Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails

That's what little boys are made of, right? Although around my house it might be more like: Guns, rocks, and smelly socks. Or burps, farts, and styrofoam darts? My family is full of boys. I have two sons and nine nephews, and when I get together with my cousins they add six more boys to the mix. Being the people watcher that I am, I have observed some interesting "boy" behavior. (WARNING: if you are easily offended by this sort of thing, don't keep reading. I am not trying to stereotype or pigeon hole the genders. I am simply making observations based on my own experiences.)
1. Boys like to get naked. Whenever my children are running around and playing, clothing comes off. They yank off their socks in a ball, rip off their shirts and are happy to strip down to underwear (or less). This happened a few Christmas' ago when the cousins were all together. All of the boys starting chasing each other around the house and quickly became shirtless. Then we tried to take a group picture. Here are my boys. When I took the kids to visit my brother and his four boys out in California, the first thing they did when we arrived was strip naked and skinny dip in the pool. P and I have an unusually large number of conversations about when it is okay and not okay to take your clothes off. I'm not saying I wouldn't be having a similar conversation with a girl. I've seen my share of little girls who are happy to be in the buff, but at some point they hear the voice in their head (society?) telling them to put their clothes on. Do boys ever hear that? So far my sons have not.
2. Boys like guns. Try to stop them. My neighbor has four girls and one boy, and she once told me, "He's not allowed to play with guns." Moments later her son wandered over to our house, picked up the nearest stick, and walked around shooting with it. I don't understand this phenomenon. But everything in our house - fingers, blocks, chopsticks, forks, pieces of toast - has become a gun at one point or another.
3. Boys are physical. They love to wrestle with each other, beat on each other, chase each other. School is often a challenge because they are required to sit still and keep their hands to themselves. Do you know how difficult that can be for some kids (mine included)? With the disappearance of recess and increased demands in early education, elementary school has become a struggle for many boys. They need to MOVE. It's plain and simple. But I have also observed that boys can be still and focused if there is something holding their interest. For my children, they are often focused by books, Legos and battles. They can plan an elaborate battle scene for hours, setting up the blocks, positioning the characters, and planning the attack. And then they battle it out, creating complete chaos. It is crazy but appears intensely satisfying.

I am torn. While it is clear to me that each gender shares unique characteristics, do I believe that society should label things as "boy" or "girl" appropriate? Should there be separate toy aisles? Should certain books be design to appeal to a specific gender? When Lego first came out with their Friends line, where you can build little houses in pink and purple, I was appalled. As a little girl I played with Legos. Blue and red ones. I built whatever I wanted. But a friend of mine with two girls pointed out that Legos are geared toward boys, with sets like Ninjago and Super heroes. It was nice to have sets her children wanted to build. What about books? My youngest likes books about trucks, but he also likes books about princesses. Do I tell him no, that's a girl's book? No way. When P was in first grade, his teacher placed the highest leveled books in pink and purple baskets. Was that to suggest that only girls could read them? He certainly thought so, and after pressure from home to choose more challenging books he was forced to quickly squash the inevitable teasing when his friends saw him picking from the pink basket.

Children are all different, and while they may possess certain characteristics based on their number of X chromosomes, they should be allowed to surround themselves in whatever makes them happy. One of P's best friends is a girl, and she loves to come over and dig in the dirt with my boys. And that's okay. She may be composed of "Sugar and spice, and everything nice" but that doesn't mean she can't search for snails.

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