Running on the treadmill at the gym today (me! at the gym! TODAY!), I noticed two little boys out the window. They must have been around eight years old and each held a long stick in their hands that they were using to whack at the branches of a tree with the aim, I think, to knock the leaves off.
I looked at the boys. They were dressed nicely. They seemed to be sweet kids. And yet they were compelled to relentlessly pummel this poor tree (possibly with one of its own branches).
I draw attention to the boys' clothing and general demeanour (from what I could gauge from my sweaty and breathless position on the treadmill) because there is a type of kid we expect to see wielding big sticks. You know the one. His hair is cropped as close to his skull as humanly possible, maybe with some gelled spikes at his forehead, and his little jaw is set in what I call 'destruct mode'. Aggression seems to have been bred into him like he was a Pitbull. He's the kid whose dad picks a fight at Under 6s footy. He's the kid you don't want your kid to play with. He's the kid you pray your kid will never become.
There was a time when I thought I could raise a son who showed zero aggression. That if my son did show aggression, he was morphing into our little set-jawed friend.
In the beginning, it looked good. Luca was a very cruisey baby. He was the sort of kid you could go shopping with, pushing the pram through endless shoe stores while he lay quietly. He very rarely fussed about anything. Baths, nappy changes, car rides – he transitioned to each new situation without a stir.
As a toddler, he was equally placid. Other children would snatch or push and he would blink at them impassively. He wouldn't cry, he never retaliated. Nothing seemed to phase him.
He started one day a week of childcare when he was two and though I was filled with anguish at the thought of leaving him, he did not shed a single tear. I mean, not one tear.
Actually, I was a leeetle bit smug about how easy Luca really was. And with his long hair and angelic face, he was often mistaken for a girl.
And on no conscious level had Bren and I been trying to model stereotypical gender roles. We agreed our kids could be whoever they authentically were.
But his interests have always been distinctly those of a typical boy. From the youngest age, he loved cars and would turn them upside down to watch their wheels spin. And though we gave him a range of toys to play with, he gravitated towards the ones that were traditionally geared towards boys.
Comparing that sweet baby with the ball of frenzied energy that is Luca now is jarring, to say the least. As he has gotten older, his play has become more and more physical, his little body a jangle of bottled momentum if he is not given the space to run it off. And the need to beat things with other things, especially if doing so makes an ungodly racket, appears to be deeply satisfying for him.
I think perhaps I should have twigged at what the future had in store when, at one year old, he started to tear the pages out of books. With relish.
On a side note, Ziggy has been into ungodly racket and page tearing from Day One.
Earlier this year, I was the parent helper at kinder. I sat with Luca and another boy as they played with a construction set. The pieces were perfectly shaped to be turned into spaceships and crazy alien creatures and that's exactly what Luca and his buddy were doing, racing their flying objects around the room and at eachother. Zooooom! Look out! Raaaaaaaa!
Then a little girl sat beside me and I stared with disbelief as she turned her pieces into a flower garden. I watched that little girl quite wistfully, a bit jealously, as she quietly constructed her sweet little alien flowers. I was heavily pregnant with a baby girl, but my day to day reality was boy. All boy.
Girls and boys are different. They just are. Of course, human beings are all unique and there are a million variations inbetween, but on some level, boys will be boys. Some level of aggression appears to be normal. Pretty sure it's linked to a testosterone surge in little boys that rivals the surge seen in puberty. Which means on a chemical level, Luca was destined to be who he is.
I still despair occasionally. The chaotic whirlwind of the little boy (times two) sometimes makes me tense. I would like to play a game of tea parties that doesn't end with the crockery being thrown around the room.
It seems ironic that we were all about accepting if Luca didn't align himself strongly with male norms, and yet, we're less thrilled about him going the other way and being quite typical of his gender.
But in my defense, little boys, man! They're full on. FULL fucking ON.
And I never wanted anyone to think that we were raising the little boy with the big stick and the clenched jaw. Today , those two little boys reminded me that Luca is not that little boy. But he is still a boy. Even though his mother won't cut his hair and his father knows sweet fuck all about footy, he is a boy with all the complexities that go with it.
Luca is sweet, affectionate, funny as hell. If he had a propensity to wear tutus, I like to think we would have embraced that. Turns out, he likes big sticks instead.
A poignant and beautiful post , boys are boys indeed and it has little to do with how we raise them (in regards to gender stereotyping ) whether they like sticks or not. Why do they like sticks ? I don’t know.
I much prefer less voilence in terms of toys and games we allow them to participate in though because I personally think it makes a difference .
I need to re read Raising Boys .
Thank you, Trish. xxx
We are similar to you in that we won’t have weapons in this house (toy guns etc.), we don’t watch kids shows I consider violent (eg: Ben 10) and still, Luca’s play will inevitably include fighting and conflict, good and bad guys, and so much deactivating (our code word for killing).
So yes, he puzzles me. And worries me. I want to understand him better, understand boys better. So my copy of ‘Raising Boys’ can not arrive soon enough!
It’s so true. We have two of each and they are so different, as boys and girls. They all sway a little, but end up kind of stereotypical!
Fabulous blog, babe.
I honestly didn’t quite believe it was true until i had ‘whirlwind-Jed’ after my two much-more-subdued-daughters. Crazily different.
And he’s not naughty, he just has a higher energy, and like you said, he is into the noisier, stereotypical-boy things. One would think that a boy following after two sisters would be a little peer-pressured or enticed into playing with the Barbies and wearing the frilly dress-ups just because that’s what the other kids in our household were doing. But no. Jeddy boy let us know from very early on that he would do things HIS way.
It’s a lot of fun for us as parents, watching how unique our children are, and seeing the family dynamics change because one came along with a penis LOL!
Might be time to buy Luca a drum kit if you can bear it. He can hit it with sticks AND make an ungodly racket.
ps. You could put the drum kit in the garage (if there’s room.
Yep. There’s plenty of crossover but ultimately, they are their genders.
Oh, it must be hysterical to watch little Jed put his mark on what was a very pink house!
I can’t wait to see how Harlow’s personality will develop.
I so adore this little fella. I love him so much. But he tugs at my heart strings. I just hope I’m giving him enough space to be who he is, and not curbing his natural behaviour because it’s too loud/boisterous/physical.
Steve Biddulph’s “Raising Boys” (I mention the author because there is another book of this title) was one of the first books I bought when I found out I was having a boy.
You are right that Luca is NOT like the tree bashers. The tree bashers are a different breed. You know there is not much sensitivity, either environmentally or innately and let’s face it … aren’t our kids genetically programmed to be at least a bit like Mum and Dad? It would be a bit odd if they turned out like those other boys really.
What is challenging as you rightly point out, is watching the differences between girls and boys at play. Many boys tend to use their whole bodies to explore their space. They move, they make noise, they are wanting to be everywhere and into everything. That is how they learn.
It’s true that some girls are like that too but it is interesting that when you see them in a room, together, the differences are stark.
I too have tried to veer my kids away from children that have this type of look too. However, I have found that boys clothes can mask the “pitbull” in the child. The other boy looked like a straight-shooter until he decided to pick up the big stick. I didn’t want my son to think he was not allowed to have friends, so I simply chose who he hung around with a little more closely. All is well now and my child has never been happier.