Thursday, October 7, 2010

Boys will be boys?

I have been told by many and I have said the same on occasion, myself; my kids are all boy. They get into everything, they love to hit things with other things, they build towers just to knock them down, they rough-house like nobody's business, and they think fart noises are hilarious. However, I doubt this is all exclusively male behavior. Maybe just because they are boys and are therefore expected to have these behaviors, their actions are more accepted and reinforced. A friend of mine who works in a daycare said that the difference between taking care of boys and taking care of girls is that with boys, you spend a lot of time telling them what not to do whereas with girls, you have to continually encourage them to do things. I really have no basis for comparison. I think I blocked most of my experiences from the brief time I spent working in a daycare myself (note: the kids were okay, my coworkers on the other hand were mostly bitchy jerkfaces) so I can't call upon those memories to serve me.

My husband and I try not to limit our boys in terms of their interests and the way they choose to play. I don't mean that we let them run amok and stick their fingers in light sockets; I mean that if one or both of the boys wants to play with a pink bunny, he can go ahead and play with a pink bunny. If he wants to try on my friend's high-heeled shoes, he can go ahead an do it (with the friend's consent, of course). We have never told either of them that they can't do or play with something on the grounds that it would be "girly". However, these time-honored preconceptions creep in. Last night, Ben told me adamantly that "boys can make pie, too!" I said of course and then wondered why on earth he felt he had to be defensive about it. Where did that come from? Who told him that boys can't make pie? To my knowledge, Ben has really limited experience with pie in general. Ben has also started designating his crayons as "boy colors" or "girl colors". Again, where did this come from?

I take a look around the toy-strewn floor of our living room and see that there's a noticeable lack of pink anything and not a curly-haired dolly to be found. Would we have those those things if we had a girl? Probably yes, if only because friends and relatives would go crazy buying "girl" stuff. Honestly, though, "girl" toys are usually astoundingly boring. Boys are encouraged to build and create, to make obstacle courses for their cars and spaceships for their spacemen toys. Girls are taught to change outfits and apply makeup, to brush hair and paint nails. Is that really okay? Should we really reinforce that?

I can recall from my own childhood that I had Barbie dolls a-plenty, but I also played with Micromachines and Hotwheels. I put on dresses and then went out to play in the mud. I built Lego cities with my brother and then brushed my favorite doll's hair. I can't deny that it seems to be far easier for a girl to cross these gender boundaries than it is for a boy, though. A girl is a tomboy when she crosses gender boundaries, a boy gets his sexuality questioned if he does the same. I was at a baby shower once where the soon-to-be older brother put on some flowery lotion that was given to his mom as a present. He was immediately scolded and told that he'd smell like a girl and "everyone would make fun of him". He was crestfallen as a relative ushered him off to the bathroom to wash the lotion off. I can't help but wonder what he'd face if he was caught playing with a Barbie.

I'm going to make an effort to stop thinking in terms of boyish behavior vs. girlish behavior. Ben and Ethan need to be all kid rather than all boy, meaning I want the world to be full of possibilities instead of superfluous limitations. I want to keep them healthy, keep them safe, keep them thinking, and keep their minds open. I think that's the best thing I could do for them.

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