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It’s All About the Gophers MAG
We were stuck in traffic when Mom turned down the radio and glanced in the rearview mirror at us.
“All right, girls,” she said, “I have a piece of wisdom for you.” She slipped into another lane, pushed some blond hair out of her eyes, then added warily, “regarding boys.”
Automatically, I replied, “Is this about sex?”
The car swerved a bit as my mom’s hands jerked.
“Is it about birth control?” piped Lily.
“GIRLS!” my mom’s hands shook. “It’s not about any of those!”
“Then what?” Lily asked.
Mom reached up to adjust the mirror. I glanced at the highway billboards. Lily fiddled with the trash that had accumulated in the hours we had spent on the road.
“Squirrels,” Mom said, “or gophers.”
I tugged at my seat belt nervously.
Mom continued, “You see, boys and men have this–”
“Mom, are you talking about playing hard to–”
“No, no I’m not,” she said.
“Yes, you are. Why else would you mention squirrels?”
She shook her head and sighed, “All right, so I am.”
“You told me this yesterday,” I pointed out. “And last Sunday. And when I was calling Jim–”
“It’s not for you,” my mom interrupted. “It’s for your little sister.”
“But I was there too,” Lily groaned.
“Anyway!” my mother said, plowing through my sister’s sentence. “Where was I? Gophers. Yeah, that’s better. Gophers. Well, actually wolves.”
“What? Wolves?” my sister snapped, leaning forward suddenly to peek around the driver’s seat.
“What about the gophers?”
“They’re coming. Hold on.”
“What about boys? I thought you said this was about boys.”
“They’re the, um,” Mom’s fingers tapped the wheel nervously, “they’re the wolves, sweetheart.”
“And who are the gophers?”
My mother was silent.
“Mom! We aren’t the gophers, are we? Why are we rodents?”
“Mom, can you just turn the radio back on?”
“No! This is important and I need you to listen.”
“Okay, so wolves, when they’re hungry, if they see a groundhog–”
“Whatever. So when they’re hungry and they find a gopher and the gopher doesn’t move, the wolf will kind of lazily, you know, catch and eat it.”
I sharply turned to my sister to see that her expression matched mine: eyes big, mouth gaping, eyebrows raised.
“You want the boys to eat us?” she asked.
“Mom, this lecture is freaking me out.”
“Why does the wolf have to eat the gopher?”
“I don’t want to be a gopher!”
“… are you saying we should be lesbian gophers and not get eaten?”
“NO!” my mother burst. “Girls, just let me finish!”
I rolled my eyes at my sister. She shook her head, glancing at the back of Mom’s head.
Mom continued, “Okay, so if a wolf gets hungry and finds a gopher and the gopher runs away, then the wolf gets excited, you know wagging its tail and sticking out its tongue–”
“I thought you said this wasn’t about sex,” I mused.
She gave me a warning glare. I shrugged. “So, when the wolf has something to chase, it has a better time. Like when you play tag,” she added.
“So, the wolf is ‘it’?” Lily asked.
“But to be ‘it’ we’d have to have tagged him, right? When did the gopher tag the wolf?”
I heard my mother grit her teeth; she muttered through her clenched jaws, “The wolf was ‘it’ in the first place.”
“But what if the gopher wants to be ‘it’? Every one of God’s creatures should be able to play tag and be ‘it’! Quadrupeds, amphibians, rodents, and fish everywhere!”
“Okay! Okay!” my mother cried. “They were never playing tag! He just chases the gopher, okay? He likes chasing! It’s fun and exciting and interesting, do you understand? That way when he catches the gopher–”
“He catches the gopher?” Lily said. “I thought in this scenario the gopher doesn’t get eaten!”
“Well.” Mom’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. “It does.”
“How is that better?”
“I’d rather be the gopher that isn’t getting chased by wolves,” I piped. “What does a gopher have to do not to get chased by wolves?”
“Yeah, these are some stupid gophers,” Lily said, turning to me. “Why can’t they just go back in their holes?”
“Or can’t the gopher like, swipe at the wolf, at least?”
“Kick dirt in his face?”
“Push him in a lake?”
“GIRLS!” my mother cried, through our giggles. “What I’m trying to say is, it’s more fun for the boy if he chases you. Make him work for you!” Mom sighed again. “So, no more of this flirting with boys. No more calling them. No more–”
“But, Mom! We can be friends, can’t we?” I grumbled.
Mom shook her head sympathetically. “I’m sure you can, sweetheart, but sometimes they get things mixed up. They can’t help it.” Then after a moment she added scientific backup: “Hunter instincts.”
“Mom, we can make it clear that we’re just friends. We can remind them. Use sticky notes if we have to. I don’t want to make my friends chase me!”
“It’s different with boys, honey!” she insisted. “You see, it all started in the cavemen times when the men would hunt–”
Lily turned away from the window and punched me lightly on the arm, “Massachusetts.”
“What, seriously?” I asked, leaning over to her window.
“Yeah, right there, the weird-looking green car.”
“Oh man, that thing is beat up.”
“Girls?” Mom said.
“Ooh! Oregon!” I punched Lily in her side.
“Girls, do you understand? Are you going to run away from the wolves? Girls, do you understand what my analogy is about?”
“It’s about having sex,” I exclaimed.
“That’s what gophers do, Mom.”
“No, it’s like this,” Lily said. “You see first they try and make friends with the wolf, but the wolf thinks they want to play Monopoly when the gopher wants to play Twister. Then the wolf gets mad and demands a samurai showdown. And then the gopher pulls out her ninja stars and light sabers and shuts down the wolf, then runs to the hole she should have been in the whole time.”
“Nice. Can I be that gopher, Mom? That’s one cool gopher.”
“No! You have to be eaten!” My mom was flustered, her shoulders tensing and her head shaking. We snickered. “Wait! I mean, will you just take this seriously? Do you understand the message?”
“Yeah, it’s all about the gophers.” I said solemnly.
Mom’s shoulders sagged.
“That’s right. That’s exactly right, thank you, Olivia. It’s all about the gophers. Just be good little gophers and make the wolves chase you.”
“Before they eat us.”