Our little neck of the 'hood is chock-full-o-kids. There are often six or seven of them milling about at one time, but at weekends, their numbers easily swell to fifteen or so. Their ages range from twelve down to two... it's pretty awesome, really, how they all play together, and how the older ones keep an eye on the younger ones, teach them how to jump rope, and patiently eat their mud pies and grass salads.
I've been noticing a shift, since the summer though... between the girls and the boys, I mean. Now that Oliver and his cronies are bigger, and they mostly play without the aid of grownups every second (like toddlers generally need) they spend their time passing a soccer ball on the street, while The Girls run in a pack, moving back and forth between each other's houses, carrying curious bags and boxes of things at all times. Dress-up things. Barbie things. Secret things.
Of course they all have names, but when he wants to play outside, and I ask him to tell me who is out, he says, Marcelo, and Oscar, and Elliot, and Gabe. And... The Girls.
Yes, they intermingle, and The Girls play soccer with the boys sometimes, and they all join forces to make club houses and forts out of refuse they find behind people's houses, set for the trash... there's no warring going on - it's all friendly and inclusive... but yet, there's this slight divide. You can see it as The Girls whisper and giggle, planning their Halloween costumes, and talking about crushes on someone's older brother...
On Saturday mornings around 10 AM, our door bell rings, and Oliver is first to run downstairs in his pajamas to see who's there. I can see through the glass panel in the door, so I let him meet his friends.
There stand The Girls. One leaning with her hand high above her head on the door frame, with her head cocked to one side, and her brown curls are tumbling. There's a taller girl behind her, also with windswept, dark hair standing with her weight on one leg, rocking back and forth. Another girl with flowing red hair is coming up the stairs to join them, and two others with blonde hair are peering up the stairs from the sidewalk below.
Some of them are younger than he is. Some are a bit older. They've all got summer freckles still running across their noses, and they wear leopard leggings with shorts on top, and Converse sneakers, and neon infinity scarves. And fedoras. And hair-bands with flowers. And plastic bracelets. Their lips are sticky with loot-bag lip gloss. They are shiny with glitter and play make-up. Eyelashes and dimples and secret smiles. They smell like sunshine and sugar.
"Hey, Oliver," one says, nodding her chin in his direction. "You coming outside?" Gum cracks. The girl behind her just blinks at him, slowly.
"I'll be out in a minute," he says flatly, while he starts to close the door.
"Mmmkay," she murmurs lazily, as she turns to sit on the stairs outside to wait for him. One girl picks up a Ripstik and rides back an forth in front of our house. Another does a cartwheel on the sidewalk.
He sprints upstairs, and runs past me on his way to his room, to find shorts and a t-shirt to wear. I cover my mouth with my hand to stifle a nervous giggle. This is the beginning.
It's all copasetic, and perfectly legit - it's not sexual. They don't always want to play with the boys, but they do want them near. (I'm not sure that ever really changes.)
They run, racing each other to the monkey bars, and The Girls grab the bars above and swing once... twice... three times, so they can propel their bodies UP, until they're all sitting perched atop the structure, like birds on a wire, chatting and scheming together. Dreaming together. The boys chuck stones and dig at the earth with sticks on the ground beneath them, quietly, just listening to their conversations, trying to pick up all the details and the clues about The Girls. They need hints. They are so very mysterious, you see.
Sometimes, The Girls come calling at 7 PM, too. It's all very curious. We've still got some time to go, but this is pre-teen.
This is the beginning.
Anyone else noticing a divide?!