Saturday, 11 July 2009

nature nurture

Snooks arrived at one of his regular social slots this week proudly brandishing his latest love – a boy buggy.

Yes I have crossed the toy gender line in spite of the quiet reservation of the Engineer, who blanched when I triumphantly waved the object at him in the Early Learning Centre last week. A sudden run on toy pushchairs in the area had meant that my previous efforts to track one down had failed.

“Do boys have pushchairs?” he whispered, perhaps afraid that the Right-On Mums Brigade were hiding inside the Wendy House and might spring out at any moment.

I had to suppress a smile. This was a serious business. I love how protective he is of Snooks’ masculinity, even at 16 months old. To me it is a given. Snooks could wear pink pompoms and carry a Barbie Doll and he would still be the fiercely raucous little boy that he is.

But it seems that it’s different for Dads.

“Oh yes, very much so. That is why they make them in blue,” I answered, trying to make this sound less silly than it actually is.

I get it, though, and I have bowed to the Engineer’s judgement on previous occasions where he felt our son’s dignity was at stake and where I just saw a little boy being cute.

Aware as I am of the impact of my own upbringing,(see Oh Boy!) I also get that my barometer might not work so well in this climate.

However I am confident that the boy buggy is a Good Thing having watched Snooks hoon about with one in the church halls where they are provided by the many playgroups he attends.

I was also influenced by Steve Biddulph’s observation that boys often miss out on the chance to learn to be caring to others, while girls are automatically handed this role with their first dolly. It may well be that nature provides girls with the instinct to nurture, but maybe we fail to encourage it in our boys.

So, I explain all this to the Engineer, sotto voce for fear of being dragged into the Wendy House by the Right-On Mum’s Brigade myself, and we buy the thing.

Nodding to his father’s fears, I stop short of mentioning the need for the required dolly on whom Snooks could dote, mentally assigning Clairebear, who is currently residing unemployed on our bedding chest, to the job.

At home, Snooks watched attentively as I put his old sunhat on the bear's head explaining how we needed to protect her from the hot sun before he take her for a walk outside. At first, he took a step away to observe from a distance, little hands clasped together, before grabbing the buggy handles and taking off down the hallway. I catch up with him just in time to see him drive the wheels over the bear’s head and race outside.

Other mums have reported mixed results from similar attempts to follow Steve’s advice. After seeing Snooks proudly parading his buggy this week, one friend hurried off to buy a dolly for her son of a similar age. She later told me how, on the way home, she inadvertently dropped it under a truck and then, having retraced her steps and rescued it from the roadside, she proceeded to poke her finger into its eye socket to retrieve a dislocated eyeball, while her curious little boy looked on.

I doubt Steve would be impressed with either of us (though I am not sure he is a big fan of women at all, to be honest) but then I don’t think Snooks will learn everything he needs to know about love from a buggy, any more than I learn all I need to know about motherhood from a book.

My decisions about how to raise Snooks arise out of what I read, what I hear from talking to other parents and what I know from mine and the Engineer’s own experience.

And from this, I know that his ability to love another person depends on his attachment to me now. And for that attachment to be secure he needs to trust me to meet his needs. No toys required.

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