There’s a boy hanging out at our house, sniffing around my eight year old daughter. It takes all my feminist pre-frontal cortex logic not to get the hose and spray him off our balony (he’d survive… we’re on the ground floor). I respect my daughter, and I must allow her secrets. They’re the first she’s ever kept from me. So when she says they’re friends I say nothing. Her prettiest dress for him. Her pink dressing up lipstick which disguise naturally ruby lips. Her eyes which sparkle innocent invitation. Topped with blonde curly hair.
Come and play.
This boy is lonely. He’s decided that our home is open access for him. Otherwise he keeps company with his nanny in the immaculate penthouse of our apartment block along with his elderly, absent father–the Russian Ambassador–and two rare leopard spotted cats. Maya and Oleg attend the same school, they’re in the same class. He invited her out to the ice-cream bar just him, his nanny and her. She’s been up to his house to try out his two hoverboards. Two.
This boy is kind. But being kind doesn’t disguise the fact that he has no knowledge of boundaries. He knocks at all hours of the day. If the back door is on the latch, he’ll come in uninvited and sit on Maya’s bed to await her return until I show him the door. He once tried to force his way in her room to wake her up and play. I scolded him gently but he hardly understood what I was saying. An only child, the world is his and his alone. I fear he will not respect her ‘no’, even if she has the wherewithal to say it. That precious word which gains power and validation each time it’s used and respected. But which might crash and burn in Maya’s psyche if overridden at the first try.
This boy feels entitled. I’m not worried about mutual exploration, emotional or–within boundaries–physical. She’s only just beginning her journey. I’m worried about him dominating her life, if she’s too polite to refuse him entry. To say no. Or if she wants to please him. I’m worried even if she says no… because he doesn’t take no for an answer.
It’s their third playdate this week. They’re drawing minecraft characters on the kitchen table and drinking chocolate milk. Afterwards she plays him the one song she knows recorder until his nanny fetches him. He doesn’t want to leave and complains loudly in Russian.
Maya and I have had the the conversations about consent, extensively and often. Drawing from theory and practice. She is loved and we show her. Do we show her enough? Will her desire to be liked by her peers undermine her self-esteem?
Last night he banged at the shutters. Maya was half asleep from her lullaby; she barely noticed. But I froze mid-verse, full alert, thrown back to my past. The red veil of trauma crept over me. I remember my boyfriend knocking drunk at my window late at night. I remember fighting the knowledge and despair that eventually I would open the door because I always did. I remember him not taking no for an answer.