Saturday, April 11, 2009


My children are all QUITE different. In personality, likes and dislikes, attitudes, development, all of it. But there are still--ahem--boys and girls. Mind you, I knew it all about gender roles and all that when I was a 20 year old college student. Of course I did. Bad parents bought their girls barbie and their boys swords and if I just don't do that and hey maybe for good measure swap out some "he" for "She" in the old fairy tales, save a few Princes along with Princesses and buy primary colored clothing and bikes and bedding then voila! A perfectly modern feminist gender neutral child would be created.


Now before you get all nervous and squirmy and start clinging defensively to your sons' wooden nesting dolls or your daughters' robo-technics building kit, please know that this is still a well intentioned idea, and that kids now more than ever need and deserve a safe sane environment to get a mental break from the extraordinarily hyper-sexualized, stereotype limited toys and movies that are in the mainstream. SO DONT GIVE UP ! .....just dont be surprised if it doesnt do as much as you may have anticipated.....
I have been hard pressed to find ANY commercials on tv that are for Slinkys, Legos, Playdoh....and the ads I have seen show boys only playing with boys and racing and aggression and girls playing only with girls and collecting and adorning pastel animals....I tried and still do try to not allow any of that yucky gimmicky commercial stuff in the house, and frequently point out to the kids why that stuff is not cool....and I really do think that alot of parents, at least in the younger years, do somehow manage to find their kid stuff like wagons and fingerpaint and bowling sets and teddy bears and nesting blocks, and then the kids really do just show a preference for stuff and if youve got a little gun kid he/she will play powpowpow with an organic banana, right in front of Grandma......and if youve got a lovey dovey nurturer, he/she will cuddle and pretend to breastfeed a can of soup, right in front of everyone in the grocery store, shirt lifted.

And this is what I really wanted to mention---Eska, at ten months old today (Happy Bday angel!) crawls and digs her way through 5 kids' lifetimes of toys collections, and scrounges until she finds anything that resembles a kitty or a baby and just coos and giggles and beams at it--even hugging it, no matter how tattered tiny or old, if she thinks she has found a kitty or a baby or anything with a face on it, she just goes into coo-ey cuddle mode! She stares at it and says "Naaaaa....Naaaaa" and even lays on top of it, smiling.

I havent seen that behavior Greta!

Also, the difference between Eska and the boys at that age, but that Greta did, is that she stays by me. The boys seemed hell bent on mobility for the sake of going far away. I can crawl now, BYE BYE! It isnt that she is clingy fearful or shy, its that she is oriented towards people, and really does sit there and hang out with you. She wants to be by you, playing with and examining little dollys (we hardly have any dolls, per se, guess Ill have to get some, but she has found the little felt-folks from our doll house and Lego people and stuffed animals) and chewing them, and coming up to you and patting you and singing little songs "Dadada-Babababa-Mamamamama-Yayayaya" and making proclamations while showing you her little spitty doll "A-Ba!" "A-Ba!".

She does not want to disassemble the VCR, take plug covers out of the sockets, climb the baby gate, pry the door open, or do any type of destruction--ahem--curious hows-it-made stuff. My past three babies (BOYS) sure did. If Eska sees a fine tower of blocks, she doesnt instantly smash it.

And as much as I love and adore my boys, I am not a boy, and dealing with their ways has been a big challenge for me. It is so clear to me now more than ever why boys have so much trouble in elementary school, and how girl oriented the idea of sit still and produce fine-motor-creations to please the nice teacher----that just is all so contrary to everything (my/many) boys are into. When the sitting is torture, the hands arent ready for the writing, and you cant sit still for more than 5 minutes and pleasing the grown up just isnt tops on your list, where is the hope for "success"?

Greta liked nothing more than to color. She would sit with me at like age 18 months until--well, we still do it--and we'd just chat and have a nice little dish of cookies and color and talk. Contrast that with the sweating, disheveled lunatic that being the mother of a boy from age 6 months until--well we still do it---and you find a very humbled psych student who is the proud Mama of 2 girls, three boys, and for whom the real differences are a source of smiles, tears, and a grimace for the know it all that I used to be, but also learning everyday.

