Friday, 17 July 2009

Hello Dolly!

What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of

Children’s Nursery Rhyme

I’ve always been fascinated by the nature/nurture debate. Are girls and boys intrinsically different? Is gender biologically determined? How does environment and culture influence gender roles in early life? It was an area of my work with children that intrigued me and I chose to specialise in the subject during second year at University. When I had Junior I was excited at the prospect of putting all my knowledge into action and I was adamant that my son would play with toys which would traditionally only have been for girls (if he was interested in doing so). Hence the reason I feel mildly despondent when I watch my gentle wee boy playing with his power rangers and action men.
Pow! Take that you evil baddie, I’ll strangle you and rip your arms off!”
I sigh deeply at this behaviour but accept that it's probably a normal 5 year old boy thing to do.
Why can’t they just have a cup of tea together and chat about last nights Eastenders?” I plead after being exposed to a relentless half hour of Kung Fu fighting and disturbingly inventive ways for action men to kill each other. Junior looks at me like I’ve lost my mind and resumes his killing spree. I have never encouraged this kind of play. Even before I became a mum I felt very strongly about children playing with guns and we have a strict no-gun policy at home. This doesn’t stop Junior making guns out of Lego or any other available method. Once I even watched him make a bit of toast into a gun.
Junior had a variety of toys as a baby, a healthy mixture of Thomas the Tank Engine, jigsaws and cooking utensils. He played happily with them all and continued pushing his buggy along the pavement even after an ignorant neighbour came out to tell me I was going to “Turn my son strange”. Thanks for your advice mate!! Starting school definitely changed Junior. He suddenly became aware that pink was “for girls” and for a while he would even screw his face up at strawberry Angel Delight. It didn’t help that the school toilets were decorated blue for boys, pink for girls. What century are we living in?! And his play got a lot rougher. Survival of the fittest I guess. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em mentality. I frequently had to question my own values in the first few months of school. I strongly believe that violence breeds violence. Hitting someone is not an effective way to win a fight. Violence is an unacceptable way to solve a dispute. However after months of Junior coming home covered in bruises where people had kicked him my advice changed from “Just walk away, be the better man” to “Hit them back! As hard as you can!” Perhaps my hippy, pacifistic way of thinking had been a bit naive?
Don’t get me wrong. Junior is a lovely boy. He loves babies and plays very naturally with them. He is gentle and caring with Dizzy, his hamster and he regularly compliments me on what I’m wearing. He always notices if I’m wearing new earrings. I even caught him singing “Dancing Queen” the other morning. So it's not all blood baths and ninja death moves.
Last night I told Junior if he behaved really well I had something very special to show him after his bath. I often use this as a bribe because it really works! We had a peaceful bath time and he left all his dirty clothes in a neat pile as opposed to leaving various articles scattered over every corner of the house. He was a paragon of virtue so I had to think fast about a truly terrific prize. I spotted my old doll on top of the wardrobe. Would Junior be disappointed with this as a reward? What the heck, I’d give it a bash.
Fiona, the doll is 35 years old. She is an old style Tiny Tears (probably worth a fortune now but I wouldn’t part with her for anything) She is in perfect condition apart from some chewed toes and a missing clump of hair (I was 5! I didn’t understand that it wouldn’t grow back) She is very special to me because I have lots of happy memories of playing with her. I think I was really old when I lost interest in her. Maybe ten or eleven. I can’t believe I said that out loud, but there you go.
When Junior was all dried and in his pyjamas I stretched up to lift Fiona from the wardrobe.
“I have someone very special for you to meet” I said trying to build the moment up. It was touch and go whether Junior would have a tantrum when he saw his ‘reward’.
“Ah Mummy, she’s beautiful
We lay on the bed and I told him stories about what I used to do with Fiona - doll’s hospitals, trips round the block in her pram etc and he listened intently as he gently touched her moveable eyelids. He was smitten!
“Can I take her to bed with me, Mummy?”
I was a bit reluctant about this. Chances were high that I would wake up the next morning to find one of her arms missing or a pudgy leg hanging off. But he was so keen I couldn’t resist. I tucked them in together and went downstairs for a cup of coffee.
When I retired to bed much later I went in to check on Junior and my heart fell to the floor. He had made a wee bed for Fiona beside his bed (see pictures above). He had laid her carefully on a pillow with a blanket over her. He had even gone to the bother of giving her Bruno the dog to cuddle and he had laid her booties neatly beside the makeshift bed. Tears of pride pricked my eyes as I bent to kiss his cheek. Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails? Pah!!

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