Monster in the Backseat –
“Oh my!” I thought. “How did life guide me to this moment?” I have raised four kids, three boys, one girl, all of whom are successful. I remember giving birth to only one which wasn’t born while I was under the influence of an epidural. My husband, Mike, and I cared for, paid for, and prayed for each one. And somehow, miracle beyond understanding, each one left the nest and soared high. Three of the four live right here in town. The one that flew away joined the Air Force and is deployed in Hawaii. Poor Timmy. Between spending party time on the beach and going vertical to Angels 40,000 in his F-22 Raptor, he has no life. Mike died last year of a hidden aneurysm leaving me a substantial life insurance policy with which I would have an easy life without him. Too young. I am alone now, except for the time I put in caring for my six grandchildren, I have no one to come home to anymore. I love family! I have had a good life. Although, it could use a few more men I care about. Four of my grandchildren are girls.
So, how this moment came about is all the more startling. I had an overprotective doting father growing up who loved me, my mom, and all his girls. He lectured me on many topics, but the one that addresses this moment is what he drilled into me time and time again, “Harriet, pretend there is a ‘Monster in the Backseat’ and look every time you get into your car for the monster.” Honestly, as stupid as that bromide was, I practiced it as if it were a high church rubric that once violated, would send me to Hell instantly. Well, I knew why my Dad taught me it to protect me when he wasn’t there. It was because he left me forty years ago just two months after my senior prom when cancer stole him from me. It was a legacy that he knew I would practice to reassure myself that he was still there for me. It helped us say goodbye.
It was a busy day. I had been babysitting my nine year granddaughter Felicity after school so her mother could work. I had done this since the beginning of school a few weeks ago and I always had a snack waiting for her when she walked home each day, well, to my home, which was about five blocks from my daughter's and son-in-law's house. That day, I found that the cupboard was bare when she got to my place. So, I broke the rules. I told her to watch TV and I would run up to the convenience market a half a mile away and grab a snack and be right back. It must have been that quick trip mentality that allowed me to forget my standard practice. I pulled in, jumped out, ran in and bought some bananas, chocolate syrup, and ice cream and rushed back to the car through a crowd of students who had just arrived coming in for a snack after school. I drove home. When I pulled into my place, I heard the monster move and realized that the first time I had ever broken Dad’s rule of checking for a monster had resulted in, of course, a monster in the backseat. It had appeared just as he had predicted.
I turned slowly in my car to look into the back seat of my car, nothing. But I could hear a moan or breathing. I couldn’t see anyone. I stepped out leaving the purchased items in the front passenger seat and stepped back from the car. I moved slowly to the rear door and saw two small legs lying on the floor of the backseat and a huddled mass attached to them hiding from my gaze hoping I wouldn’t see it. I flung open the door and bellowed, “Get out of there, whomever you are!”
The apparition sobbed in apparent pain, “Do I have to?” What sounded like a girl and appeared to be dressed like one hesitated moving.
“Yes,” I commanded, “right now, young lady!” I stood back waiting for the little slip of a monster to take flight. It quivered and began to crawl out and stood up. It was in an old paisley print on a skirt and a pink blouse and open cardigan sweater that looked ratty and old. I would have said it was found on a give away pile judging by how dated it looked. The child was wearing Mary Janes which accented the old look. It might have been one my daughter, Marissa, might have worn when she was in junior high or elementary. The child shook in fear as it took its full height standing, but the eyes were riveted to the ground. I was a head taller than the poor wretch.
I realized almost immediately that while it looked and sounded like a girl, the hair was too short, and it may be a boy. “What is your name, dear child?”
“Fred, Ma’am.” came a weak and sad sound reply.
“Fred, why are you dressed like a girl?” I asked calmly and with as pleasant a voice as I could manage with my beating heart betraying me too. Plus, my curiosity was bursting.
“Because the boys at school made me. After school, they grabbed me and took my clothes off to make me wear these. Can I hide, please? I don’t want anyone to see me like this! I just want to get to my house where I can change before my parents see me. Especially my parents!”
I told him to go up to the porch and I would help him. I grabbed the bag filled with slowly melting ice cream and followed him to my door. I opened the door and we went inside. Felicity greeted me at the door and uttered a baffled, “Hi Fred” upon our entrance.
Fred said in a distressed tone, “Please don’t tell anyone you saw me like this Felicity! Todd the terror and his gang assaulted me after school again. I didn’t realize this was your mom’s car. I was just trying to hide from the kids that were at the Quick Mart because a bunch of students were about to see me.”
Felicity looked up at me and at Fred. She nodded yes. I interjected, “Fred, I am her grandmother. So, you know this young boy, sweetie?”
