Not too long ago, maybe four or five years, my oldest daughter knew about boys. She knew there was something wrong with them. They were carriers of germs, they were gross, and they made sounds with their body parts.
When she was younger, she spent some of her most magical years on a cul-de-sac in Georgia. Enormous pine and magnolia trees lined our street, a forest behind us and a lake full of fish and snapping turtles just beyond the path at the end of the road. I remember her covered in the Georgia clay from an afternoon excavating, and I remember Sunshine, the turtle who became our family member for some years; I'm sure he missed the homey confines of his swamp.
Two doors down from us was the old tractor tire on a rope. Tied to a gnarled tree branch, this was where the neighborhood kids met each day. Games were planned under this tree, strategies made, and the bonds of friendship strengthened to match the weathered trunk of their tree.
Both of my daughters led a posse of young girls called the Spy Club. To the untrained eye it looked like several little girls running through all the neighbors' yards, bright green tree frogs in their fists. But if you looked closer, or found their spy logs in their room as I did, you saw that they were always on a mission.
Excerpt from a "spy log" found in my daughter's room, circa five years ago:
Spy Log, Sunday
Spy Club members need to to these things:
Practice running silently
Practice saying awooh-ha-ha. At the right time.
Spy on Liz.
After lunch: Looked at Liz through her window.
She was writing on some paper.
She put a Lord of the Rings Poster on her wall.
She saw us!
She called us imbisults. [sic]
One afternoon, the day my daughters were grounded for the first day in their lives, I had Jacob in a baby carrier and was enjoying a late afternoon walk on our street. I saw the Spy Club girls digging in the soil near a neighbor's house, and I saw a little boy watching from his window, his face pressed against the screen so hard I thought it might pop out onto the ground.
As I neared the house, it became clear that this boy was watching the Spy Club girls dig, and it was also clear that he was sobbing. I approached the house and called in my best mom voice, "What on earth is going on?"
The girls stopped. My daughters looked up at me with dirty faces and I thought of how they always seemed to resemble a street urchin out of a Dickens novel. They were silent. The boy in the window hiccuped.
"Well?" I pressed.
"They told me I was a stupid boy. They told me I couldn't be in their clu...clu...club," he sniffed. "They said they were going to bury me there and no one would know."
I stood there, stunned. My little girls, with their quick grins, yellow fluffs of hair and sweet dresses skimming skinned knees were digging a shallow grave. It marked the first time I had grounded them.
I sit here and wonder how that day was three blinks of an eye away, and yet also a lifetime. My oldest is now preening in her bathroom, carefully sponging on strawberry lipgloss as she adjusts her beads around her neck. She was up early today; when I came downstairs she had already made her bed and offered to help her little brother with breakfast. She is carefully watching me, waiting to see if I will say yes. Waiting to see if she can go and ice skate tonight with a group of seventh graders, to include her crush. The boy who now likes her, and has asked her to go in this group.
The old magnolia tree that stood sentry to my house in Georgia dropped thick leathery leaves onto my driveway for much of the year, and then one day I would notice that the entire tree had exploded into a crown of white blossoms. Spring was glorious in the south. I need to remember that.