Last week two girlfriends and I took our 3-year-old boys to a newly opened play cafe, in an attempt to have a coffee and conversation that lasted more than 2 minutes. We're greedy like that.
This wasn't one of those jungle gym type places, which I have vowed never to set foot in again after a particularly harrowing experience that involved a birthday party, 50 screaming kids hyped up on party food, my son getting stuck and me not being able to find him, all while suffering a hangover from a particularly raucous dinner party the night before. I don't know which was worse that morning, fishing my son out of the ball pit while remembering the email I received about snakes and syringes found it ball pits (what the?) or thinking about the fact that his father was at home asleep while I suffered through this hell alone. But, I digress.
No, this was just a cafe that recently added a kids play area and then marketed itself as a play cafe, to entice all of us harassed mothers in desperate need of coffee. Which of course worked like a charm and it's been full ever since. So off we went and both camps were happy, mums with coffee, kids with toys to occupy them. And as I watched our boys interacting with the other kids in the play area I was struck again by just how different boys and girls are.
Case in point, there was a pile of those big foam building blocks and a group of boys and girls, all aged about 3, who wanted to play with them. Naturally, the boys immediately saw them as weapons of mass destruction and proceeded to smash each other with them while simultaneously wrestling. The girls looked on in disdain and bewilderment.
When a wayward piece of soft foam hit one of the girls her mother jumped up quickly to check that she was ok and shot us mums a dagger as she sat back down. "Mothers of girls just don't get it" my friend sighed. "When I only had a girl I didn't get it either." She then recounted a story of a 6-year-old girl's birthday party she attended recently where the girls sat quietly playing, doing craft and dressing up their dolls together. We laughed as we compared it to our boys parties, where cars are broom broomed through the house at breakneck speed, trucks are smashed into each other to see what happens and newly acquired toys are all turned into guns.
I watched our boys interacting with the other kids in the play area I was struck by just how different boys and girls are.
We knew that mum thought our boys were rat bags and that we were obviously slack mothers, just as I would have thought before I had a boy myself. But now I know that boys just do these things, no matter how much you tell them not too. Sure, there is a difference between boys being boys and letting them behave like an aggressive brat, but I have learnt that expecting your boy not be physical and exuberant is just not realistic.
Illustrating that point perfectly the foam throwing started to get more aggressive, so I went over to our boys with some stern words, finishing with "Blocks are for building, not smashing people." One of the little girls, adorable in her pink tu-tu and ballet flats, looked up at me with a look of resigned exacerbation, as if to say "They just don't get it." I smiled and rolled my eyes at her and she did the same and suddenly we were kindred spirits, two girls who don't understand boys and probably never will.
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus and sometimes my little Martian seems very alien to me indeed. Often I watch him doing something and the only word that comes to mind is "Why?"
Of course I am resorting to stereotypes and realise that not all boys are hyper and plenty of girls would rather play with trucks than dolls. But you can't deny the way the different sexes naturally gravitate to their ‘traditional' roles. And I think I'm pretty safe to say that most of us girls just don't see the innate pleasure in physically attacking each other the way boys do. That also goes for getting dirty and greasy, banging and smashing things, burping, farting and discussing bodily functions with pride and enjoyment.
And male friends have told me they feel exactly the same way about their daughters. I once overheard a friend discussing his daughter and her overly emotional ways with my husband. "Mate, I just don't get her," he laughed.
I have often thought raising boys is harder in the earlier years, but girls are harder in their teens. I might dream of having a little girl who will sit quietly and play with her dolls now, but the idea of dealing with a teenager like I was is more like a nightmare!
But, to me, the fact that boys are so different to us makes mothering one incredibly interesting, as well as exhausting. My son often reminds me of a Labrador puppy, all boundless energy and enthusiasm, full of love and affection, which he expresses by kissing and jumping on me - usually at the same time. And seeing the world through his eyes has opened me up to experiences I never would have enjoyed before. I've learnt that finding caterpillars in the dirt and smashing each other with pillows can be kind of fun, despite the fat lip that often ends the game in tears (mine, not his.)
I've just come to realise you just need to give boys the space they need to run out their energy, so they can get it out of their system. In fact, the boys school that my son will go to promotes exactly that, making sure they give their boys plenty of opportunities to expel that energy so that they can concentrate in class. This is a great example of understanding how boys work and working with them instead of against them. Which means a park is probably a better place to take our boys than a play cafe. But what can I say, we're girls and we like cappuccinos and cupcakes with pink frosting!
Do your children fit into the gender stereotypes? Do you find your opposite sex child hard to understand? And have you ever found a snake or a syringe in a ball pit?! I'd love to hear your experiences........
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