Choices: Story of a Tomboy
Running down the concrete hill from the crowded school bus to home, I would fly down the street feeling free to finally follow my tomboy ways. It was the discoveries awaiting me in the woods behind our house that propelled me through the air with such excited fervor. After quickly changing out of my school uniform and grabbing my fishing pole, I'd head down to the lake. It was my haven of peace. My own, private playground. As I made my way through the woods, I wondered if I would hook that big bass I had spotted slowly gliding under the water's edge the day before. Maybe I'd catch a frog or some bluegill to fry up in a pan of butter for an after-school snack. You never knew what you were going to get down by the lake. That was the thrill.
"A walk down memory boulevard"
How many little girls do you know who take their brother's boy scout equipment out into the woods alone pretending they're frontiersmen, living off the land? Or cook soup over an open fire they built themselves, shoot BB guns, or actually WANT to catch and hold frogs? Girls don't like being alone. They don't like getting dirty. Right? Well I did. It wasn't that I didn't like playing with dolls or giggling with my friends, I just had other interests as well. By all anatomical appearances I was a girl, but my interests and behavior said all-boy.
The little women in my neighborhood didn't enjoy foraging in the woods, swinging from vines, fishing, or going on imaginary hunting expeditions. Boys played too rough, took more risks than I was comfortable with, and liked killing things. So I spent a lot of time alone in my childhood, even though I lived on a street brimming with children.
I wasn't lonely sitting by that lake. I actually didn't want anyone else around. Girls seemed to bore quickly in the quietness and boys made too much noise, scaring the wildlife away. I enjoyed being there by myself, sitting still for hours, watching the sounds and sights of nature move around me in its business of being. I'd watch the geese land skidding onto the lake or be mesmerized by my bobber as it lay on the water. I'd try to imagine what world lived under the mirrored liquid.
One day as I was making my lure hop and dance over the wet muddy bank, a big Ole bullfrog dove for and latched itself onto my hook. I felt the exhilaration of connection. As I held his slick body in my hand I realized he had swallowed the hook. After several attempts to dislodge it, panic set in. One singular, but powerful thought consumed me. This frog may die, but he will NOT suffer because of me. My mind whirled as I tried to think of the quickest, least painful way to end his life.
Fish die quickly with one sure blow to the forehead. For some reason that seemed too brutal for this animal. This creature hopped, made sounds, could look at you and had soft fleshy skin. Somehow that made him different from fish. He was too much like me.
I ran back up to the house. My eyes darted over the garage shelves looking for anything toxic. As I sprayed this helpless creature with every imaginable household cleaner and spray paint I could find, my face was red and wet from tears of anguish. It wasn't working. He was still alive, but now bright orange from the spray paint. I finally relented and took away his misery with multiple blows of a shovel. With my eyes squeezed tightly shut, I struck at him, wanting to squeeze out my own suffering as well as his.
Upon reflection I can see the outrageousness and perhaps even the humor in the frantic actions of a child who wanted to do the right thing. One who didn't know toxic doesn't mean immediate death. When I think back to that day, I remember the feelings of a desperate child and feel compassion for both the little girl and her dilemma.
As I ventured into my teen years, my awareness of the differences in thought, word and deed between myself and other women, heightened. My un-feminine ways continued. I played sports, and worse yet, I was good at them. Being six feet tall attracted the interest of many coaches with dreams of transforming my young, gangly frame and awkwardness into a coordinated winning machine. With this special attention and added practice, I started my sports career and became known as a jock.
I enjoyed nothing better than playing a game of one-on-one basketball with the boys on the weekend, but something about that didn't feel right. I was suppose to be dating these guys, not trying to block their jump shots. I remember the body contact held a certain unique, tingly sensation that was fun. Maybe I partially enjoyed those games because they gave us a reason to be groping each other.
My masculine and feminine qualities were often at odds. I was competitive, but wouldn't risk relationships to win. I liked my fully-developed, female body, but resented men for their muscles and strength which put me at a competitive disadvantage. I taught myself to accept losing, but felt less worthy afterwards. Without that "win at any price," competitive drive, I didn't go on to be a college-star athlete. Not being fully female, I wasn't the picture perfect beauty queen of gentility, charm and grace, either. I didn't fit a stereotype. Many times I wish I had. Teenage years are confusing enough without having to go through a gender crisis. I struggled with accepting my oddities, while society told me I wasn't behaving "normally" for a woman. I was sure there was something wrong with me.
