He was reading, silently. As he read, it seemed, he came across the word "bell." I heard him whisper.
"Bell. Like Bella. Bella. That's what Isabella likes to be called."
"Did you say something? Are you talking to me?" I said, pretending I hadn't heard him, in case he hadn't meant me to.
"Oh, I just said something about-- about--"
Then he leaned toward me, and whispered in my ear, "About Isabella."
"Isabella?" I said. "You mean your friend Isabella, who you met in summer school? The one who likes to sit next to you on the bus? The one who taught you how to do a jump shot with a basketball?"
"Yes," he whispered.
"But why are you whispering about her?"
"Because Grant said girls are bad."
"What? A boy in your class said girls are bad?"
"Why did he say that?" I asked.
"I don't know. He just did. He said girls are bad, and no fun to play with. He said they're boring, and they can't play sports. And he said boys couldn't be friends with girls."
"But you don't think that, do you?"
"You have lots of friends who are girls, right?"
"And I'm a girl. You don't think I'm bad, do you?"
"Oh, Mommy. Of course you're not bad."
"Well, that kid doesn't know what he's talking about. It's okay to be friends with girls," I said. "Don't let anyone stop you from being friends with a girl if she's nice to you and you like playing with her. Girls aren't bad. Girls are just as good as boys are."
But I wondered, how many times will I have to say it to him?
And I wondered, even if I convince him he is right to treat women and girls with respect, how will all the other boys who have been taught otherwise treat him if he acts the way I teach him to?
And I wondered, with so many voices fighting for his attention, will mine, one day, be drowned out?