As a mother to both a son and a daughter, I have what I believe to be the best of both worlds. Having come from a long line of females, I was excited to learn that my firstborn was going to be a boy. I love being a mother to my son, seeing how the young male brain works and having the chance to experiment on him daily to make him a better specimen of man is very cool (the latter part is a joke. Sort of). Of course, as any normal mother will admit, all I wanted was healthy children regardless of gender. But when my daughter was born, I must admit that I was totally psyched! I love knowing that my daughter will be my partner in crime until such time that she becomes a teenager and if history is any indication, she turns on me and becomes a moody little bitch of the highest order.
My daughter has been on this planet for a little over three years now and upon observing her in the “wild,” I believe that I now have sufficient anecdotal evidence to support the ancient human societal and cultural phenomenon known as the “hunter-gatherer” social system, whereby the men go out and hunt for meat and the women forage for grains and fruits. For over four years I’d only had our son to observe and he’s a definite hunter, not in the sense that he has hunted and killed anything we’ve eaten for dinner, obviously, but more so in the context of playtime. Place him in a habitat full of toys and games, say someone’s finished basement which runneth over with toys, and he will scan the room, quickly hone in on exactly what he wants to play with and then strike.
Contrast him to my two lovely nieces who are a bit younger than my son. I’ve had a number of years to observe them in the “wild” as well. When we’re all together, I’ve noticed that on many an occasion when the girls are placed in the same finished basement full o’ toys type of environment, they will invariably find some sort of gathering device, say a bucket, small bag or a box. Then they will rummage around in the toys, plucking nuggets out and squirreling them away, carrying their spoils around with them for hours. They never ever place their buckets, handbags or boxes out of arm’s reach. And if you got the rare opportunity to peek inside one of their gathering vessels, you might find all sorts of chazerai: pieces of chalk, beads, blocks, scraps of paper, bouncy balls, various and assorted game pieces, princess-y type accessories, hair bows, erasers, and maybe some forbidden items, like small broken electronic devices (cell phones or cameras), guitar picks, wallets, pistachio nuts or hard candy. They clutch onto their catch possessively and watching them try to do other things like gather more stuff, or eat or even go to the bathroom always makes me chuckle; these two tiny beautiful girls trying to navigate an ice cream cone while toting around two tons of crap is a sight to see.
At first I put the notion that there were anthropological roots to this behavior aside, for these nieces are my sister’s daughters, and while I love my sister with all of my heart, I can tell you that after many years of living with her, she could be classified as a borderline hoarder had she not been rescued by my very neat and orderly brother-in-law. But now I am beginning to notice that my pint-sized daughter is definitely a gatherer in her own right and quite possibly a hoarder, the likes of which they make reality shows about on TLC. She is either living out her anthropological destiny or she inherited this genetic trait from my sister.
I believe that the triggering event was the result of my parents giving my daughter a small soft pink backpack as a gift a few months’ ago. This backpack now accompanies the three-year old wherever she goes and she is very territorial over it. No one is allowed to touch it, open it, look inside of it, mention it or even think about it. She brings it into her bedroom before she goes to bed every night and she drags it into the bathroom when she pretends to go potty.
