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Girl Meets Boys, Girl Hates Boys, Girl Flees Boys

I don’t know what’s happened,
really I don’t; one minute Maddie’s happy in any
kid’s company, and the next she’s saying she
doesn’t like boys and refuses to play with them on general
principle. Great.

Before everyone starts laughing and talking about the cootie thing,
let me tell ya, that ain’t it. Maddie’s become
genuinely fearful of boys, worried they’ll hurt her during
play or be mean to her on purpose. I see her cower and shrink a bit
every time we approach a park and there are multiple boys on the
equipment, then physically steel herself to “get through
it”. I think it all started a few weeks ago, when a couple of
older boys (seven or eight) were playing on the playground. Maddie
was in her own world, happily oblivious, until she tried to go down
the twisty slide the boys had commandeered for themselves.

“Do you have a ticket?” one
boy demanded imperiously as she approached. Bewildered, Maddie
shook her head. “Then you can’t go down the
slide,” the boy smirked, before turning away and physically
blocking the entrance. Uncertainly, Maddie stepped forward.
“Excuse me, please!” she said, trying to move past him.
The boy ignored her. She tried a few more times, then
-“Ticket! Ticket! Ticket!” the boy shouted, pushing her
back. Maddie’s face started to crumple and she turned away. I
intervened at that point, explaining everyone had use of the slide
and he was being unkind. But the damage was done.

Ever since then Maddie’s been leery of boys, to the point of
avoiding some activities. She went for her first soccer class full
of joy and excitement; when she showed up and discovered the class
was her and five four-year-old boys, her excitement turned to
nervousness but she gamely tried anyway. But the whole class she
was too worried about the boys accidentally running into her as
they sped around, head down, trying to keep their own soccer balls,
and after about twenty minutes she gave up in tears.

I called the rec center and found another class starting in a few
weeks that has other girls in it, and Maddie’s agreed to try
that one; she flatly refused to go back again to the all-boy class.
She’s so concerned about boys that when her beloved Mr. Adam
was out from her gymnastics class one day and Mr. R.J. came to
substitute, Maddie had a meltdown. Five minutes into class her face
was crumpling with silent worry, even as she tried to continue the
class. She was simply too scared of the new man. She sat out and
watched for a few minutes and was finally able to join in, even
playing with the new teacher by the end of the class, but it was
clear to me that this phase will not be over quickly.

My girl’s trying to be brave and keep an open mind, but
it’s taking all of her strength sometimes to go into mixed
play. I’ve explained that most boys aren’t mean, they
simply play faster and rougher than she’s used to. “Do
you know how sometimes you will accidentally push Cora while
you’re running around, and she’ll fall over? Well, to
Cora, you’re playing like a boy. How she feels with you is
how you feel with boys. I promise, most boys aren’t trying to
hurt you.” Boys have that essential boy-ness to their play,
flying around corners and speeding down slides, bumping into each
other and bouncing off one another in that tumble of arms and legs,
and right now it’s freaking Maddie out, though she’s
watching them like an anthropologist trying to figure out the key
to boyhood.

So Maddie gives boys the benefit of the doubt, trying her hardest.
I’ve actually seen her running carefree and happy on the
empty playground, then shut down as a pack of five-year-old boys
come running over. On that occasion she began whispering to herself
and I crept closer to hear what she was saying. Maddie was walking
up the twisty slide, trying to skim the edges of the boy group,
saying over and over again, “Don’t worry, they’re
not mean, they’re just rough. They’re not mean,
they’re just rough.”

Maddie’s said to me, “I don’t like any boys. I
don’t want to see any boys at all.” I’ve pointed
out to her that her beloved Maxum is a boy, and she said,
“Maxum’s not a boy. He’s my friend.” And
what about her friend Cody? “Ok, Maxum and Cody are ok, but
no other boys. All other boys are too rough.” And listen,
there is no one more physically, unrestrainedly boy-like than Cody.
Apparently, you have to become a good friend before you’re in
the club, with all the trust and faith that goes with friendship.

So get ready, all you boys – she’s got some tough
defenses to get past. But once you do, you’re no longer a
boy. You’re a friend, and that makes a world of


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