My Turn: Memoir of a tomboy

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Published: 5/12/2022 8:05:48 PM

‘A girl who behaves in a manner usually considered boyish” — Merriam-Webster

      That was me. I was born in 1948 and grew up for my elementary school years outside of New York City. We moved to Plainfield when I was 13.

I cannot remember a time when I was young when I did not want to be a boy. My brother, 4½ years older, was just so cool and had way more fun. I was lucky to have parents that recognized that I was a tomboy. Back then it was not considered unusual at all. I had a couple of friends that appreciated, like I did, that boys had way more fun.

I was never one to play with dolls. I preferred to dress up my cat and educate her in a Cat-lick School I made out of a cardboard box. My brother built forts. I broke into them. My brother made voodoo wagons out of carriage tires and pieces of wood nailed together and then raced them down the hill. He helped me make one

My parents did expose me to all the things I should be ‘exposed’ to … like ballet class – which I tried but didn’t like. I was a fairy in our recital but ran out during the recital and danced with the elves. I coveted my brother’s boy scout uniform, which sadly burned in his closet when he tried to light sparklers in there. I remember watching that uniform burn. Heartbroken.

I was in Brownies … disliked that too but my mother was the Brownie leader. I learned to make a bed with hospital corners — seriously! I didn’t like to wear dresses. I never fussed though as I knew I would change later. There were never altercations or upsets. I was given a lot of freedom and the environment to figure this out. I rolled with it all but never was shut down. I also didn’t call the shots. I was the child. I looked to my parents for guidance and got it. Ok, you’re a girl, we know that. This is what you wear, this is what girls wear. They realized that ballet, piano etc., weren’t my cup of tea. I went to a Catholic grammar school in New York with uniforms — a good thing. There were two tomboys in class. We caused trouble, were the best athletes, liked pulling practical jokes on the nuns — the nuns never squashed this behavior. They just punished us as they would anyone who put fake barf on the classroom floor.

I loved horses — I got riding lessons, then horses in Plainfield.

We moved to Plainfield and I finished eighth grade at Sanderson Academy. You can imagine my shock that I had to pass home ec in order to graduate to high school. You can’t be serious! We had to make a blouse, skirt, boil water etc. Boys had to pass shop — way more fun! I butchered the blouse and skirt but they passed me. I showed many guys in college how to sew on a button.

In high school I was very involved with horses, basketball and being a student. It all sorted itself out.

I do not believe there was ever a term for boys who coveted their sister’s dolls or clothes. Yet, they are the same as tomboys aren’t they? Those feelings, interests are part of the same rituals we tomboys went/go through.

Not every situation is the same. I could fight and was known to fight to the ground boys that may have teased me. It was fun. Serious issues such as bullying of course must be addressed. Issues that may present such as anxiety must be addressed.

Today’s helicopter parents need to give their children some credit and some independence. Let them figure some of this out on their own. Guide but do not control. Breathe.

Today I am a strong woman with a strong personality. I am confident, have had my own business for many years plus another career in special education prior to this. I am an athlete, advocate, volunteer, write opinion pieces. I figured it out.

I should tell you about sixth grade having to have ballroom dancing lessons. I would miss my favorite TV show for the class, Bonanza. Told the dance teacher I wished I was home watching it and it turns out so did he. Both my brother and I had to go, just couldn’t win.

Sue Louisignau is a resident of Greenfield and “still a tomboy.”


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