I do know some wild, wild, WILD little girls, ones you cant even say Hi to without them bucking out of your arms and up onto the refrigerator. I also know some gentle, people oriented little boys, who really do want to sip the tea and do Beatrix Potter coloring sheets and converse at length. But for my kids, raised by 2 parents and homeschooled with very strict access to tv and movies, there is still a big big difference in how they move, how they play with the exact same toys, and what they do with their mobility skills as they grow. As babies, the girls are quite chilled out, into cute stuff that is cuddly, and seem very oriented towards interacting with me and showing me little things and staying nearby. As babies the boys cried and cried and cried, and I have videotape to prove it,it was an angry cry not a sad plaintive cry, were very into getting far far away, climbing, and touching and breaking every and any thing in the room that was not for them and generally wild and very very difficult to take places due to destruction, running away, and complete inabilty to "get" that "we dont do that here" (Library, Grocery store, etc)

I LOVE my children, I LOVE my boys so so so so so much, please dont get me wrong. They are so hilarious and adorable and life-filled and sparkly and great, they are just so great and so free. But its physical work, and emotional work--the actual keeping of them can be outrageously exhausting, (and remember mine were BIG, big boys, all over 20 pounds by THREE months old -- the size of little rosebud Eska now) and emotionally, its alot of helping them to "get" the social cues that I completely took for granted when raising Greta, the little stuff like thinking about others, and how-do-you-think-that-makes-so-and-so-feel, its just different. I have tried to read those books about raising boys but they creep me out and upset me, seem very anti-wholistic and just seem to hyper scrutinize everything to the point where I get paranoid and fearful and thats when I throw the books down and love my child, just hold them and kiss them in the middle of the living room, in all their dissasembled electronics and their plain pasta and their it hurts when you wash my hair and their refusal to wear chapstick and their legos and their dominos and they are my dear babies, my huge dear babies and maybe none of the other stuff matters. But it is harder than raising girls. so far. for me. For us.

As theyve gotten older, its amazing to see how their babyish ways have changed into very interesting and diverse interests---I look forward to writing about this soon!

Any one out there wish to share their adventures, myths and truths about raising a boy or a girl or many of them? Did you, like me, "know it all" until you actually had one of your own?


Kneelingwoman said... know my kids. Stephen, now 20, was actually a very easy, quiet little boy. He spent most of his time on whatever his big interest was at the time--trains, dinosaurs, toy soldiers--but yes, he was interested in "things" and dinosaurs to him kind of fell into that category likely due to their somewhat mythical stature and the fact that you can't find any of them wandering around live anywhere...that said, he was a sorting, organizing, line-em-up-take-em-apart-do it all over again kind of boy. He read early and a lot but liked very "boyish" books--The Redwall Series, Hardy Boys, Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn, Greek Myths and History of any time period at all. Emma was a very boyish little girl! She refused to co-sleep by 7 months. Climbed out of the crib ( and we got rid of it and never bought another ) wandered off to the park by herself on one occasion, resulting in my being scared into stark raving silence....she also read early and constantly and also loved art, sewing, knitting, making things, was/is very oriented towards people and relationships so, a boyishly girly girl. Hugh is Hugh. He was stubborn, willful, friendly, funny, and pretty "boyish" in the sense that he enjoyed things he saw other boys/men doing like mucking around outside, playing baseball, camping, fishing and riding his bike and scooter. He was/is also very artistic and musical; pretty gender neutral overall. Mary is a very like Stephen was--she is completely interested in whatever she is interested in and that most often comes in the form of some kind of art project; she likes to make things. She's very creative and inventive and very nurturing; she loves to play mommy, midwife and doctor. She does like to be outdoors but her mobility issues limit her choices somewhat. She does like her bike ( hand pedals ) and she loves side walk chalk and "wheelchair walks to the park" so, again, pretty gender neutral but with a definate stereotypical "girly" streak. As an experience mother, though, I can add that there is a big, big difference between boys and girls beyond what is obvious but in our case, at least, it was a little more subtle than your "rough and tumble" but I had a family of cousins 5 boys and 4 girls and the boys were very hands on, rowdy, into everything types and so are my sisters 4 boys--baseball, basketball, wrestling (with anyone who gets close enough to be thrown to the ground and jumped on) and I used to get a little nuts watching how rough the horseplay was between them but they've all grown up healthy and strong; fine strapping and delightful young men so I think the "boy" thing, while tiring to you, is a great thing in the long run! Stay strong!

