It was a cold, rainy day.
I was playing with my best friend, David. Playing indoors, because of the weather. And we were on our knees, vrooming our construction trucks around on the floor. Our classroom had a really neat mural on the floor, complete with roads and stop signs and houses and trees. It was early in the school year and we had been waiting for a day just like today so we could play inside during recess.
Now, I adored Mrs. Harvey. My first few weeks at school were better than I could have imagined. Mrs. Harvey was kind. And sweet. And she knew so much. Everything was a game with Mrs. Harvey. She smelled like cookies. Mrs. Harvey was the reason I wanted to be a teacher someday. Mrs. Harvey would be the first, of many, women role models in my life.
But Mrs. Harvey did not like me playing on the floor with the boys.
With the trucks.
Making vroom-vroom noises.
Mrs. Harvey told me that I wasn’t being very “ladylike” and I needed a little time to myself to reflect. It wasn’t time-out, exactly. She sat me at a table and taught me how to make “scribble pictures” with crayon. She told me this is what little girls were supposed to do during inside recess. This or play in the housekeeping area with the dolls and tea sets and little play stoves.
I didn’t like the housekeeping area. Besides, my friend – my best friend – liked to play trucks and build things with blocks. There weren’t any blocks or trucks in the housekeeping area.
That evening, I told my mother what had happened. She told me that some people thought that girls could only play with certain toys and in certain ways. When I was at home, playing in our neighborhood, I was free to play any way I wanted. But at school, I had to listen to Mrs. Harvey’s rules.
In our neighborhood, I was the girl who climbed trees, spit cherry pits the farthest, built sand castles and forts, played with trucks and raced on my bike. I wore garter snakes around my wrists and had an ant farm in my room. I was one of the first chosen for a game of kickball or baseball. My best friends were boys because they knew how to play. The only time I touched a doll was to switch the heads of my sister’s Barbies and larger baby dolls so we could laugh at the absurdity.
In high school, I was lamenting to one of my guy friends about my lack of dates. He said, “You’re not the kind of girl guys date. You’re the kind guys marry.” It was supposed to be a compliment. At the time, it was little consolation.
I’m glad I had a mother that told me it was ok to be who I was. And while Mrs. Harvey squelched me a little on that cold, October day – her sweet, nurturing nature was something I craved and wanted to emulate. She was much older than my mother and a victim of her era. All is forgiven.
But that day, the day I was told little girls don’t play with trucks and make loud noises, was a defining moment for me.
It is a day I look back on fondly. At the time, I was upset. But I had a mother who believed I could play with trucks if I wanted to. I had a father who took me fishing and to baseball games. I was in elementary school during the ’70s, watching the women’s movement take off. There were so many more amazing female role models to come.
I smile when I take a look at what my life is now. I am a mother of three. Who gave up her career to stay home with her children. To raise them full-time. A job I wouldn’t trade for any other. I love to bake and have an orderly home. I’d rather cook something from scratch than pop dinner in the microwave. We even have a picket fence around our yard.
It sounds all so very 1950s.
But it’s who I am.
It’s what I love.
And it’s the feminist movement that allows me to be proud of this very delicious, amazing, gratifying and yes, enviable place in my life.