Right. I have to completely retract my earlier statement about parenting books.
I got tempted by the title initially – Raising Boys - as it chimed with the name of the album, which was our soundtrack when Snooks was gestating and indeed on his way here, Raising Sand.
But in fact I had already heard of it, pricking up my ears when the first version was published in 1998; the idea that boys needed special attention was both very feasible and at the same time rather irritating.
In my family of origin (as you come to call them after a lot of therapy) there were two boys and two girls, two brunettes and two blondes. We were perfectly symmetrical and were treated as equals, all exactly the same. And we were all messed up in equal measure, which I suppose is at least fair.
Possibly as a result, I was already in Steve (Biddulph)’s camp on this even before I read his book. I believe the sexes are different and when it comes to looking after young children, the differences should be noted and celebrated, not ignored.
One has to be careful of course of stereotyping, a hazard the Engineer encounters whenever he meets other men. Being a kiwi and male it is assumed that he knows and loves all things about rugby. In fact he has to feign interest and if I catch wind of a conversation heading that way, I try to throw in a curve ball with a ‘dumb girl’ question like ‘Is that the one where they run with the ball?’ to give him an out.
And having not been exposed to our national sporting obssession during his own upbringing, he voiced a refreshingly unusual response to Snooks being born a boy. ‘Does this mean I have to go to football matches?’
I have already made many mistakes according to Steve. He says that parents are not as tender with baby boys as with girls. I had already observed, to my dismay, that I probably would be gentler in handling Snooks if he were a girl.
Of course I am gentle with him, but would I have stood him up on his little wobbly legs when he was weeks old and showed him how to kick a ball if he had been a girl? Mind you, if his recent form is anything to go by this wasn’t such a bad idea. He can already dribble pretty well and does a half decent kick when the timing is right, much to the amazement of some older and some very much older boys in the park the other day. A few dads stood by looking a bit miffed that Snooks had made off with the ball their sons were playing with.
He also warns against sexualising relationships with girls under the age of 16. Oops I Did It Again, in the words of the great Britney Spears. By the time he was six months old I had already agreed to marry him off to three of my friends’ daughters after a few hand-holding and naked paddling pool sessions.
Hopefully I have nipped it in the bud before too much damage is done. While I think the book is overly bleak about boys’ outcomes (is it really a life of gang-crime and Drugs Hell for all boys who don’t have a mentor, a father, a mother and regular access to a range of energetic and creative but non-competitive activities?) I do think there is a lot of sense in it.
And I was just explaining it all to the Engineer the other day as I was bathing Snooks, telling him how once he turns six I have to step back while they make for the shed to fashion things out of bits of timber (which actually they already do).
And how we have to help him with communication as boys can struggle when they start school because the girls are about a year ahead in fine motor and language skills.
And how we should use the right words for body parts and demystify sex by discussing it with him, not just the mechanics but how we feel about it.
Still no comment. I am surprised to find, looking over my shoulder, that the Engineer is still present.
‘So. Where’s that lovely Botticelli?’ I say with a hand full of aqueous cream, ready to smooth on my boy’s beautiful behind.
Let’s hear it for Britney, One More Time.