I first became a parent two days after my 22nd birthday. I was young and inexperienced, though I had done a little babysitting for older kids as a teen. Living in California, far away from my own parents who were still in Connecticut, I read everything I could get my hands on to try to prepare for this huge life change. I was a stay-at-home mother, taking on jobs at home, when I could get them, while my husband worked making minimum wage. Back then (and now), the cost of daycare was very prohibitive, and neither of us had any higher education or real training, so it made more sense for one of us to stay home. When both of my younger children were school age, I started working in schools and other daytime jobs, including driving a school bus, running an in-home daycare and working as a crossing guard.
When my daughter was three and a half, her first brother was born. By that time we had moved back to Connecticut then on to Washington and Oregon. He was born at home in Portland. When he was twelve ... surprise ... another boy came along. I was now thirty-eight. When this second son was 13, I started raising my granddaughter who stayed with me for 9 years and is now 13. As you can see, I have actively parented for a long time. I also helped raise other children who spent lots of time in my home. My house was always open to children and was often overflowing. I've also been a teacher for most of that time, having taught in alternative education, preschools, home-schooled my children and taught private music lessons for all ages. I've been teaching Music Together for about 15 years. But, enough about me.
The topic of the feminisation of boys has been coming up for me this week. I had two very interesting conversations about it with both a man and a woman. Each time, they brought up the topic. As a young mother, I was convinced that there was not much inherent difference, other than the obvious physical differences, between boys and girls. I thought that if I raised my son similarly to his sister and dressed him in a non-gender specific way, he would not be aggressive and overtly physical, and he would not be drawn to war games and competitions. Boy, was I wrong. I was a radical peace activist and a feminist and disallowed guns in the house. We didn't watch TV when he was young, no violent movies or books. He went outside to play and found sticks to smash things with. He loved to see how many things he could break. He was obsessed with his physical strength. I soon realized that my theory was wrong and that boys have a natural tendency to use their bodies to the fullest. It makes sense, if you think about it historically.
In the earliest days, men were the protectors and hunters. Our very survival depended on their strength. Women were the birthers and nurturers out of necessity. They couldn't be risked or the human race would not survive. Over time, things inevitably changed and in these modern days, there is no longer a need for that protection. However, I'm not sure that men's instincts have changed that much. So what do we do with that? Men have strong bodies, they tend to be more aggressive in nature . Rather than denying that fact, we need to teach our boys to acknowledge that power and learn how to channel it in productive ways. Instead of stifling that, we could be teaching them to use it protect others. I think it's possible to preserve masculinity while teaching compassion. Perhaps it's stop trying to change who we are fundamentally and start learning how to use those differences to our advantage.
As a teacher, I noticed how difficult it was for young boys to sit still in a classroom and do schoolwork. They needed to be running around, wrestling and acting like puppies. The schools are even more rigid now and are failing our boys in many ways. There was a huge need for girls to be acknowledged as equals in education and in the workplace, which led to great change for them and all of us. Girls are now encouraged in the sciences and math. This is progress. However, boys are now falling behind. There is not enough to keep these active bodies engaged in learning. I see many boys start out as enthusiastic learners, hungry for more knowledge, then they gradually get bored and restless. Often they start acting out. A lot of boys are diagnosed with a variety of ailments and drugged so they can behave. But, what they really need is to be moving their bodies.
So, what can we do about this? We can encourage our boys to be themselves at home. We can enjoy their physicality, take them outside after school to run and jump, climb trees and get really dirty. If there is no involved dad, mothers need to find other male role models, other men who can play ball with them and rough house. They don't necessarily need more educational endeavors. They need to move their bodies and be boys. I love watching how the dads in my classes interact with their children. They are generally more rough and tumble than moms. Children need both parents. They need both male and female influence. It sometimes makes co-parenting difficult, as moms sometimes want to moderate the rough play or direct the parenting. I know I did. Dads are a gift to us all. Let's not discourage their influence and let them teach our boys how to be good, strong, caring men. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic.
Now that Halloween is almost here, how about some fun food ideas to help celebrate the holiday? English muffin mummy pizzas and shrunken apple head mulled cider ...
The mummies are made with pizza sauce, whatever toppings you want and strips of cheese with olives for eyes. When carving the shrunken heads, remember that it's a little difficult removing unwanted parts as opposed to building it up. It took me a little practice.