Lately there have been strange creatures in our house.
They giggle and flip their hair and smell a lot nicer than the usual creatures we attract.
This is a new development in our lives. Younger son's social life has gone in a new direction lately; he has a girlfriend and moves in a crowd that's more co-ed than his usual group. They're all good kids, band kids, he likes to remind us whenever we commence one of our periodic lectures about responsible sex and good choices and the whole "your entire life is ahead of you" kind of thing.
And it's true; their activities are wholesomely sweet. (For example, one weekend they all parked in front of the flat screen to watch what they called "all the old classic movies." I, of course, thought they were going to pop in a DVD of Casablanca or Citizen Kane. Instead, they sighed with nostalgia over Free Willy and Space Jam. I guess every generation's definition of "classic" is different.)
Now, you have to understand. Our house has been a girl-free zone forever. (And I don't count myself as a girl because my kids and my husband certainly don't. They've all grown to think of me as a short, cranky boy who sometimes cross dresses.)
So for over a decade - at least since first grade, when both boys discovered girls had cooties - we've gotten used to playing host (or to put it more accurately, zoo keeper) to packs of boys. Boys who stink, who fart, who burp, who eat lots and lots of our food, who knock things over and break things and - here's a very important part - don't pay any attention at all to their surroundings.
But all of a sudden, we're playing host and hostess - properly, uncomfortably - to girls. Dainty little creatures. And both my husband and I are a little unsure of ourselves.
I find myself fussing around the house more. I sweep, dust, straighten up whenever I know they're coming. I clean the downstairs bathroom more often. I've burned through a ton of fragrant candles. I make sure I have some makeup on, and my hair is combed, and I don't have food sticking to my shirt.
I just take much more care.
And I didn't really notice that I was doing this until the other day. As a group of them were downstairs, playing videogames (band geeks, remember?), my husband came up to me, speaking softly.
"Do you?" He began. He cleared his throat, glanced nervously downstairs, and began again. "Um, do you, like, behave differently? Now? With - you know," he blushed a bit. "Girls in the house?"
"Oh, yes!" I was so relieved he felt the same way. "I do! It's so weird, isn't it?"
"Totally. Do you think," he said, with another nervous cough as he looked sadly down at his clothes. "Do you think I should change? This is kind of messy, isn't it?"
I looked at him - sweat pants, white T-shirt, unshaven, a mess. When my husband works from home, he rarely gets dressed before dinner. I nodded.
"I know," he sighed, going upstairs. "I thought so. I guess I should change."
"You might want to shave, too," I called up after him. Although I wasn't sure it would matter; since the arrival of the girls, my husband has taken to shutting himself up in his office.
Now, you have to understand. My husband generally rejoices in being the big, embarassing, goofy dad. When the boys' friends are over, he roams among them comfortably, telling bad jokes, teasing, rumpling hair, doing pratfalls. He just loves it.
But with the girls - ah. That's different. He hides. He just doesn't know what to do, how to act. After all, he hasn't had to impress a girl in twenty years. It's like everything he ever used to know, when it comes to behaving around the opposite sex, has just vanished. Marriage has reduced him to a twelve-year-old boy again.
But I'm the opposite. With the boys, I usually ignored them, let them be, coming down only when I hear the telltale sound of things breaking or spilling. And even when I hear that, I simply look up from whatever I'm doing, sigh, and yell, "Clean it up!" Then I go on about my business.
But with the girls, I feel as if I should be a good hostess; as if I should circulate. I constantly pop in, asking if anyone needs anything - drinks, food, the thermostat turned up or down. I circle them nervously - not the least because I know, in a way my husband doesn't because he didn't have the social life I did in high school, that a chaperone is what's needed these days. In addition to a hostess.
When the girls leave, though - we let out big sighs of relief. And relax, and become ourselves, our normal, easygoing, bad-joke-telling, boy-parent selves, again.
It's not that we don't enjoy this new phase in our lives. We do. It's just that it's - different. Girls are just different. Than boys. Which, of course, is the whole point, isn't it?
It's so interesting to see how this sudden influx of feminity has thrown us both - including me, the one without a "y" chromosome - off our beam. How we view teenage girls as these strange, exotic creatures we have to be so very careful around.
Sometimes I miss the boys, to tell the truth. A couple of weekends ago a new, exciting videogame was released and my son brought a pack of his guy friends over for an all-night tournament. I loved it. I couldn't stop smiling. They stank, they yelled, they ate everything, they broke things, but I didn't care. It was just so good to have them back.
But even so, I ached a little with nostalgia as I shouted "Clean it up!" Because their time is passing. It's going to be girls from now on, and I'd better get used to it.
And really, I tell myself as I stock up on fragrant candles and force myself to buy some fashionable new outfits - I noticed last week that all the girls were wearing ballet flats so I guess they're "in" - anything that gets my husband to shower and dress before dinner can only be a good thing.
Even if it's a feminine thing.