“Yes, Grandma Mitchell, I know him. He is Fred, the brother of Madison, the girl who babysits me sometimes when you aren’t available. She is a senior in high school. He goes to Junior High now. He is in sixth grade.” Fred nodded. I looked him over and realized that he wasn’t that big for a boy. He must be being bullied all the time. Truth be told, if his hair was longer, I might have thought he was a girl.
“Well, you two head to the kitchen table.” I patted Fred on the head. “I will dish out some ice cream and we can sort this out. I think I can help you Fred.” He smiled and relaxed. I could tell he was a sweet child at heart.
After I dished out the ice cream and after they had a snack, I asked Felicity to go do her homework while I talked to Fred. “Why don’t you want your parents to see you like this? I am sure they would understand.” Fred just looked down. He was reluctant to tell me something. Tears were running down his face.
“Please tell me, Fred.” I was confused and, for some reason, maybe my intuition, I added, “Is it because you have been wearing girls clothes at home and they think it is wrong?” Fred shot me a worried look as though his secret was out. My instincts were helping me help him.
“It is okay, Fred. I am not trying to judge you. I trying to understand you.”
“The clothes I am wearing, Mrs. Mitchel …” Fred paused and was having trouble. I put my hand on his arm and smiled showing that I would patiently wait for him to answer. “… were in a garbage bag in front of my place this morning. Somehow, Todd found out what was in them before school and decided to dress me in them this afternoon. He thought is was a good joke if my folks were to see me dressed like my sister. I can’t be seen in these clothes again by them. Anything but these clothes!” There was terror in his face.
“Okay. I will help. Go watch TV with Felicity, I am going to get something from the garage.” I went to the garage and found one of the many boxes of Marissa’s. I pulled it out and walked back into the kitchen. I sorted through her old clothes until I found the clothes I knew she had and set it aside. Then I went into the garage and found one for Timmy. I sorted through his clothes until I found clothes that I knew would fit Fred.
I went into the TV room and gave Timmy’s clothes to Fred. I pointed to the bathroom door and said, “Fred, I want you put these on in there. Then, neatly fold the clothes you were wearing and bring them to me.” Fred smiled and did as I asked. I placed the clothes he took off into Marissa’s box. I then handed the clothes I pulled out to Timmy.
“Here, Timmy, these are my daughter’s clothes. They look similar to the clothes you were wearing, but in no way could be considered the same by your parents. This way, when I tell them what the bullies did to you, you can tell the truth about what happened this afternoon. And, if the bullies seen the folded clothes, they will think they were the clothes they put you in. But, this bullying has to stop. Okay?”
Fred said, “Thank you ever so much, Mrs. Mitchell. Will you help me tell my parents?”
“I plan on it. But, I have to ask you one very important question, Fred. How do you feel at home when you wear your sisters clothes?”
“I dunno. I like it. It makes me feel good. Like I was supposed to be wearing them.”
A little while later, Fred, Felicity, and I were in Fred’s living room talking to his mother, Rosemary.
“Oh no, they were bullies. I have seen them do this to other boys too, Mrs. Jones. Todd is a bully!”
“Well, thank you Pauline. You were very kind to help out my Fred.”
“Well, Rosemary, I had three boys. I know what it is like to worry about them. I will tell you what. Felicity and her cousin Jason may be also, who is four, are going to be at my house everyday. I really am only a block or so away from the Junior High and much closer than your place. If the school won’t handle the bully because they can’t prove he has been doing these things, then have Fred come to my place. He can do his homework and you can pick him up after work, around five-thirty. And if you are going to be early, just call. Todd will never suspect he is coming here.”
Arrangements were made and everyone was happy. The next day, Fred knocked at the door about three. I let him in.
“Hi Fred. Jason is down for a nap. I have a big house, you know. And, while you are here everyday, I thought you might want a room to do your homework.” I led him down the hallway corridor to Marissa’s old room.
He looked at it and how girly it is and then back at me. I sat down on her bed next to a pile of clothes. “You know Fred, only girls are supposed to be in this room. So, if you want, you can wear these clothes on the bed so you look like a girl, I won’t say anything. Also, Felicity can come in a play with you. You can do make up and dress up if you want as long as the door is open.”
Fred didn’t say a word. His mouth hung open and he just stared at me.
“Or, you can be a boy and sit at the kitchen table and do your homework. It is up to you. However, if I ever catch you doing something wrong, this room will be off limits to you. Understand?”
“What would be wrong, Mrs. Mitchell?”
“Acting like a boy in girl’s clothes with desires for doing you know what?”
