He was wrong about that though because his happiness was his parents’ first concern. Rosie took a bottomless breath and whispered, “Do you want to be a girl, baby?”

To which Penn, Tongo-tutored, appended, “Do you think you are a girl?”

They waited, fathomless breath held, fathomless fear held, just barely, at bay.

Claude only cried. “I don’t know.”

And his parents had to admit the question was hard. And his parents had to admit relief that the answer wasn’t yes, at least not yet. And his parents had to admit fear because if he didn’t know, who did, and if the answer wasn’t that, what was it?

“Do you want to be a boy who wears dresses?” Penn tried.

“Do you want to be a boy who wears dresses only on some days?” Rosie added.

“Do you want to go to school naked?” Penn offered to make him laugh.

But Claude did not laugh, so Rosie pulled him into her lap and cradled his head in the bend of one elbow and his knees in the other and rocked him like she had when he was a baby. He fit better then, but he fit pretty well still. “What would make you happy?” She smiled down at him and shone love deep into his eyes from the depths of her own. “You can be anyone you want.”

Claude looked love back at his parents and whispered, “I want to be a night fairy.”


Their meeting at the school was in the melee of the end of fall term. In the absence of a (deemed sufficiently secular) tree, the ceiling in the foyer was crisscrossed with strands of construction paper garlands and Popsicle-stick ornaments. Posters reminding parents about the winter choir concert and the winter band concert and the winter drama club performance of Winter Wonderland Wisconsin covered the windows like an eclipse. Every flat surface seemed to have something sweet to eat piled atop it: a tin of mint green fudge, a Santa mug spilling candy canes, brownies topped with (presumably verboten) red and green Peanut M&M’s.

“These seem like tough conditions in which to work,” Rosie marveled while they waited.

“You work in an emergency room,” said Penn.

“Better than trying to educate amped-up, sugar-high six-year-olds while also getting them to do decorations and rehearse a show.”

“What makes you think any education is happening here this month?”

They’d planned their speech the night before, an approximate (for that’s all there was) explanation of what Claude was and what he wasn’t. It involved a lot of words but boiled down to this: Claude’s happiness is our first concern; what can we do to help you to help Claude? They’d been discussing and drafting at the homeworking table when Roo and Ben came downstairs in nothing but boxers and worried expressions hours after their parents had assumed they were asleep.

“We’re staging an invention,” said Roo.

“Intervention, you idiot,” said Ben. “We’re staging an intervention.”

“You can’t let Claude go to school as a girl,” said Roo.

“He’s not going as a girl per se,” said Penn.

“And you definitely can’t let him go to school as a night fairy.”

“Do you know what ‘fairy’ means?” said Ben, very seriously. “Do you know what that’s slang for?”

Rosie did, for she was a human on the Earth. “He’s five.”

“Doesn’t matter,” her eldest boys said together. And Roo added, earnestly, “Five-year-olds are mean. Their older brothers and sisters are mean. The kids from other grades are mean.”

“They’ll make fun of him,” Ben added. “It’s okay for him to wear what he wants at home, but you can’t send him out in the world like that. You don’t understand.”

“You’re his parents,” Roo pled. “It’s your job to protect him. If we were still there it would be one thing, but now that we’re in middle school, he’s on his own. Rigel and Orion are not up for the job.”

“He’ll get beat up. No one will pick him for their team in gym. No one will sit with him at lunch or hang with him at recess,” Ben warned. “Why can’t he just play dress-up at home? It’s for his own protection.”

“Plus it’s so…”

“What?” said Rosie when Roo trailed off.


“Well, he’s only five,” said Penn, “but if he’s gay, what’s the problem with that?”

“There’s no problem if he’s gay when he’s older,” said Ben. “He just can’t be gay right now. When he’s older he’ll know what to do if someone teases him.”

“Maybe he can learn kung fu or something,” Roo added. “But right now, he’s just not equipped to be gay. That’s why kids aren’t gay when they’re in kindergarten.”

“I’m not sure that’s why,” said Rosie.

“It’s just weird,” said Roo. “It’s weird that he wants to wear girl clothes and lip gloss and heels and jewelry. It’s not normal. It’s freaky.”

“So are you.” Penn was met with stares of incredulity from all parties, including the one he was married to. “You’re all freaky. You’re all weird. We’re a weird family. Roo, how many kids in your class besides you play football and flute? Ben, how many kids in your class skipped a grade because they started making their own homework at age four? Claude’s weird, but he’s not just weird, he’s also remarkable. It’s pretty amazing that he knows what he’s supposed to wear and wants to wear something else anyway, that he knows who he’s supposed to be but recognizes that he’s something else instead.”