top clinging, I was awash in gratitude to be painting a treacherous dormer while under siege by wasps instead of baking. Christophe had already made hummus and fried chick peas, and would go on to make a strawberry banana cake while I was out painting simply because the boys asked. When the boys ask me to bake, I usually point at something behind them and say, “Look! A Power Ranger!” and then run away. It interests me not at all, just like shopping for clothes or going to Target, or having a mani-pedi, or watching romantic comedies, or reading 50 Shades of Gray. I would much rather be almost dying while painting the house, or doing a bit of light plumbing, or hanging drywall.
My whole adult life, people have assumed I’m gay. Usually until they meet Christophe, but sometimes, it persists beyond that into a belief that I am just closeted and trying to pass for straight. This does not bother me, but it does puzzle me. Yes, I have very short hair, wear makeup not ever, care very little about what I’m wearing, and own fewer pairs of shoes than my husband. But how could that be it? None of that has any bearing on to whom I’m attracted, but merely on how I choose to present myself. I’ve been a tomboy nearly since birth. Any photos of me in a dress show me defeated, with red-rimmed eyes and a heavy pout. I only played with He-Man and Skeletor and Match-Box cars. If you meet a girl like that today, her mom is probably blogging about how her daughter will end up transgendered one day. And sure, it could be true, but it’s probably not. For a while, it looked like we were making long strides toward real gender equality, towards a day when the repair men would stop saying to me, “Now, when your husband comes home, you have him check this, ok?” Yeah, ok dude. But I own the tools in this house and my husband will be no help, I assure you. He’s the computer man. Not the home improvement man.
I am grateful not to live in the 1950s, where I would have been a hopeless misfit. And I’m grateful that I can go paint while Christophe bakes the bread and the worst thing anyone says about it is “that’s weird.” But I wonder what would have happened to a girl like me if I’d had to grow up today. Inundated by pink Barbie makeup kits by age 3, helpless pretty pretty princess stories while still in utero, and impractical shoes ill equipped for tree climbing and swamp stomping before I could walk. I have no daughters, and sometimes I’m grateful for that–not having to try to swim against the pink tide. But I’ve got to raise my boys in this same world, and I’m hoping that when they see mom on a ladder and dad in the kitchen, they’ll remember it when someone tries to tell them girls are just for show.