Her Bad Mother

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

If Truth Is A Woman, She Wears A Skort

When I was about seven years old, a boy asked to see under my skirt.

It was a hot summer day, near the schoolyard. We'd been playing in the grass near the playground; it was long grass, the kind that sings in a good wind, the kind that you hide in. We'd been hiding, we two, and some other children, hiding and running and running and hiding, in and out of the grass, the blades scratching our sunburnt skin. We'd been crouched for what seemed a very long while, hiding, separated by a thin clutch of stalky grass, when I heard him whisper: show me under your skirt.

I didn't answer him. I remember holding my breath and listening to the wind in the grass and pretending that he wasn't there.

Show me under your skirt and I'll show you under my pants.

I still didn't answer. I plucked a stalk of grass out from the ground by its root and chewed its tip. My legs were sore from the sun, from squatting. I was getting tired of this game.

I have a thing in my pants. I'll show you.

I stood up.

Show me, I said.

He did. He yanked his shorts down, very quickly, revealing tiny white briefs. He tugged at those, and his tiny appendage flopped out. Small, pink, and quivering ever so slightly, like the squirming, hairless baby mice my sister and I once found, out behind the shed, the baby mice that the cat got and that made my mom shriek and that we knew better than to mention at dinner. It quivered there for a moment, and then disappeared again behind white cotton.

Now you.

I chewed my blade of grass and looked him straight in the eye.


And then I turned and walked, through the grass, back home, and told my sister: I saw a dink.

She said, what's a dink?

I shrugged, and went off to find my Barbies.

Why didn't I lift my skirt? I was as capable of brazen exhibitionism as any precocious seven year-old. I don't recall feeling shame, or reticence. I can remember the feel of the sun on my skin and the scratch of the grass on my bare legs and the far-away sounds of children playing and parents calling, but I don't remember what I felt about what I was seeing. And it seems to me that I didn't feel anything, other than a mild curiosity and probably some measure of disappointment that what came out of his pants was really nothing as interesting as one would have hoped.

I really just didn't care, I think. And because I didn't care, because the game just didn't seem all that interesting, I just left, the question of what was under my clothes, what was concealed within my underpants, abandoned as irrelevant.

I wish that I could say that this demonstrated some preternatural awareness of the sacredness of what was, what is, beneath my skirt, that I became aware in that moment of the power of the skirt as veil, as that which conceals what men desire, what they seek to understand, as that which conceals what Nietszche understood as a metaphor for truth, for what men understand to be truth, that which has made fools of so many men, so many philosophers (supposing truth were a woman, what then?), that which does not allow itself to be won.

I wish that I could say this - that I could identify my pre-pubescent self as possessing an understanding of the force of womanhood, even if only an intuitive understanding - but I can't. In a different mood, on a different day - if the grass hadn't been scratching my legs, if his weiner hadn't been so mouse-like - I might well have hoisted my skirt and flashed my plump cleft and enjoyed the cool brush of the breeze on my parts. If truth is a child, she lets herself be well-known. I didn't learn modesty until adolescence. I did not learn the power of what modesty conceals until much later. I did not start refusing to lift my skirt out of principle until I learnt these things.

But I wonder now, what was lost when I lost that pre-pubescent whimsy, that careless impulsivity, that thoughtless willingness to say no just because? To say yes just because? To reveal or conceal as the mood strikes, and not for the purposes of negotiation, manipulation, protection?

Did I become, in my maturity, too convinced of the sacrosanctity of what lies beneath my skirt? Did I become too convinced of its exalted status as an object of pursuit, of desire? Did I make the mistake of the philosophers, convincing myself that it must not be too easily won? Did I come to take it too seriously? Did I forget how to not care?

I watch as my daughter twirls in the sand, her skirt hoisted high above her waist, exulting in the dust and the breeze and the sun, and my heart pounds with exhilaration and fear. Fear, for what her openness could provoke. Fear that she'll lose that openness. Fear that I'll cause her to lose that openness, because I want her, in some dark corner of my heart, to lose that openness, because I am afraid of that openness.

