My Second Boyhood
Despite this, when my wife was pregnant, I must admit I was somewhat terrified about having a girl. I know boy stuff (camping, baseball, puberty) really well but didn’t know if I’d come to like and be good at girl stuff (tea parties, dress-up, puberty).
As it turns out, we had a son, who at age seven and a half is the joy of my life, as I get to relive a second boyhood through him. He’s our only child, and as my wife says, that store has closed. So, whew, no princess stuff for me.
My son Nick took easily to boy stuff. He was active and rough-and-tumble from the get-go. Without any (intentional) pressure from me, he has come to love baseball, Star Wars, tennis, skiing, science experiments, snips, snails and puppy dog tails.
Frankly, I’d be fine if his interests were less macho. And to tell the truth, all is not hyper-masculine, as he also likes his youth theater (and his debut as Winnie-the-Pooh at the local youth theater was a triumph. I say, a triumph!) and he dances and sings all day long.
“It’s Something Girls Do”
One time, after we saw a ballet performance in which kids were invited onstage afterwards, Nick wowed the ballerinas and other dance teachers with how he gracefully imitated the danseurs (that’s the official term for male ballet dancers, I had to look it up myself). One prestigious dance school came to my wife and I encouraging us to sign him up for classes; boys lessons are free, so desperate the need for boys. We ran it by him, but he wasn’t interested – it was “something girls do”.
Instead, we signed him up for gymnastics – he’d recently watched the Olympics and thought it was really cool. He initially loved gymnastics, but started growing tired of it, as he was one of very few boys there. We found a new gym that focuses on boys, and he’s super-into gymnastics again now that he can use the men’s apparatus (pommel horse, rings, etc.) and that there are many boys, including incredibly talented high-schoolers, and male coaches around.
The Great Separation
Nick’s in second grade, which I’ve come to refer to as the great gender separation. He used to play with girls as easily as with boys, but now the genders play separately (and won’t start circling back around until late-middle-school).
There have always been different shows and products for boys and those for girls, but so much culture today seems to be in parallel universes. Girls and boys can now go entire weeks not seeing the same commercial. Disney Princesses and Pirates may as well have their own parks. Girls and boys even have their own Legos. Some of the gender split is natural, but the differences sure do seem more stark today than ever before.
On Barbie, Spongebob, Tigger, Buzz and Obi-Wan
There remains but one piece of pop culture loved equally by seven year old boys and girls: SpongeBob. When Nick watches Spongebob Squarepants, he sees just as many commercials for Inkoos, Barbie and My Little Pony* as he does for Hot Wheels and the latest Nerf weaponry.
(*Did you know that, as apparently My Little Pony isn’t sufficiently girly, that she’s also a magic Pegasus-winged Princess?)
I don’t think it’s an altogether bad thing that boys and girls follow different interests for a while during childhood. However, both paths, in excess, can be harmful.When commercials for Monster High, Bratzillas, Winx Club, LalaLoopsie, Moxie Girl, Baby Wanna Walk, “I Love Horses” Shrinky-Dinks, Easy-Bake Ovens, and especially anything Princess come on, Nick will often derisively chuckle about how lame girl stuff is. The seven-year old boy in me agrees with him, but the father in me has two reactions:
1. I responsibly tell Nick that there’s nothing wrong with girl stuff. It may not be what you like, but different people like different things, and it’d be perfectly okay with me if he wanted to play with any of these, and
2. I thank my lucky stars that I get to play air hockey, K-Nex sets and lightsaber battles with Nick when we play together instead of combing My Little Pony’s hair or bedazzling a tiara.
I don’t think it’s an altogether bad thing that boys and girls follow different interests for a while during childhood. However, both paths, in excess, can be harmful. For boys, the positive associations of violence and aggression can be taken too far. For girls, the pretty-and-passive lessons from princesses can also be taken too far.
I’m sure that if Nick were Nicole, I’d come to appreciate Ariel, Barbie, Dora and Jessie. But for me, I’m glad that I had Tigger, Buzz Lightyear, and Obi-Wan Kenobi along for the ride during my second childhood. Thank you, my son.
(title image unceremoniously stolen from Sand in the Gears)