He still plays with my hair. Sitting next to me on the couch, his hand will wander over to my mess of long, thick hair and untangle it. It is an absent-minded gesture, one left over from young childhood, and comforting to both of us, I won't lie.
How long do I have?, I wonder as he does it, and find myself holding my breath. I cannot help but flash to his older brother, who at fifteen shrinks from my touch and looks horrified if he should so much as brush by me in the kitchen on his way to the fridge.
It is when we watch commercials that I am most acutely aware of my otherness in this family, of that extra X chromosome that in this phase of our lives matters so much. An ad for a bra, or commercials about digestive or urinary tract problems and the salves that soothe them. You know the ones.
My boys turn red, or mutter, "Oh, no...," or worse, "Eww..."
The commericals are terrible, but nonetheless I feel the urge to leap up and defend myself and my sex, if only to remind my children that despite anatomical differences and their divergent physiological and psychological sequelae, we are not Other, and never were. There is nothing more divisive (and trite) than the oft-spouted claim that women are from Venus, men Mars. Bah.
Defining women as Other leads us all down paths that are poorly lit, and dangerous for it.
Believe me, I do understand that there are good reasons for all the phases and stages that children pass through on the way to adulthood, just as I'm aware that soon enough my younger son will stop untangling my hair, and that some time later my older son will hug me, not a forced hug but a spontaneous and loving one. And that hug, it will comfort both of us.
Until then, I wait, only now and then jumping off the sofa to defend a woman's right to age ungracefully, just as men do, and always have.