What it’s Like, Part Four: Having a Girl and a Boy

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August 22, 2013 by Julia

So what’s it like to have one girl and one boy? In a word: awesome.

I love, love, love it.

I mentioned before that I enjoy switching back and forth between the two kids, that the different ages and personalities keep things more interesting throughout the day. That applies to the boy-girl thing, too.

I relate to them differently, in part because of gender. I feel equally close both kids, but with Jack there is an “opposites attract” vibe. It’s hard to describe, but it feels like puzzle pieces coming together. It’s easy and affectionate. I don’t want him to grow up to be a mama’s boy, but I now understand that impulse…I actually feel possessive of him. With Fiona, things are not as easy – we clash more, probably because we are more similar – but there is a relatability factor, a growing friendship, a sense that she will share her life with me forever.

Loving them feeds different parts of my soul.

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Of course, we get the challenging sides of both worlds, too…talk about being drained physically AND emotionally. I’m bombarded from every direction. Jack is going through a phase of screaming – there are happy screams, excited screams, mad screams, sad screams, frustrated, etc. He is also into throwing things and jumping off things. So there is that, going on at all times. Also, he is always making a mess. Always. No matter what the environment or the available tools.

Meanwhile, Fiona is usually begging me to act out something dramatic with her Legos or Powerpuff Girls, or to tell her a story, or talk about various apocalyptic scenarios and/or normal social scenarios. In other words, full mental engagement, all the time. There is no “off” button (well, other than TV or the I-pad).

Her reaction to stress is endless crying (though this has gotten better over time), Jack’s reaction is scary tantrums, when the best I can do is to keep him from hitting head on the floor.

So yeah, I’m tired all the time, in all the ways. I don’t claim to be more tired than mothers of same-gendered kids, for the record – just that my boy and girl make me tired in different ways. Every mom has it hard, for real.

BUT! (You knew it was coming.) There are just as many rewards.

For instance, boys are excellent snugglers. (My unofficial poll of 4-5 mothers of both genders confirms this.) I can’t get enough. Jack is a ball of energy, and yet when he lies on me, he completely relaxes, his head on my shoulder, his arms around me.

Also, I like “boys’ ” toys. Playing with cars and trains is calming and fun, especially after the more dramatic, convoluted stories Fiona wants me to play out with a handful of figurines. I love to explore the physical world with him, to figure out how things work. And I appreciate the tougher mentality Jack has – his initiative, his quick recoveries from spills, his bravery coupled with common sense about just how far he can safely jump. Considering all his high jinks, it’s amazing he doesn’t get hurt more often. You gotta admire that.

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But with girls…the clothes are so cute and pretty and fun. And it’s easier to take girls out in public, say to a restaurant or a store, without the risk of them literally trying to climb the walls. They will actually sit down and stay put sometimes. (Although Fiona did go through a phase of standing up in booths, Jack is on another level of un-contain-ability.) And really, Fiona and I are interested in the same things: art, storytelling, the complex social world, silliness. When I’m able to focus on playing with her, the stuff she comes up with is often fascinating or hilarious. I appreciate her sensitivity and acute observations and humor.

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Now. Let’s talk gender-based stereotypes. And the fact that my children fit them almost perfectly.

Before they could even talk, Fiona was drawn to dolls, and Jack was excited about wheels. Fiona had better verbal skills as a toddler, while Jack has had superior motor skills. Her interests are storytelling, social interactions, playing with dolls or figures, and drawing people. His interests are experimenting, building, destroying, wheels, exploring, and robots.

Even their mannerisms at such a young age reflect their genders – she has a quirky, cautious grace, while he possesses what can only be described as a manly swagger. And his two-year-old voice can sound tough whenever he wants it to. When he yelled “Come on!!” to me the other day, my friend commented that he sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Come with me if you want to live.”

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No doubt, there are many boys who are just as interested in the subtleties of the social world, and many girls who fearlessly jump in just the right ways. This is a tricky subject matter, because I realize it’s impossible to talk about the differences between boys and girls without running into a million exceptions to the rule or offending someone. So really, all I should talk about here is my boy and my girl.

This has been a struggle for me, though, if I’m being honest. I love to categorize and compare, and gender is (usually) a pretty straightforward category to work with. But I want to be supportive of any child, regardless of how or whether they identify with their own gender. I would hate to make generalizations that trigger feelings of insecurity or anger.

Now that I have both a boy and a girl, though, I’m probably perpetuating gender stereotypes wherever I go. I often make loud statements like, “Did you see how he just sat down in the dirt and then rubbed it all over himself?! He’s such a BOY!” or “The first time she really played with cars, she put them to bed on a pillow, covered them with a blanket, and sang them lullabies.” And then I feel the truth of what I said, coupled with embarrassment over my possible over-simplification of things.

Where are all these “such a boy/girl!” statements coming from? I was never into the whole princess thing for girls, and if Jack wants to try on a tu-tu, I think it’s adorable – not a threat to his masculinity, or some crap. I’d love Fiona to get involved in sports.

I’m just surprised that both children have shown such stereotypical interests and traits since birth, without extra prompting on our part. I really thought most of this stuff was dictated by cultural mores.

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I do believe many of Jack and Fiona’s differences have more to do with temperament than gender. And just because my boy loves dirt, it doesn’t mean all boys do.

I suppose that’s enough backpedaling. The experiences with both children have been different, due in part to gender. And we could not be more thrilled!

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There is one last issue that comes to mind when musing about sibling dynamics. Are sisters more likely to be closer to sisters, and brothers to brothers? I think…yeah, they probably are. It seems to me like same-sex siblings will fight more as kids, and then as adults they will hang out more than a brother and sister would.

I’m okay with it, though. Que sera, sera. Right now, Jack and Fiona are as close as I could hope a five-and-a-half year old girl and a two-year-old boy to be. They snuggle, and they hang out, and they play. They squabble and they annoy, too. But there is a sweetness, a looking out for each other, that warms my heart.

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I have another theory about what usually happens when boys and girls grow into men and women, based on casual observation. Most girls will continue to keep us company as adults – calling us (or at least answering the phone when we call them), making an effort to be around for holidays, remembering birthdays, helping out, etc.

But the boys…well. They’re gonna leave us in the dust. Our only hope is that they’ll marry someone who will bring them back to us. I try not to think about the abandoning-us-once-he’s-grown part with Jack, yet. Hopefully, Fiona will give him the occasional sisterly scolding for ignoring his mother.




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