When my children were growing up, one of their favorite stories was the story about when I was a boy…. or pretended to be a boy. They loved that story. They would beg me, “Mommy, tell us the story about when you were a boy.” Raising three sons was a gift from God. And I felt it was my duty to raise boys who would grow up to be good husbands and good fathers and happy, well-balanced men. Even when they were small, I thought about the women who would marry them and hoped that I could help to instill in them the values to treat their wives and all women with respect and honor. So I felt my story of being a boy held important lessons for them.
My parents separated when I was in the 6th grade. My mother left us and my father did his best to fill the void that her absence created. She was a housewife, so it was a pretty significant void. She returned many months later… not to the marriage, but to have a role in the lives of my brother, sister and I. My sister and I visited her in her apartment in a different town for several months. Becoming a boy was not premeditated. It just happened. And I enjoyed it immensely while it lasted.
During our first visit, my little sister and I went outside to meet the other kids in the apartment complex. They were playing kickball in the parking lot, so we sat on the sidewalk and observed. I was a tomboy (kind of like a bacha posh). I loved sports and didn’t care much for girly things. The neighborhood kids invited us to join their game. We agreed. Immediately, a couple boys shouted toward me and said, “He’s on our team!” The idea to impersonate a boy formed at that instant and I had to be quick to make my plan. I shot a look at my sister that said, “you better go along with this!!” They asked me my name. I said, “Karl”. The name “Karl” was close enough to my real name for it to be safe even if my mom or sister called me “Kara”. I shot my sister another LOOK! And at that moment a boy was born and it was me!
We played the kickball game and my ruse was a success. I did well and nobody suspected that I was not the person I pretended to be. When the game finished, we went back in the apartment and I told my mother that I was now a boy whenever I visited. I told my mom and sister that they had to be sure to call me “Karl” whenever they addressed me on the apartment property. My sister was upset. She thought it was a dumb idea. She didn’t want to be involved. But, for me, this was a chance of a lifetime. For once I could play with the boys without being judged by my gender. And so the charade continued.
During every visit to my mom’s apartment, I played sports with the boys. I had to borrow (steal) clothes from my older brother before we arrived. I wrapped ace bandages around my developing breasts and made sure my shirts were loose. We played baseball, basketball, kickball, football and catch. I was just one of the guys. They included me in everything. The familiar caveat of “for a girl” no longer followed the compliments about my athletic ability. I felt vindicated in my own personal defense of equality and women’s rights. The boys talked freely in front of me and I cautiously defended girls and their strengths. I was amazed at how much they talked about girls. I found myself in many awkward conversations and tried to represent girls well while pretending to be a boy. It was a delicate balancing act.
One day the boys and I were playing on the playground. We climbed and jumped and swung from all the metal equipment. We hung out and passed the time and, naturally, the conversation turned to girls again. I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation but I listened intently. I felt as though I was a member of a secret society. At one point, I made the mistake of hanging upside down from the monkey bars. As I suspended from the metal bars, my loose shirt hung tightly across my breasts. One of the other boys laughed and yelled over to me, “Hey Karl, you look like you have boobs!” I dropped off the bars quickly and said, “Hey Jimmie, you’re an ass-hole!”. That’s what a boy would do, right? He laughed and nothing else was said. My heart raced for a while afterward until I realized I had not been discovered.
During another visit, the boys wanted to walk to the nearby convenience store. There was a wooded stretch along a highway to reach the store. On our way back to the apartment complex, all the boys decided they needed to pee. They walked into the woods and waited for me to join them. I stood on the sidewalk in a state of panic. “Hey Karl, don’t you need to take a piss??” Oh my God! I was mortified. I didn’t want to see this. My face flushed and I felt like I was burning up with fever. I was so embarrassed. I certainly couldn’t join them. Once again, I worried that my true identity was about to be exposed. It seemed boys could always pee. Almost like a right of passage or a statement of bravado, “See me… I’ve got this thing and I use it all the time!” I tried to sound casual and said, “Naaahhhh… I don’t have to go.” I stood alone on the sidewalk while five boys peed in the woods. Another disaster averted.
The ruse continued for many weeks. When I returned to school every Monday, my friends couldn’t wait to hear my stories. I was living a double life and everybody loved to hear about my adventures of life as a boy. Many of my childhood friends joked and called me “Karl” too. However, the duplicity and deception was getting more difficult. My brother discovered that I was stealing his clothes. My sister grew tired of playing my game and threatened to expose me every time we had a fight. And one of the girls in the apartment complex decided she wanted to be my girlfriend. That was when things had gone a little too far. I was friends with her brother, so he was the one who said, “My sister, Kim, wants to go out with you.” I tried to tell him I wasn’t interested, but he was offended. He wanted an explanation. I didn’t know what to say.
All of a sudden this had become too complicated and I decided it was time to end the charade. One of the next times we visited, I decided to bring one of my craft projects with me. I was making a macrame belt. So at some point during the weekend, I brought the belt outside and sat on the steps of my mother’s apartment knotting the cotton twine and beads. The boys came over and started teasing me. They were perplexed and their confusion was communicated by ridiculing me. I calmly listened to their insults and when one of the boys said, “Karl, what are you doing, man? That’s something a girl would do!,” I looked up with a smile on my face and said, “I am a girl!” And that was the end of Karl…. the end of “when mommy was a boy”.