Fred blushed. “Yes, I know. My parents have had that talk with me. But why?”
“Because, Frederica, if what you are is really a girl in a boy’s body, I want you to discover that truth without being afraid to find out.”
“What if I am a girl?”
“Then we figure out how to bring it up to your parents.”
“They hate it. They are bigots. They know all about the condition and they think it is wrong.”
I relaxed and smiled. “You know, that is normal. Don’t blame them. It is a good thing.”
“One of the big mistakes we make in this world is assume someone who is prejudiced is narrow minded or small minded when they aren’t. The same mother nature that may have wired you to be female wired them too. Did you ever think of that? Their prejudice is what mother nature created to protect the species. And when you accept that, everything becomes much easier.”
I could see that I would have to explain it better.
“I am a grandmother. I see things differently than I did as a mother. As a mother, it used to be all about my children. When I became a grandmother, it became all about the world. I changed because my role changed. The same thing may happen to your parents.”
“Also, I want you to think about something. Acceptance is a two way street. Too often, people argue a position that isn’t convincing because they don’t begin with that assumption.”
“How does that affect me?”
“If you want your parent’s to see you as you are, then you have to see them as they are, prejudices and all. If you want them to love you as you are, then you have to love them as they are, regardless and unconditionally.”
“So, that means if they don’t like my being a girl, I have to love them anyway.”
“Yes, it does. I know it is hard and difficult to understand. But, real love doesn’t give us room for bitterness. If we harbor in our heart anger and resentment for someone not being the person we want them to be, then how can we be justified in being angry at them for not accepting us as we are.” I could tell that was hard for Frederica to swallow.
“Okay, I am giving you a safe haven here to figure out your gender identity. But I also want you to give your parents a safe haven to figure out who they are. Parents are fearful. They are afraid of every choice they make in raising you as being the wrong one. They think if they don’t crack down on you enough, you will rob a bank. Or, they might think if they don’t teach you enough manners you might lose a job.”
“I can’t see my parents as fearful. They are so confident and sure of themselves. And they are sure I am wrong.”
“I assure you, as a parent of four children, I can tell you that your parents are scared and second guessing themselves every day when it comes to you. Give them some slack to make mistakes. And just love on them even when you know they are wrong because it is the only way they know to love you.”
Over the next few months, it became clear that Frederica’s parent’s wouldn’t accept her being a girl easily. However, their relationship improved tremendously. Frederica started to love on them and improve her grades. She stood firm and said she wouldn’t go into sports. But, she joined the choir and book club. She grew by leaps and bounds in her relationship with them.
Eventually, Rosemary came over to talk to me. “I don’t know what you said to Fred, but he has become a dream child. He used to be so rebellious and sarcastic. Lately, he has become loving and caring about what happens to us. We can’t thank you enough.”
“You are welcome, Fred is a wonderful and respectful child. It is in Fred’s nature. Sensitive, kind, and patient. A very special child. Thank you for letting me help you take care of him.”
“We were so worried about him too. We found him wearing his sister’s clothes one day. It was so disturbing. He is a boy, not a girl.”
“I understand. Can I ask you to do me a favor?”
“Sure.” She looked at me strangely, but did as I asked.
“Please trust me. Sometimes the best way to demonstrate a problem is by example. Now, put your tennis shoes on the wrong feet and walk around the living room.” She did as I asked.
“Feels strange doesn’t it. And you can tell your shoes don’t match your feet, right?”
“Oh yes. I see what you saying. When Fred put on his sister’s clothes, he was putting on his shoes wrong. That would be a great way to explain it to him why it is wrong.”
I smiled because I knew she fell into my simple trap. “I guess that is one way to look at it. But, keep them on for the moment as they are. Have you ever heard the Indian parable of walking a mile in another person’s moccasins?”
“Yes. What would happen to you if you were to keep your shoes on like you have them now?”
“Nothing good. I would trip and get hurt. I wouldn’t be able to run or walk as easily. I might even hurt my feet.”
“After a week of Fred coming here, I had the same exact conversation with Fred. I told him to make sure he put shoes on you that fit, so your job taking care of him wouldn’t make you trip. You see, expectations are like shoes. They affect how you walk and talk.”
Rosemary’s mouth dropped. “Wow! That is awesome advice. Thank you. I will tell Steve, Fred's Dad.”
As she gathered Fred to take him home that evening, I quietly said to her with a wink, “Make sure you put expectations on him that fit Fred and you wil never be disappointed or worried about his future or who he is.”
I closed the door and smiled confidently knowing one day, very soon, a little girl would knock on my door at three o’clock instead of a little boy.
Copyright © 2017 by AuP reviner
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