Every day, he wrote. At the homeworking table, Roo and Ben applied to college, and Rigel and Orion worried over their namesakes and labeled star charts, and Penn decided to start part two all over again in the first person and see if that helped, and Poppy said, “Who’s the hedge enemy?”

“Badgers,” Rigel said promptly.

“You’re such a Wisconsin kid,” said Ben.

“Badgers eat hedges. They love hedges.”

“That’s hedgehogs, you idiot,” said Orion.

“Hedgehogs don’t eat hedges,” said Ben.

“Then why are they called hedgehogs?”

“They eat in hedges—bugs and snails and stuff—and they have a snout. Like a hog.” It sometimes seemed to all of them that Ben knew basically everything.

“Sweet, are you studying hedges or hedgehogs?” Penn tried to get back to the point.

“We’re studying what we want to be when we grow up,” said Poppy.

“You want to be a gardener?” said Roo.

“You want to be a hedgehog?” said Orion.

“I said I want to be a baseball announcer, but Jake Irving said I couldn’t because I’m a girl. He was all like, ‘Girls aren’t allowed in baseball because they take forever to get ready and they have too much hair,’ but Mr. Mohan said women could be baseball announcers, it’s just that they usually aren’t, and I said why not, and Mr. Mohan said it was because of the hedge enemy.”

“Ahh.” Poppy’s vocabulary no longer towered over her age. “Hegemony. Hegemony means when one group has control or authority or dominance over another.”

“Like baseball players are dominant over baseball announcers?” said Poppy. “That seems kind of fair because they’re doing the actual playing.”

“No, like men have power over women,” said Roo.

“Men throughout history,” Penn amended, “have often wielded more power than women, in many ways, if not all, and generally speaking.”

“They have?” Poppy: awed, openmouthed, incredulous.

“Afraid so.”

“Because there’s so many more of them?”

“Of who?”


Penn laughed. “Only in this household.”

“Then how are the men more powerful?”

“Well, in this case what Mr. Mohan meant is that men have most of the jobs in sports, especially the ones that pay well, and that’s not fair, nor is it the rules, but that’s the case anyway, and it’s self-perpetuating. Do you know what that means?”

Poppy shook her head.

“It means the fact that that’s the way it is means that keeps being the way it is. It means when a little girl says she wants to be a baseball announcer when she grows up, someone tells her she can’t because there are no female baseball announcers, which means no one grows up to be one. And so on.”

“What will I be when I grow up?” Poppy was still young enough—if maybe just barely—to think Penn had all the answers, so thoroughly had all the answers that he could see even the future.

“Anything you want,” he said.

“Will I be a boy job or a girl job?”

“You should be a boy job,” said Roo. “They pay better.”

“Why?” said Poppy.

“The hedge enemy.” Ben didn’t even look up.

“Most jobs aren’t boy jobs or girl jobs,” said Penn. “Most jobs are open to either.”

“But the boys get paid better for them?”

“There’s a lot that breaks down about how the world … breaks down.” Penn was astonished, at once pleased and alarmed to find that gender inequality was news to this child. As usual, they had apparently done too good a job sheltering her from her world. “It’s true that men are often paid more than women, even for the same jobs. It’s true that jobs traditionally dominated by men pay more than jobs traditionally dominated by women. It’s also true that you can be whatever you work hard to be.”

“No.” Poppy shook her head. They weren’t getting it. “When I get my job, whatever it is, will I get paid more, like a boy, or less, like a girl?”

“It doesn’t really work at the individual level,” said Penn, “and it’s a bit more complicated than that, but—”

“But if you went back to wearing pants,” said Roo, “you could retire ten years earlier.”

Poppy stuck her tongue out at Roo and went back to her homework, but the conversation lingered for all of them.


She knocked on her parents’ door that night.

“What’s up, sweetie?” Rosie and Penn were in bed reading. “Can’t sleep?”


“How come?”

“I’m worried about what to be when I grow up.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that tonight,” said Rosie.

“It’s for school.”

“Pick something. They won’t hold you to it.”

Poppy shook her head unhappily. “And I’m worried about who I’ll be when I grow up. A boy or a girl.”

Rosie closed her book. “You can be whichever one you want,” she said carefully.