Friday, March 2, 2012

Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy!

My two-year-old son has discovered the difference between boys and girls. Well, he’s discovered that some people are boys and some people are girls, at least.

I’m not sure exactly what made this knowledge click in his head. Ever since he could talk – ever since he could walk, actually – his father has pointed out other children by saying, “Look at that little girl,” or “Do you see those boys?”, or encouraged him to say hi to other children by saying, “Go say ‘hi’ to that boy,” or “Go tell that girl your name.” And without fail, my son trots over like an obedient puppy and proclaims, “Hi, boy!” or “Hi, girl!”

When his baby sister was on the way, we explained to him that he was going to be a big brother, and that he would have either a little brother or a little sister very soon. When she was born, we informed him that he now had a big sister and a little sister. I think I may have even explained that girls are sisters and boys are brothers. And I tell him all the time that he needs to be careful of his baby sister because she’s just a little girl and he’s a big boy.

Every now and then, he proves how much he understands the concept by asking me to confirm who’s a boy and who’s a girl: “Mama, you’re a girl?” “Mama, Daddy is a boy?” “I’m a big boy? No, I’m a little boy!” And lately I’ve even been able to quiz him on a whole list of people he knows, asking who’s a boy and who’s a girl: “Is Pappy a boy or a girl? What about Uncle Steven? Auntie Susan? Pastor We? Is your friend William at church a boy or a girl? How about his sister?” He gets nearly all of them right, although occasionally is answer is phrased as, “She’s a boy” or “He’s a girl”. But at least the girl or boy part is right.

He had never really showed that he made any distinction between boys and girls. He’s as happy to play with a little girl as with another boy. He’s never shown any preference between boy relatives and girl relatives (his big sister can roughhouse with him as easily as any of his uncles). He’s never showed any confusion at seeing a boy doing something that he’s only seen girls do (like a commercial showing a dad having a tea party with dolls) or a girl doing something that he’s only seen boys do (like a video of a Powderpuff football game). But yesterday morning, as his father was changing his diaper, he protested, “No! I want Mama to do it!” and when asked why, he answered, “Because she’s a GIRL!”

I’m not quite sure of the logical connection there. His father jokes that I’m the “soother” and he’s the “enforcer,” so maybe my son associates “girl” with gentleness, and with hugs and kisses. Or maybe it’s the flip side, and he associates “boy” with roughhousing and discipline. I’m a bit apprehensive about the first time he asks a more specific question about the difference between boys and girls. It’s not as simple an answer as it once was. Back in pioneer times, the answer could have been that girls wash clothes and bake bread and take care of babies, and boys plow the soil and milk the cows and build houses. But today, boys wash clothes, bake bread, and take care of babies nearly as often as girls, and girls are just as capable of plowing, milking, and building as boys are. In my grandmother’s childhood, a valid answer would have been that girls wear dresses and boys wear pants. That explanation doesn’t work these days, either.

Maybe I can get away with, “Boys grow up to be men, like Daddy,” and “Girls grow up to be women, like Mama.” That should buy me a few more months to come up with a better explanation, anyway.


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