We do not have a coffee table in our living room. We own a coffee table, and it is perhaps one of the nicest, coolest pieces of furniture we’ve got. But it is upstairs in the guest room. The reason there’s no coffee table in our living room is that two bear cubs live in our house.
At least, that is how Jason and I often think of the girls. Our daughters are many things. Demure is not one of them. They are very different from one another, but they are both incredibly physical, strong, and inclined to initiating and engaging in long bouts of wrestling. As I write this, they are having some sort of impromptu swordfight - except that the swords are made out of brushes, and there isn’t anything elegant about the battle. They’re just kind of smacking each other with the brushes and laughing a lot. A minute ago they were on the rug in the living room (where the coffee table would look really, really nice by the way) wrestling. Well, actually, they were kind of having a kick fight. They were laughing. I was laughing too, although I was just waiting for someone to connect a little harder than they meant to and cause it turn ugly and tearful.
This is their version of a “movement break” from homework.
The girls still like nothing more than tackling their dad. Or playing steamroller with him. It is only very recently that they have stopped insisting on nightly wrestling matches with Jason before bed. They arm-wrestle each other. They play a homemade version of floor hockey by the stairs. Kali picks me up and carries me around. She used to run at me with such force at school pick-up time that I’d have to physically lock myself in place so as not to get knocked over. She can swim well over a mile in one session. Grace is the most aggressive soccer goalie I know, jumps in front of penalty shots in lacrosse (do you have any idea how hard that ball is?!), and was the only girl on her flag football team last year.
They are the best kind of girls, I think. Tough girls. Rough girls. [Right now they are still having their brush-fight, although they’ve migrated under the desk a room away. Somehow, they are still laughing.]
When Grace was little, she was a tomboy. She would only wear clothes if they were purchased in the boys’ department, people often mistook her for a boy with long hair, and for about a year she even insisted we call her Jack. I had been a tomboyish girl myself, though not to the extent that Grace was, and I kind of assumed that this was just the kind of girl I made.
Then Kali came along, and I was stunned by her girliness. By her infatuation with princesses. Her obsession with pretty. For a year, she went everywhere in a gauzy pink and purple fairy dress and a set of sparkly wings on her back, her long brown hair curling softly between her shoulder blades. I had one of those parenting moments when it hit me that an entirely different animal had entered our midst. How did this happen? I remember thinking. She likes dolls. She likes dressing up.
[Oh god. They’re back, and have just finished using me as a human shield. I am in danger. So is my computer. The dog is looking interested but conflicted, a bit hesitant to jump into the fray. Lucky’s always been a cautious guy.]
Anyway, several years ago Kali’s pink-and-winged phase petered out, and now she and her sister share clothes, something I never imagined would happen. But at some point during Kali’s lovely fairy phase, we acquired some Barbies. What seemed to me to be a lot of Barbies. In my view, any Barbies were too many, and what had collected in my daughter’s room kind of creeped me out. Where had they all come from? The best thing that ever happened with the Barbies was the time when Kali and her dear friend and partner-in-crime, Lola, spent an entire day in Kali’s room with the door closed, and when they came out they had shot a hilarious multi-scene video on someone’s phone, in which they were very clearly mocking teenagers by having the Barbie dolls speak in exaggerated valley-girl voices and fighting over boyfriends. It was awesome.
When Kali was ready, I was given permission to give the Barbie dolls away. Here is the notice I posted on my DC mom’s listserv:
Subject: Battalion of Barbies
I once smugly swore that no Barbie would ever set foot in our house, so I appreciate the irony of this post...
My second girl hit this phase a few years ago, and once one person got her a Barbie for her birthday, they seemed to inexplicably multiply (even before someone gifted us a Ken... ?!) until there was a small Barbie Army exploding out of my kid's closet.
Now, the day has come when she says she's done with them. They're not all in perfect condition. Some of them have had multiple visits to the stylist-in-training school-of-giant-scissors, I'm not gonna lie. But there are many, and they come with CLOTHES! There is even the whole set of Tinkerbell Fairy ones.
You can have them. All. For Free. Please.
I learned that day that a lot of people really like Barbies. It was a highly-responded-to post. I was very glad to be able to get rid of them. Barbies just always seemed to me to be the very antithesis to the strong, tough, solid image of what I hoped my kids would be, and who they visibly were. Everyone knows about the horrifying proportions of Barbies, the impossibility of their sticklike stature. And the kind of body-image message that conveys. Not the kind that encourages girls to show off their biceps.
Even before the Barbies departed the premises, though, our house-full-of-girls always felt a little different than the other houses of families with daughters. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
[And, just now, the rain has started to fall, and the girls have glided back into their chairs, returning to their homework. It is incredibly quiet. I give it five minutes before the bear cubs return].