Exhilaration, because I remember, and because that memory forestalls, if only for a moment, the fear.

Here's to lifting our skirts. Or not.

Here's to bare legs and carelessness.


Posted as part of the PBN Blog Blast for Sk*rt - go check out my cross-post on Sk*rt so that a) you can check it out, and b) you can vote for me to win stuff cuz you likes me. Check it HERE. And while you're there, click the LOVE IT button. I don't lift my skirt for just anybody, you know.

And check back here at HBM- and at MBT - later in the week for the results of our super-duper BlogHer or Bust or Candy Contest. In the meantime, you can find most of the links to participating posts in the comments here. Go read - and if you did a post but didn't leave a comment here or at MBT, let me know asap.


Blogger Julie Pippert said...

I remember once thinking, in a similar situation, that it might not be a fair trade since I didn't have anything to show...nothing would flop out (as you put it). I guess you could read into that, but I didn't mean anything existential by it.

I'm interested...what brought this to your mind?

I've been pondering my youthful moral code recently. I think it's just because I've been feeling old but maybe I read something somewhere that provoked it. Please let it be the latter. ;)

11:56 PM  
Blogger flutter said...

same thing happened to me, except I ended up mooning the boy.

My mother was so proud.

12:07 AM  
Blogger m said...

I would have been too afraid to have said "No" and that makes me sad.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I love you Catherine.

That is all/

8:02 AM  
Blogger S said...

This instantly became one of my favorite posts of yours. So evocative.

I was traumatized in third grade when I was kneeling down at my locker and heard three or four boys behind me chanting the ditty:

I see Paris
I see France
I see Sarah's underpants

I cried. I always felt the sting of shame, even as a little girl. Better to have been more like you.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

Oh, this was fantastically well-put.

I remember the first time I saw a "dink:" it was on the playground at Kindercare. I was gathered around a boy named Jason with a herd of other children, awaiting the REVEAL. I was five (or six). I remember how it scared me, and I ran off across the playground, feeling changed somehow.

Years later I married a man named Jason. Strange...

9:13 AM  
Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

You skirt tease, you!

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!

I don't think I've ever been in that situation as a child. No one ever asked me to show what's under my skirt.



9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With youth comes the lack of a superego-- and whimsy.

Your post prodded me to reflect on my prepubescence -- I was really rather conservative and shy and never found myself in such circumstances.

It's interesting how you made a conscious decision -- but are we aware of such things at the time?

I wonder.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

I don't know whether I should be happy or sad that no one asked me that question.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I would have been traumatized for life if I'd seen a dink at that age.

And you don't want to be too careless, especially if there are cameras around. Ask Britney.

11:20 AM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

I don't think I ever 'shared' as a child... Seems odd, now that I think about it.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Written like a true overthinker. Seriously. Hm. I hadn't quite considered whether I care too much about my loss of lack of care. But of course you're right. I was always, though, very protective of my skirt and what was under it (a fundamentally timid child) and have learned to care less. Because I care to make myself not care?

But I love the baby skirt hoisting. The baby belly smacking. Love it.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I wouldn't characterize Catherine's writing as the product of an overthinker. I think that it shows a mind that confronts memory and the present in a splendid synthesis. Her narrative makes me think, unlike what I usually read in The Globe and Mail. It's a tonic, filled with the joy of living and being conscious of it. It's all a matter of choices, innit?

12:18 PM  
Blogger Phoenix said...

I love this, it's a great post. Very insightful.

Now me, I not only showed, I initiated. Gotta love 7 year olds who play doctor with the neighbor boy. But to me, it was never a big deal, never scary nor odd, just normal I guess.

By the way, I adore the picture of Wonder Baby from Sunday.

