“Do you think it’s because we live on the farm?” Elaine asked her husband Jeff.
When he didn’t answer she turned to look at him. He was gripping the steering wheel and staring straight ahead, hypnotized by the falling snow caught in the SUV headlights as they drove down the Trans-Canada highway in the dark, their two kids asleep in the backseat.
“Jeff?” Elaine called.
Jeff was startled, and jerked up in his seat.
“Sorry,” he said. “I was thinking about how I could fix that conveyor belt.”
“Did you come up with a solution?” Elaine asked.
“Not even close,” said Jeff. “We might as well talk about whatever it was you were thinking about.”
“The kids,” Elaine said. “Do you think we’re turning them into stereotypes because we live on a farm?”
“What do you mean, ‘stereotypes’?” Jeff asked. Thinking this sounded like it was going to turn into a serious discussion, he reached over and turned the radio down.
“We’ve got a son that plays hockey and loves tractors, and a daughter that won’t stop dancing and always wants to wear a dress,” Elaine says. “If they aren’t two little stereotypes, I don’t know what would be.”
“Oh,” said Jeff. “I see what you mean.” He nodded to himself for a few seconds, wondering where this was going. “I hope you’re not thinking we should sign Jenny up for hockey too.” Jeff said. “It was fun watching Connor in Swift Current this weekend, but I don’t know how we could make time for twice as many tournaments and practices. Not if we’re still driving Jenny to all of these dancing competitions too.”
“No kidding,” Elaine said. “It could be worse. We could have more kids.”
“Remember the wise words from my Grandpa Ed,” Jeff said, lifting his hand from the wheel, raising his index finger, and speaking in a solemn voice. “Never have so many kids that they outnumber the adults.”
“Jenny doesn’t want to play hockey. The only thing she liked about skating lessons was the twirling.”
“Then what are you worried about?” Jeff asked. “You aren’t getting some kind of idea about dragging Connor to dance class are you? We can barely get him to sit through the recitals.”
“No,” Elaine said, then hesitated. “But don’t you think it’s kind of old-fashioned? I’m worried that it’s because they usually see you out in the yard, cleaning grain or working in the shop. And I’ve been in the office or sitting around at meetings most of the winter. Maybe we’re the stereotypes, and we’re passing it on.”
“What?” Jeff asked. “Who spent more hours in the combine than you this fall?” Then he answered his own question. “My mother, maybe. But that doesn’t help your case.”
“True,” Elaine said. “But lately…”
“Lately you’ve been at meetings learning about international trade,” Jeff said. “I’m not an expert on gender stereotypes, but I don’t think that fits the definition. And have you already forgotten ‘The Estevan Incident?’” He raised his eyebrows.
“No,” she laughed. “And neither have any of the other dance moms.”
Elaine had been in Saskatoon at a committee meeting learning about the impact of trade issues on canola markets when her phone beeped, alerting her that it was time to leave the farm and travel to Estevan for a dance performance she had completely forgotten about. She ran out of the meeting room whispering “non-fatal emergency” to the rest of the group and phoned Jeff from the office hallway. Luckily, he was at the farm and had time to get Jenny in the truck and head out to Estevan right away.
“Hopefully one of the other moms can do Jenny’s hair before they go on stage,” Elaine said.
“Her hair’s fine,” Jeff said. “I made her wash it last night.”
“No,” Elaine panicked. “She has to have a French braid! They all do.”
“Okay,” Jeff said. “Is that different from an ordinary braid?”
“Just ask one of the other moms,” Elaine said.
The dance performance went off without a hitch. Elaine came home from Saskatoon and didn’t think about it again until a few days later when she was at the rink watching Connor’s hockey practice. Angie, the mother of one of Jenny’s friends from dance class, came to sit beside her.
“Your husband is amazing,” Angie gushed.
“Are you talking to me?” Elaine said, looking around, only half kidding.
“You should’ve seen him,” Angie said.
“Oh right,” Elaine nodded. “I heard he jumpstarted a car for one of his grandpa’s friends in the Co-op parking lot yesterday morning. He was happy to have a chance to use his new booster cables.”
“I don’t know about that,” Angie said. “I meant the way he braided Jenny’s hair in Estevan the other day.”
“Jeff braided Jenny’s hair?” Elaine said. “I saw the photos. She looked great. I assumed you did it.”
“No, it was all Jeff,” Angie said. “He said he watched a YouTube video while they were walking into the change room. He did it so fast, the Spencers got him to braid Whitney’s hair too.”
“Are you kidding me? It takes forever to do Jenny’s hair. It’s so fine. And she won’t sit still.”
“If I hadn’t done Lexie’s hair at home I would’ve asked him to braid hers too.”
Elaine was stunned into silence. “You think you know a person,” she said.
When Elaine took Jenny to her next dance performance, she thought she felt a sense of disappointment in the room when the other parents realized Jeff wasn’t coming. It took her longer than usual to braid Jenny’s hair, and she didn’t notice the uneven spot in the back until they were out of time and Jenny had to get on stage. Since then, Jeff had been too busy to take Jenny whenever there’d been a dance performance. Elaine suspected his busy schedule wasn’t as much of a coincidence as Jeff said it was, but she didn’t ask him about it. Instead, she started spending her free time browsing through YouTube videos of parents braiding their kids’ hair, trying to see where she was going wrong.
On the highway, the snow kept falling, Jeff kept driving, the kids kept sleeping and Elaine continued to worry about them.
“It’s nothing you’ve done,” Jeff tried to reassure her. “Remember that Christmas when Connor was just small, and he insisted on sleeping with that toy combine?”
“I was worried the auger might poke his eye out in the night,” Elaine smiled.
“He picked the combine, Jenny grabbed onto that weird pink stuffed animal your mom sent.”
“I never did figure out what that stuffy was supposed to be,” Elaine said.
“Would you like more wisdom from Grandpa Ed?” Jeff asked.
“I’m not sure…” Elaine said doubtfully.
Jeff raised his index finger again and brought back his solemn voice. “You get what you get. Might as well like it.”
Elaine grinned in the darkness. “I like it.”
Connor’s half-awake voice piped up from the backseat.
“Dad, can we stop soon? I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Sure,” Jeff said. “We’ll be in Moose Jaw in 10 minutes.”
“And I’m not taking any dancing lessons!”
Leeann Minogue is the editor of Grainews, a playwright and part of a family grain farm in southeastern Saskatchewan.