Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why do you ask, dear?

So, somehow this story popped into my head today; my friend's nephew approached his mother nonchalantly and asked if one could get rabies from licking a dead opossum. The answer to the only logical question that would follow is not important to me right now, it is the fact that this mother likely would not be put in such a position to ask had she not had the great fortune to bear sons.

Now, I worked very hard, from the moment my first son was born, not to assign gender baggage to him. I wanted, and still want, him to be free to be himself, wholly and without reservation. It just happened to turn out that his authentic self absolutely adores trucks, cars, trains and anything else that has wheels and an engine. He is vivacious and without fear (except when it comes to ants), and the toughest little guy that I know. He is also such a nurturing little soul, one who loves his baby brother without abandon, rubs my back when he can tell I'm feeling stressed, and bounces his baby doll to help her fall asleep. But all this said, I have no doubt that he might contemplate licking a deceased marsupial if the proper age and situation presented itself. I hope to hell he would decide against it, but he would likely give it more serious thought than I would ever care to know.

I am not necessarily assuming the position that a he would be more likely to perform such an act based on his maleness, but clearly the way society treats our boys is very different from the way we treat our girls. Bold, brave, somewhat non-thinking action is praised in our sons, while reservation and restraint is what we hope our daughters will aspire to. How can we be surprised, then? And will "boys be boys" if we don't put the pressure on them to do so?

A profound example recently presented itself to me on the differences between the traits assigned to boys and girls. When faced with a challenge involving interpersonal relations, I was more concerned with whether or not a child was developing her skills as an empathic human being, where the child's mother was worried whether or not she (emphasis being on the female pronoun) felt empowered and able to be assertive in the same situation. At first I was taken aback at how different our responses were, given that we usually fall so closely in line when it comes to parenting. But, on further retrospection and with some welcome outside perspective, I can see that the difference in our outlooks owes itself to our having children of different genders; I am concerned with my son's not loosing all of their caring, empathic selves. My friend is concerned with her daughter not feeling that she has a true, empowered voice. I can't say that I would feel any different if I were in her position.

So it seems that our roles, as parents, is sometimes to counter the squelching of the soul that the outside world would put upon us. Or, more accurately, to allow our children to grow into the people that they really, truly are, without hindrance, without baggage, without reservation. I actually couldn't think of any greater wish.

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