Is it nature or is it nurture? The debate on why little boys and little girls are so different from each other has raged since the beginning of time. I have solved this debate, at least for myself, because I am here to tell you, it is definitely nature in this house. When my kids were little, I eavesdropped a-plenty, sometimes wittingly, sometimes not, during playtimes with their friends. I remember Alex, my middle child, and a younger boy, Jared, who rode in our carpool, on the drive to preschool. At that age (about 4), they were definitely not social geniuses…they were, after all, boys. Their chief pasttime in the car on the way to preschool was telling jokes. Jokes like this …and then the firetruck went down the street and ran into a house … HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA … and then the firetruck ran into a store … HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA … and then it jumped up on top of a house and crashed into the ground … HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA … and on and on, all the way to preschool. It was one of those moments that make you say, HUH??? So this is what it is to be a little boy? I did not grow up with boys and had no idea their jokes were this bad.
I first realized how innate “man genes” were shortly after Daniel was born. Alex was 4, and I asked him to sit by Daniel to keep him happy while I cooked dinner (dinnertime was what I referred to then as the bewitching hour, when all babies get mad as hell and you’re trying to get dinner on the table). They were watching tv and Daniel started screaming. After several failed attempts with the pacifier, Alex gave up, reached over and cranked up the volume on the tv. It struck me then what I was in for with all these “men” in the house.
In Alex’s world, action figures did not appeal to him. He preferred to be the action figure. Oh, we bought the latest Power Ranger or whatever character was hot at the moment, and he spent about two minutes trying to figure out what to do with it, then ditched it for something better. These figures were, as my brother-in-law once pointed out, dolls. Really ugly dolls, but dolls nonetheless. Alex didn’t play with dolls, even ugly ones, so we finally learned to stop wasting our money on them and save it for the important things, like trucks (particularly firetrucks) and cars and car tracks, and about two billion Legos. He was, in fact, a most accomplished Lego-maniac, building adeptly by diagram or freestyle. Oh, and I can’t forget the guns, swords and ninja things. He and his friends donned ninja garb and, well, did ninja things.
Prior to this time, I did not know much about little boys. My experience was with little girls, little girls who WERE social genuises, or at least master manipulators. My daughter, Sara, and her friends lived in a world of make-believe. Their encounters were reenactions of real-life drama, and the sparring was more subtle. My daughter, accustomed to having her way in pretend-land at home, occasionally encoutered resistance from like-minded little girls also accustomed to having their way in pretend-land at their homes. The interaction went mostly like this: One of them would say I’ll be the mommy (or the teacher), and you will be the baby, or doggy, or whatever character they deemed had significantly less status than the mommy or the teacher. (In my daughter’s world, no one had more social status than a mother or teacher! I am dang sure missing those days!!!) Anyway, sometimes the girls all played along, and sometimes the real drama would begin. One of Sara’s friends, Jordan, quite frequently became angry and stood stockstill, with her back to everyone, refusing to play until she got her way … only rarely did she get her way, as my daughter can dig her heels in with the best of them (still!). It mostly depended on how bad Sara wanted to play. If she wanted to, she gave in, and the play would continue. If she didn’t, Jordan got tired of imitating a statue and stomped home. (See 2nd sentence, this paragraph, re master manipulators…).
Sara also loved the Barbies. She had many, many Barbies. Her little friends would bring over their Barbies, and before you knew it, buxomous Barbies were scattered everywhere, and little Barbie clothes, and eensy weensy Barbie shoes (much like Sara’s room today, only it’s her clothes and shoes everywhere). The same kind of scenario would take place … whose Barbie got to be the mommy or the teacher would precede the play. It was a while before they graduated to thinking about dating and going out with Ken. In fact, Ken was never really big at my house. I mean, come on, the guy had plastic hair, and they were just too young to care about his rock-hard abs…
I used to encourage my husband to play with Sara. He also doesn’t get the doll thing, but of course, Sara wanted to play Barbies. I walked into Sara’s room one day, where Dad’s Barbie was repeatedly diving off the bed, bashing her head into the floor and making man-screaming noises. Not pretty, but Daddy was trying!
Then, along came Daniel. He, like his brother, was a doll hater and car/truck lover, but unlike his brother, he did not/does not care about Legos, and in fact, Alex always built the Lego sets Daniel received as gifts when he was younger. Whether he just wasn’t as dextrous, or had Sara’s master manipulator skills and didn’t want to do it, either way the new Lego sets would always get built by Alex. Daniel liked weaponry also. His first little friend was Chad. They tried to kill each other with plastic weapons all through preschool and kindergarten. A funny unrelated note, at Chad’s house, Daniel tried it all, especially vegetables. He always said he had already tried all the foods he hated at Chad’s house, and that’s how he knew he didn’t like them … Daniel occasionally fiddled with the truth, ahem, still fiddles with the truth, but we’re all over that one. It’s still a running joke around here that yeah, we know, you tried it at Chad’s house. He hasn’t seen Chad in five or six years!
Daniel still plays war games, both physically and online. A few years ago, Daniel and a huge horde of kids roamed the neighborhood with plastic semi-automatic rifles, splitting into teams and building forts as their safe zones. He’s 12 now and has recently discovered air soft guns, so apparently, just the weaponry has changed. The network of kids online playing war games is amazing. I’m forever asking him who he’s talking to and trying to maim online. I’m convinced that pretend violence is just what boys do, as it’s certainly nothing I ever taught my boys. If I forbade them to play with the plastic variety, they would only fashion weapons out of things around the house … cardboard swords, pea launchers, you’d be surprised what can become a weapon or an instrument of pretend violence. They don’t outgrow this. See comment in paragraph 6 re Daddy’s attempt to play Barbies with his daughter. While he wasn’t actively seeking to kill Barbie, he doomed her to jump headfirst off bed-cliffs, destined for death over and over again, as that is infinitely preferable in his eyes to playing dress the Barbie with designer clothing and eensy stilettos…
While I’m picking on my boys (especially Johnny, my husband) … their penchant for gratuitious violence on television and in movies astounds me. Apparently, they can’t watch too many things get beat up, shot up or blown up. I seriously don’t get it, because my boys and my husband are mild-mannered people. Never would any of them ever hurt anyone in real life, but the primeval manly urge to watch or participate in pretend mayhem is just out of their control. Johnny says it is mindless entertainment, that comedies are just too much work. He has such a stressful existence that when he can relax and watch people bludgeon and kill each other, somehow it soothes him. I repeat, HUH??? I guess going to strip joints is mindless entertainment also, which thankfully, Johnny prefers watching pretend violence over the shimmying and shaking of real life nubile extroverts. What is it about men and mindless entertainment??? What’s wrong with getting a few brain cells involved???
So, there you have it. Guys and dolls at play. Thankfully, our real lives aren’t nearly so simple, or complicated, or at least not so manipulative and violent … and the jokes have gotten much better!!!