1:18 PM  
Blogger moosh in indy. said...

I didn't even know about penises until Jr. High.
Goes to show how often I played with boys.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

MGM - I should have said in this post that I had already seen wee dinkies many a time - my cousin's, to be exact (my age, and a close companion, we shared many a bath). So it was no surprise. I suppose I was maybe expecting to see something different, something new.

But then again, don't we always?

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I always prefer to lift my shirt. Although, I guess after breastfeeding two kids, no one really wants to see what is under there.
I love that you were expecting something different. My son always seems to think that a "gina" is just another version of a tushy, so I bet he'll be awfully surprised some day when he's seven and he plays doctor.
Lovely language.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

Ah, HBM, such a tease! ;)

4:20 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

Catherine, this is my favorite thing I've read this week. It's beautifully put.
I don't know what to add, except to say that I sometimes find myself hating those same philosophers for their decrees... that it was decided long ago that our genitals would define not only who we are, but how we act, and whether we should be ashamed about showing our cleft in general.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

And as I was reading this, the radio was playing Don Henley's 'End Of Innocence'...

Lovely bit, Catherine.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

I like this. Very creative, very well said. Hmmm.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Julie - totally missed your comment ealier - what brought this to mind? Quite literally, watching Wonderbaby lift her skirt and spin in the dirt. Thoughtlessly, carelessly.

10:37 PM  
Blogger savia said...

When I was four or five, my best friend felt the need to "show me his." He was very insistent on it - he really, really had to show me. So, I let him. It was boring. I didn't feel the need to show him anything back. Then I walked away.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Creative-Type Dad said...

I never flashed my equipment to girls when I was little.
I can't say that I knew any that did either.

2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incredibly well written and thought provoking.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Melody said...

Lovely, perfect. And you are fortunate to have discovered early (I'm assuming you're a young mom) one of the most destructive forces in all the world: parental fear that can alter a child's life forever.

Thus, my personal favorite line: "Fear that I'll cause her to lose that openness, because I want her, in some dark corner of my heart, to lose that openness, because I am afraid of that openness."

Looks like maybe you're a good mom after all.

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am reading "The Secret Lives of Girls" by Sharon Lamb right now so your post is poignant and timely in my life. I am most impressed with your position of power and control in the story rather than becoming a victim. Ahh, if only we would have had "Girls Rule" t-shirts back then...

1:08 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

This reminds me of David Sedaris - in that I'm always amazed when someone can write so beautifully and in such vivid detail of something that happened so long ago. That little dink must have made quite the impression.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Liz: dinks always do.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

I should have said: *little* dinks always do. Contrary to what one might think.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Nichole said...

This post brought back many memories for me, and brings up such wonderful food for thought.

I saw my first "dink" at a family reunion when I was about 5 or 6. And I don't recall showing my cousin anything in return. I remember immediately after seeing his goods, hearing his dad shouting his name, wondering where we were hiding. I had no time to react, and I think perhaps this experience peaked my curiosity.

In the future, all my experiences with playing doctor involved boys revealing to me, but me never revealing anything in return. This is usually how things go to this day, as a matter of fact. I'm a tease in that way.

When I remember my own experiences, it terrifies me to know it's possible (and probable) that E will have her first "show and tell" before she's 7. And of course it's this terror that has to remain secret if I'm to allow her to grow in her own way, within reason of course.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

uhm. i had this same experience, at about the same age too. several crucial differences. i was the one showing my parts, largely unprompted as I remember.

some things never change.

4:31 PM  
Blogger the mystic said...

Beautiful post -- and I would totally vote for it if I was smart enough to figure out how to do it.

1:44 AM  
Blogger Amy @ Taste Like Crazy said...

This is the first post of yours that I have ever read and I have to say that I enjoyed it.
It made me slightly uncomfortable, but that's just me and my background.
I find it interesting that so many people have had very similar experiences.
Very well written.

2:05 PM  

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