In this photo, I am maybe three years old, surrounded by all of my favorite things. My mother embroidered the entire alphabet for my quilt, but the “A” at the top was for me. The bonnet was from my grandmother, but I don’t remember who made the cut-and-sew Holly Hobbie, except that my older sister and I had one of each. The pink music-box bear and and bean-bag frog were treasured toys too — the yellow and green frog is the thing in my hand, belly-side up.

The photo is black and white, developed in a home dark room. I don’t know very much about it. I kept this photo with my treasures, a token of early childhood. As a pre-teen and teenager, this photo was proof of a slightly eccentric, but mostly normal, childhood. I remember that I wanted Star Wars toys. I drew life-sized figures of all of the main characters, unfolding long strips from the block of green and white striped computer paper and coloring on the blank side. I moved them around and hung them along the wall on the staircase. Pictures and stories, but no toys. Those were for boys.

In a house of sisters, “boy” is a strange concept. What does that mean if it is not for me or my sisters? What is this “other”? I would be expected to make, to sew, to embroider, to craft, and to care, as all of the generations of women before me had. I was playing at it, tucked into my bed under countless hours of labor to produce the fine needlework, wearing the handmade bonnet, a replica of the farm-girl’s sun bonnet, clutching my handmade toys. Only, it wasn’t always going to be a game, like most play it was teaching a lesson, preparing for the child for real life expectation, but was it going to be the life that I wanted?

Writer, researcher, observer