Anything boys can do

I had a conversation with my neighbour the other day. Colton Banks. He lives next door.
Colton is four. He is starting school so he has a lot of things on his mind. He used to be too shy to talk to me so instead he hovered, playing some sort of covert war game as boys are inclined to do.
On this occasion, he was hiding behind my peach tree but “Gracie” flushed him out. It was three o’clock in the afternoon and Colton was still in his jammies.
When I inquired, he explained it had been a busy day.
“My friend died,” Colton said with his eyes turned down and his shoulders sagging.
My heart caught in my throat. “What was your friend’s name?” I asked.
“Was Dusty a cat?”
I must confess I was relieved at this point. Not that it wasn’t a tragedy that Dusty had died, but I think perhaps my recovery from the bad news was a little more immediate than had it been a different story.
I was really sad when “Stinky” died a couple of years ago after a run-in with a passing car. I’m still sad. Stinky was a special friend, too.
Colton seemed to have something on his mind. He was kicking a clump of grass with his foot. “Can I ask you something,” he finally inquired.
“Absolutely,” I said, always ready to engage with neighbours like Colton, little boys with stories and interesting questions.
“What were you doing over there?” he asked, pointing to my mini-grape vineyard.
I had been working in the grapevines building a trellis most of the afternoon. I was driving stakes into the ground to support the trellis wires, hoping to get it done before the rain came so I was working quickly and as efficiently as I could.
The rain hasn’t come yet despite being assured by the weatherman that it would. I still had my hammer in my hand.
“Are girls supposed to use a hammer?” Colton asked, pointing to it in my hand.
I looked at the hammer and I looked at Colton, and I thought here is a learning opportunity for the next generation.
“Well, of course,” I said, glad I wasn’t wanting to shout at him or knock him down—a reaction I might have had 50 years ago.
“Girls can do anything a boy can do,” I added with firm conviction.
Colton shrugged, not looking convinced.
“And likewise, boys can do anything or most things that girls can do,” I was quick to add.
“I can use a chainsaw and drive a tractor and build things,” and I continued to list off the many things that girls can do without permission and encouragement, I might add.
“My dad does that stuff,” Colton said.
I shook my head and looked directly at Colton so he might remember what I was saying. “There are no rules when it comes to doing things,” I said.
Colton lost interest in that line of questioning and was checking my peaches for ripeness by pushing his thumb into each one. I wanted to suggest he go and help his mother fold the laundry that she was taking from the clothesline.
But I thought that was maybe a discussion for another day, so I gave him a few of his tested peaches to take home with him.
“Don’t forget about girls using hammers,” I called after him.
“I won’t,” he said and then ran to his mother. “Look what I found, Mom,” he said, raising the peaches toward her face.
I hope he remembers.