The other day she was insistent that we take that backpack on our trip to the supermarket. Wanting to be a good sport, I said okay and proceeded to reach for it to pick it up. She immediately started screaming at me not to touch it as if I was going to steal her stash, when I noticed that this thing had some heft to it. I became quite concerned that she would get a hernia if she toted it around. I was also really really curious as to what could possibly be inside of it. So ignoring her cries of “It’s mine!” and a more angrily spat out, “Don’t touch my backpack, Mama!” I brought it into the kitchen and hoisted it up on to the counter high out of her reach. She was grabbing at my legs and batting at me with all of her little might, she was so riled up. A quick flash appeared in my head of what her teenage years will be like…
In this cute little backpack I found about fifty crayons plus a sharpener, a few tubs of Play-Doh, a bag of pretzels, assorted baubles and beaded necklaces (mostly lifted from me), six bouncy balls, alphabet refrigerator magnets, pieces of broken chalk, two rubber watches, pictures of Elmo, Cookie Monster, Minnie Mouse and her brother, three plastic plates and three plastic forks from her princess tea set, about twenty Lego’s I know she swiped from her brother’s room, my calculator, an old wallet, rocks from the garden, some Tinker toys, a pen and pencil (which I confiscated), a box of raisins, a deck of cards, a flashlight, two small board books about colors, four binkies, a pack of tissues, and a partridge in pear tree. It was an interesting and eclectic mix of crap that I am sure had lots of meaning to her, and I was happy to find the calculator I had been searching for every day for a month.
The other day I had to go food shopping. I had to both “hunt” and “gather” for my family. I had no desire to go to the supermarket whatsoever, for I was tired and it was really really hot out, but we were running low on supplies. Prior to my trip to the market, I painstakingly made an actual shopping list, even planned out a few meals for the week (nary a chicken cutlet in sight) so that I could attack this mission with military-like precision. Then I quickly got dressed, grabbed my big yellow leather tote bag, doled out my kisses and was on my merry way. I figured that I could be in and out of the market in an hour…
I got to the supermarket, found a wagon and I was off and running. Usually when I food shop, the list is contained in my head, but I have found lately that this method leads to all sorts of trouble: forgetting the necessities, impulse buying, buying in triplicate, and generally spending too much money. But when I go out of my way to make an actual list, I habitually leave it at home; it is almost pathological. I will take the better part of an hour making a list, then I will leave for the market only to have my husband call me and tell me that I forgot the list, but by then I am too far gone to turn back. I will ask him to email the list to me, but by the time he gets around to booting up the computer, the damage is already done. I have shopped, forgotten the bananas, coffee and toilet paper, but remembered this new prosciutto and mozzarella pin wheel sort of a thing, lobster tails and some new coconut scented shampoo (it was organic!).
On this day, I knew I had stuffed that list in my tote bag; I was certain of it. The trouble was that my handbags tend to resemble a black hole after a week or two and I hadn’t yet engaged in operation handbag reorganization, so I had to dig around for this list for a few minutes. In my bag were a few Pull-ups (clean ones), gum (that really good new gum that tastes like chocolate chip mint ice cream!), a 100 calorie pack of almonds, a Clementine, three bottles of hand sanitizer, some band-aids and antibiotic cream, my wallet, my new Android, my Nook, my iPod, a small bottle of water, my reading glasses, my sunglasses, a mirror, a box of raisins, three hair clips, some crayons, about a yard’s worth of wadded up receipts, four lip glosses (in the necessary plummy, nude, pink, and red shades), some expired coupons, five pens, none of which had any ink left, and a ton of loose change. Interesting. The comparisons to my daughter’s pink backpack were eerie. But still no list to be found. I was trying to keep my cool. I knew I had that g-d damned list. I just knew it. To call home and see if it was there on the counter or lying on the driveway would be to admit defeat. I started to sweat as I frantically dug through that yellow bag… to no avail. I was tearing that flippin’ bag apart, determined to pull that list out of it, sweating, and cursing under my breath when I thrust my hands in my coat pocket in utter despair… And then there, in my right hand coat pocket was my list.
I wonder whether it truly is part of our genetic makeup that women and girls the world over wield giant handbags and tote around lots of crap while boys and men trot around with only their slim wallets. I guess it doesn’t really matter. But reflecting on it a bit, it makes sense. Women the world over are caregivers. We are the ones counted on to be prepared. We are the ones our kids turn to when they need to blow their noses or when they skin their knees or when they need a snack. We are the ones our husbands turn to when they need an aspirin or something to clean their glasses with, or a toothpick. So it is all as it should be. Besides, those guys who carry man-purses freak me out.