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The Third-Grader's Guide to Girls

Things were so much simpler when girls had cooties. Back then, my son’s only interest in Valentine’s Day was the promise of foil-wrapped chocolates and the pride of committing his herky-jerky signature to the race car-shaped Valentine cards he would hand out in class. But this year, something is different. The skirt-wearing, hair-twirling half of his class — the half once shunned at all the best birthday parties — is suddenly my son’s favorite topic of conversation.

He doesn’t especially want to talk about girls; he wants me to explain them to him. The way he and his 9-year-old buddies see it, the freckled coquettes who sashay around the schoolyard are dazzling but exasperating enigmas. They talk too much and never say anything that makes sense. They’re pushy. They’re pretty. They’re pint-sized, pony-tailed puzzles with flavored ChapStick and Hello Kitty pencil cases.

All of which is how — when I would have preferred to be doing something wholesome and escapist like helping him lick Valentine envelopes or scarf chocolates — I came to spend the week answering for my gender. My ruthless, diabolical gender.

Mom, why do girls act so cool? It’s like they think girls rule or something. Okay, you didn’t hear this from me, but girls do rule. We just do it in a sneaky way that makes boys think they’re actually in charge.

How come girls are nice to me one day, then kick me in the shins the next? Sweetheart, girls are — hmmm, how to put this — lunatics. The Dr.-Jovial-and-Ms.-Snide act is a test we issue to see how much abuse you’ll put up with before throwing up your hands and deciding to eat lunch with some other playground floozy. If you tattle on us, shove us or call us annoying, we know you’re not really committed to the friendship. If, however, you stick it out and let us empty the contents of our naturally occurring schizophrenia onto your poor shins, you’ve won our loyalty forever. What we fail to tell you, though, is that the prize is actually… more shin-kicking.

Is one of girls’ main goals to look pretty? Oh, heavens, no. The main goal is to get your attention and to keep you fixated on us, google-eyed, until your retinas burn from lack of blinking. Looking pretty is simply the easiest way we’ve found to do that.

Why do they like to style their hair so crazy, putting chopsticks through it, making pony tails all over their heads? Like boys, girls worry about how we will be perceived by the world. Will we seem smart? Fun? Creative? Strong? Unlike boys, we are under the impression that we can overhaul our image simply by altering our hair. We believe we can be tough-as-nails tomboys one day and four-foot femme fatales the next, merely by moving our part from left to right. This is a powerful conviction that must never, ever be challenged out loud. If a girl comes to school with string cheese braided into her mane, the proper response is, “Your hair looks nice that way.”

Why do boys always seem to be the chasers, and girls the ones being chased? Because girls are better at disguising their boy-chasing (see shin-kicking, above).

Why do girls always start blabbering off? Any time of day, their brains are coming up with something for their mouths to say. Like the Sirens in Greek mythology, whose enchanting song caused distracted sailors to crash their ships into the rocks, girls hope to mesmerize you with our lilting, looping chatter. If you listen closely, you can learn what we care about, what scares us, what qualities we like most in a friend. Sometimes, though, you simply can’t afford the distraction. Odysseus and his shipmates used earplugs to block the Sirens’ call. And hey, if it worked for them…

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