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Boys & Girls

what do you do when your boy acts ... like a boy?

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by Mike Paulus illustrated by Ian Kloster

Back in college, I had some pretty big plans for my future children. They were gonna be awesome. And smart. And unique. They weren’t going to be like other kids, with their Disney bedroom sets, and their Wiggles CDs, and their SpongeBob SquarePantses.

And they sure as shootin’ weren’t going to be tied to any of society’s oppressive gender stereotypes. No way, man, not my kids. People always told me about how girl-kids were more intellectual and boy-kids were more physical. Girls like to talk and boys like to smash, they’d say. And like any good college student who, after four years of higher education, knew basically everything, I responded with a smirk, a chuckle, and a snooty “whatever.”

Well, fast-forward to now, and here I am with a boy who acts very much like a “boy” and a girl who acts very much like a “girl.” She started talking and reading early. He started head-butting almost immediately. Whoops. “How is this happening?,” I ask myself. My wife and I are pretty neutral when it comes to gender stuff. Our kids share pretty much the same set of toys. My parenting plans were so solid and well-thought-out. How could I have lost my way?

I’d do well to remember that even further back, in the seventh grade, I had plans to name my firstborn son Oktober. Yes, “October” but with a “k.” Do you know any seventh grade boys able to rip their thoughts away from sex and video games long enough to brainstorm dork-tastic name options for their future children? No. No you do not.

It’s this same surface-level thinking that led college-age Mike to think he would someday raise super-awesome, super-non-conformist children who’d wear tutus while they played with dump trucks and cowboy hats while they played with dollies.

It’s been hard coming to grips with fact that my kids just aren’t like that. I’ve always wanted to raise children able to break free of stereotypes and not let anyone tell them who they should be, and other very inspirational things. Now, I felt this way back in college because it was just a cool thing to say to people. But after having kids, I have my wife has found actual, logical reasons to foster the kinds of play that buck traditional gender trends.

For example: Should your son play with dolls? Why, hell yes, he should, kind sir. It will help teach him to be a good father someday (if he so chooses to be fruitful and multiply).

Does my own son play with dolls? Well ... no. No, dammit, he doesn’t. I’d love for him to play with dolls because then I could whip out the “I want him to be a good father someday, open your mind, man” speech, like, all the time. But as of yet, no such luck. He mostly likes bashing things into other things, jumping off tall furniture, and shoving his finger up his nose. And tractors and fire engines and trucks and more tractors.

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