Little girls remain intriguing mysteries. I have a brother, no sisters. My father had two brothers, my mother five, neither had a sister, and I have three sons. This leaves me ignorant but curious. When all else is equal (brains, wit, charm, etc.) I prefer the company of women to men and seldom regret my choice.
On the playground, girls are remarkably free in expressions of affection. They hold hands, hug and whisper in each other’s ears. They jump rope communally, draw pictures and collect insects, spiders and worms in groups. On Monday, three first-grade girls approached me, arms around each other’s shoulders, and one announced: “We have a song for you.” In unison they sang (or chanted)
We are the pickle babies”
and giggled uproariously. One of the trio wore a green sweater and I pretended she was a gherkin and had a go at her arm. “You can’t eat me. We have another song for you,” she said:
We are the googly buddies.”
Boys this age already don’t touch except to punch or push, nor do they sing, except under duress, or behave creatively in so public a fashion. I know exceptions on both sides, of course, and have no grand theories to explain the differences, but the result is to heighten the mystery of little girls. In The Mind-Reader: New Poems (1976), Richard Wilbur included “The Writer,” a poem about the speaker's daughter writing a story on her typewriter, alone in her room. In the third of its eleven three-line stanzas, Wilbur writes:
“Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.”
Spoken like a father, and like one writer to another. The speaker recalls a starling trapped in the same room two years earlier, finally “clearing the sill of the world.” The poem concludes:
“It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.”
Daughter-less, sister-less, I wish the singing trio “lucky passage,” too, and endless song and laughter.