Kneelingwoman said...

sorry about the sloppy writing there Joy; sleepy old thing is what I am!

Kelley said...

Uh, yeah! You got it. Every bit of it.

Rachel doesn't coo and cuddle, but she certainly isn't the go, go, go little thing that her brothers were, especially Ben. I'd say of all of them he's the most likely to destruct or get mad and break things or just come completely unglued if he can't run and yell and BE A BOY! I'm interested to see how Rachel turns out as she gets more mobile. I'll have more stories then.

You sound like you're doing better. I certainly hope so.

MamaVee said...

I'm really glad to read this, because I give Corwyn a very wide variety of toys, "girl" toys and "boy" toys as well as things like blocks and puzzles etc, but all he wants is to bang things with his wooden hammer and make things go "VROOOOM". When I try and get him to play with his dolly, he'll drag her around by the heel and then start bashing her on stuff. He's definitely into "boy" things!

Rixa said...

I admit--only having had one child so far, and a girl--that I still was harboring some of those hopes that all those people who tell me "girls do X and boys do Y and that's just the way they are" would turn out to be mistaken. So I guess I will just not try to assume anything and enjoy whatever comes my way!

This reminds me of when we were little (4 girls and then a boy). My mom swore she'd NEVER let us play with Barbies. So what did all 4 of us girls do? Beg, beg, beg for Barbies. So finally she gave in. We loved playing with them, mostly dressing and undressing and dressing them again. And eventually we moved on to cutting their hair all off and ripping them apart limb by limb (probably when we were tired of that particular Barbie, but I can't remember the particular motivation behind doing that) so I suppose we had some destructive tendencies as well! Anyway we all turned out fine, no eating disorders or major body issues despite playing with Barbie. And my brother did turn out quite well. He has his boy side (loves physical sports, activity, etc) but also really knows how to relate to women, how to dress well, etc because of all of his sisters.

Whether or not boys and girls really are different--I HATE the aggressive cultural & gender marketing with kids' toys. Can't we get past the cutesy-pink-things-for-girls and camouflage-heavy metal sound track-extreme-wild-heavy machinery-is-for-boys? Argh!

Shelly said...

I have two girls, and I am amazed at the difference. My youngest is a lot like Eska, while my oldest, well, Watch out!!

Jill said...

You make a lot of good points, as always. We can try to gender-neutralize our kids, but in the end most boys will still want to play with cars, and most girls will still want to play with dolls. That's just the way they're hardwired.

I admit I had some of those same silly ideals when my oldest was still very little. I will give him dolls AND guns! I won't put those overalls with fire trucks on them on him, that's TOO boyish! He'll grow up to be an ARTIST! Pfft.

He does have some feminine traits mixed in with all his boyish parts and I try to nurture and encourage those, mostly because DH wants to suppress them. :/ He likes holding and cuddling his stuffed animals and dolls, and putting them in the doll stroller, and feeding them. He likes primping himself with my hairbrush and makeup. He LOVES tea parties. He has some My Little Ponies that came in a mixed bag of toys from Goodwill and he will brush their hair....and then crash them into each other like derby cars.

I think that is the delicate balance...not necessarily demanding that our kids fulfill NO gender roles, but that we allow the opposite ones to be acted out if and when they arise, with no fear of "boys don't do that!" or "that's not what girls do." Few things chafe me more when someone says, "That's for GIRLS." Um, so? Is it bad to do girly things? Are girls less than boys? And who says what's girly anyway - short of pink glittery high heels? I think that is my main concern...I don't want my boys thinking they can't do "girly" stuff because to me, that says girls are lesser than them, that they aren't as good as boys, and that's so not true.