The year is 2060. I sit in bed, two pillows behind my back, my granddaughter on my lap. I have chosen a new picture book to read out loud in honor of her newly appointed favorite species — elephants.
I kiss my granddaughter’s head, her black hair tied in a little ponytail that resembles, astonishingly well, the green Teletubbie’s antenna. “Are you ready for Rosie’s adventure?” I ask, picking up the children’s book.
My granddaughter points to Rosie, a baby elephant with larger-than-normal ears and an upraised trunk. She claps and turns her head toward me, muttering a slew of sounds that must mean “elephant!” in baby babble. I applaud her. “You found Rosie!”
I turn the page. “Rosie lives with her mom and dad in the savannah.”
I point to the trees. “Look, the trees are green. And, look, here is Rosie with her parents.”
Page 2. “They live with a lot of other elephants. Rosie’s best friend is Elmo.” How strange, I think to myself, to name an elephant after the red character on Sesame Street. I point to Elmo, ironically fitted with a bright red collar.
“One day, Rosie and Elmo decide to play tag.” I make a mental note: ask daughter whether or not her generation played tag during recess. Another mental note: confirm my granddaughter’s future preschool will offer recess.
I flip the page. “But, then, they get lost.” My granddaughter murmurs, and I respond with an appropriate cooing. “I know. I can’t believe they get lost either!”
According to the next 16 pages, Rosie and Elmo travel far and wide and befriend several other species — a not-so-subtle plot highlighting the importance of contact theory.
I carry my granddaughter to her crib, rocking her and humming a lullaby without paying attention to cadence or conclusion.
After she falls asleep, I walk downstairs to the kitchen, heating water for my nightly dose of green tea. My daughter is sitting in front of her laptop, undoubtedly finishing up work for the week.
“Do you want some tea?” I ask.
I raise my eyebrows.
“You’re right. It’s always green.”
I wait for the boiling water to cool a few degrees before pouring it in the mini teakettle I bought decades ago from Chinatown in Manhattan.
My daughter closes her laptop screen. “Thanks for putting her to bed, Mom.”
“Of course. That’s what I’m here for.” I bring the tea over to my daughter and sit down at the kitchen table next to her. “Done with work?”
We sit in silence, blowing air over the surface of our tea before every sip.
“Can I ask you a question, Mom?”
“Was it hard growing up as a woman in the early 2000s?”
I pause. I wasn’t expecting this question. “I guess it depends on how you’re defining ‘hard.’ We weren’t living in the 1800s, that’s for sure.”
“Yes, but you know that’s not what I’m really asking.”
I’m not sure what to say. “When I first extensively shadowed a neurosurgeon, I asked him, point-blank, if he thinks the gender ratio will become more equal within my lifetime. He hesitated. He talked about one extremely intelligent female resident. He named all the female neurosurgeons he could think of.”
“How many were there?”
My daughter slowly nods. “Was the hook-up culture big in college?”
“Oh, yes. Quite big.”
“What was it like?”
I shrug. My college memories have long-ago blurred together. “Some one-night stands. Late-night texts. Early morning ‘walks of shame,’ although I must say, I do prefer the term, ‘stride of pride.’ Sometimes, people were embarrassed. Sometimes, people bragged. I guess it varied, depending on who you were and what you were looking for.”
“What were you looking for?”
I laugh. I should have expected this question. “Fun, at first. Then something more serious, someone whom I could spend hours with in the mornings talking about neuroscience or medicine or books.”
“Was Dad the ‘something more serious?’”
I nod. “Very much so.” I push my chair back and walk to the sink, washing my now-empty mug. “Did I ever tell you about the Dartmouth X?”
My daughter shakes her head.
“Freshmen girls and senior guys were at the top. High value. Senior girls and freshmen guys were at the bottom. Middle of the X occurred during sophomore summer — guys and girls were ‘equal.’”
My daughter’s mouth hangs open in disbelief.
I walk back to my seat. “We had ‘Beer Fridays’ every week during my internship over junior summer, open to the whole firm. Near the end of my internship, a few of us were drinking in the innovation room, on beer number two or three, and, somehow, the Dartmouth X came up. The group at that point was composed of all associate consultants and senior associate consultants. Most of us were Dartmouth students or recent grads. We talked about the X with acceptance, not because we believed in a decrease in ‘value’ for females, but because of other factors, like a decrease in effort. Maybe college had taught us to be unabashedly ourselves, and maybe that manifested as a striking self-confidence. Maybe it was more concretized friend groups that curtailed branching out. Maybe, simply, more of us were taken. None of us wanted to touch on the elephant in the room — that, maybe, senior girls are at the bottom because of the same reason senior guys are at the top. But before arguments could erupt, before we could consider all possible explanations, we unanimously agreed to change the subject. We agreed that the X is ‘silly,’ that no one believes in it or acts on it. It simply exists, a remnant of decades past.”
My daughter interjects. “But that was the issue, wasn’t it? Its existence.”
“Yes,” I affirm. “Its existence and its pervasiveness.”
My daughter finishes her tea. “Do you think my daughter — your granddaughter — will have to deal with that?”
“With double standards?”
She nods once.
“I hope not.”