I have two boys who have introduced me to things I never knew before. I enjoy their company -- they are thoughtful and funny and continually surprise me with their reactions, their outlooks, their interests. I feel closer to them than to any human beings in the world. But as well as I know them, they are always unlike me. They are, after all, boys.
I often think about what it would have been like to have had a girl, about what I have missed. I know there are some things I've been lucky to have been spared -- things like Barbie dolls, marathon shopping expeditions, discussions about what constitutes fat, and fights about whether or not she can have her ears pierced yet, wear make-up yet or go out on dates yet. But there is all the lore of womanhood I haven't been able to pass on to a daughter. For instance:
* Jacks. I was the jacks champion of my sixth-grade class (it was a very small school) and whenever I can persuade my friend Marion to play with me, I can still play a mean game. I remember a lot of variations of the game -- Eggs in the Basket, Over the Stile, Around the World, Around the World allowing no bounce, Around the World downcast allowing no bounce (nigh unto impossible). I've tried to find some girl who would like a coach, but no luck. What will happen to all this expertise?
* French braids. The height of glamor in my grade school days. I even know how to do them. On whom? My dog?
* Doll houses. Finally, when my boys were in their last years of grade school, I just went ahead and bought one. I papered and painted it and eventually collected an elegant house full of Victorian furniture and little objects that I liked even better than the furniture. But how to play with it? I tried to interest the kids but they, unimpressed by my arguments that playing with doll houses was a completely non-sex-linked pastime, ignored it.
So I'd sit in front of it all by myself, and I'd pick up the exquisite bushel basket, pour the "apples" and "pears" out into my hand, look at them, pour them back into the basket, put the basket in a new place, maybe on the kitchen table this time, and then maybe move the kitchen table over a little. After a few months of this I sold the house and packed up all the furniture, including the wonderful basket, and mailed it to my youngest niece. Thank heavens I have a youngest niece.
* Fishing. Fishing is my cup of tea. I like to sit somnolent in the sun holding a fishing pole in my hands, nodding with the movement of the boat or watching the water of a river pass by, and think great thoughts. No one in my family likes fishing so I've given it up. But I should think a daughter would like it a lot. Who knows, maybe together a girl and I might have found the courage to actually use bait, to catch something and pry the hook from its mouth, even to clean it and eat it.
* Alto parts. I know the alto parts to all the Christmas carols, a lot of hymns and most of Rodgers and Hammerstein. If I had a girl, not only would I teach her these, but as we did things together we would sing "You Are My Sunshine," "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
* Augusta Hurell Seaman. I don't know if this woman's wonderful mystery novels are still in print, but if they are, I'd keep my girl home from school to give her a chance to read them all. I'd introduce her to all the great books of women's mythmaking -- The Secret Garden, Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, all of Georgette Heyer, and we would discuss them forever.
Baseball. It takes a lot of experience and practice to know what to look for when watching a baseball game. Whether the outfielder's throw is still as strong, whether the pitcher's shoulder is still hurting him, how the rookie's handling being brought up from Nashville. I love to talk baseball with women.
But most of all, when it comes to baseball and a daughter, I'd love to watch her hit a home run right out of the stadium -- well, out of the playground -- and while everyone's screaming wildly and jumping up and down saying "Wow! Did you see that!" I'd just stand there looking modest and say quietly, "That's my girl!"
* Otis Redding. A daughter would understand about Otis Redding, and about Tom Jones and John Denver, too.
Feminist Slogans and Strategies. We'd work up a whole repertory together, quick devastating responses: "Where does it say men can't wash dishes?" and "What do you think God gave you hands for? She wanted you to clean up after yourself, that's what!" Together we'd stem the tide of sexism in the house.
* Glamor. Naturally we'd be too busy to spend a lot of time on this, but we would mess around with makeup, consider new combinations of styles and colors, size up clothes on TV and in the magazines to consider how some variations might do for one of us. We'd do each other's hair from time to time and each other's nails. When one of us dressed up, the other would have had a hand in the general plan, would have settled a last-minute crisis and would give that knowing wink that attested to it all having come out just right.
* Holidays. We'd go through magazines together looking for new things to do for holidays and we'd spend hours together gluing sequins to satin, weaving straw, dyeing cotton, all the while singing the alto part to "Summertime."
* Shirley Lucille. In the years since I started working on choosing names for a girl I've discarded some, added others and have got it pretty much narrowed down to Emily Lily Angelica Scarlett Rose Angelina Susannah Delilah Maud.
* Trick of the Trade. If she wanted me to, I'd show her how to hem, how to have a garden with flowers in bloom from March to November, how to make her own needlepoint patterns, how to make a perfect rhubarb pie and how to run a birdbath so that it will attract a parade of bathers in the early evening stillness.
* Princess Costume. For one Halloween, okay? The other times, of course, she would be an astronaut, chairperson of the board, army general and Nobel laureate.
How about it, you mothers out there with daughters by your side? Does all this sound about right?
Linda Walker is accepting applications from would-be jacks champions in Ann Arbor, Mich.