As I matured, I learned to act like a woman. I learned to suppress my strength once I realized men wanted to protect me, not compete with me. When my confidence intimidated them, I turned myself into a giggly, ditzy blonde. I knew I couldn't maintain a facade like that my whole life, so I assumed I would never find a man strong enough to enjoy my dualities. Eventually, I found a man who appreciated my independence and unique combination of qualities. I was a full grown woman, and married, but I still carried the Tomboy inside.
Other women held close guarded secrets about how to fulfill their roles as women and wives. They innately knew how to decorate and make a house look pretty. They knew about flowers and plants. They knew how and what to cook. They were, in some ways, better equipped as women for the "business of life." Although I was passionate about my career, I didn't fit in with the power-driven, brief-case-carrying career women. And although I loved writing and painting, I didn't fit in with the Sunday bake-offs and crafts groups, either. Maybe that was the problem. I was unclassifiable. I couldn't find a niche I could slide into.
It felt like no matter how hard I tried, I would never have the innate talents other women possessed. I would copy and fake my way through it, unnaturally, not like a real woman. So I didn't decorate, garden, cook, or fiddle with domesticity. To make myself feel better about this apparent inadequacy, I chalked all those qualities and interests up as being trivial, simple minded and certainly beneath me.
Not only couldn't I seem to do "women things" but I also couldn't muster up the desire to have children. I didn't want to have babies. Was I low on estrogen or missing some crucial mommy gene? I must have misplaced my maternal instinct because it was unfathomable to women that I didn't find babies cute or want to hold them. I felt awkward when someone shoved a little human at me. Whatever the case, I chose to raise kittens instead of conceiving.
It wasn't until last year when my husband and I left Cincinnati, Ohio, that those beliefs about being "womanly challenged" were put to the test. Our real estate agent told us we'd get more money for the house if it looked more like a model home. I kinda, sorta knew what she meant but I didn't have a clue what to do. Too cheap to hire a decorator, I sat down and started looking through interior decorating magazines. Then it hit me. I didn't know how to decorate because I had never paid attention to how it was done! Since I assumed it was an innate womanly quality that I didn't have, I never even tried to learn. I studied those magazines and got busy totally redecorating the house.
When our agent returned, she was very pleased and surprised to find the place looking so "architectural-digest-like". More importantly, I was pleased! With that, I had a type of paradigm shift. I realized that I had been making choices about my life based on beliefs of inadequacy. I figured I might be able to change all those areas in which I had doubted myself, by simply paying attention to how others did them. Then, do them myself. I didn't know if I would enjoy these traditionally female interests, but I wanted to find out.
After we had moved into our new home on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, I began decorating. I taught myself to cook. I designed a landscaping layout and planted shrubs and ground covers. I even tried my hand at flowering bulbs. Perennials of course. I'm not a masochist.
I had always dreamed of having a garden. It seemed so earthy. So I planted a vegetable garden. In typical type A personality, I planted almost every seed I could find. Corn, green beans, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and green and hot peppers became my laboratory subjects.
My biggest tomato was the size of a Ping-Pong ball and the entire garden was eventually massacred by deer, squirrels and raccoons, but that's not the point. The point is, I did it. I created something from nothing. Maybe it was the "living off the land" idea coming back to me from my childhood. The garden required me to pull both the Ying and yang aspects of myself to the forefront. I used my pioneering spirit, independence, and leaderships skills, which are traditionally male, as well as my sensitivity, nurturing and mother-earth type qualities, which are generally associated with women.
So began my blossoming into a woman. Or did I just blossom more into who I am? A more authentic me with fewer fears and self doubts. By experimenting, I was able to discover what I truly enjoyed. Having faced my own beliefs about what it means to be a woman, I now know my choices are based in freedom, and not in fear or feelings of inadequacy.
So what is a tomboy, anyway? Doesn't the term or label imply that our gender requires certain characteristics and behavior? It seems a sweeping generality to me, but perhaps all generalities hold some vestige of truth in them. But don't we limit ourselves when we demand our children to think and act a certain way, based entirely on gender? Where is the strengthening of natural tendencies?
I no longer buy into society's beliefs about how someone with breasts is suppose to behave. We limit ourselves when we set up such tight parameters in which men and women can operate. Life is all about feeling free to follow our desires and wants. It's about choices. Maybe that's what I got from being a tomboy, considerably more choices then the little girls who had no interest in "boy things".
Staff, H. (1997, September 30). Choices: Story of a Tomboy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, October 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/creating-relationships/choices-story-of-a-tomboy