Thursday, April 19, 2012

Girls and Boys ...and My Lizzie Bean in Particular.

In my twenties, I fully believed that if one gave little girls trucks to play with, and a boy an armful of dolls, those children would grow up much less gender-restricted than the generation before.  It was all about expectations and gender stereo-typing, blah blah blah blah.

I am now prepared (can you hear my teeth grinding together?) to acknowledge that I think I was wrong.  At least to some extent.  Little girls are different than little boys.

Now before you jump down my throat, let me just say that, yes, I do know that this is a generalization; and I also know that generalizations aren't always true.  I know girls who play like the boys and who behave like the boys despite having opportunity to play with dolls.  To a degree, my daughter is one of these 'exceptions:' she hardly ever plays with her dolls; she loves to attempt tree-climbing with her brothers; she's louder than both of the boys combined.  But still... I now think that there's reason for these generalizations to exist.  I think something a little different got stored up in that extra x chromosome.

I used to have friends who, the parents of two little girls, seemed remarkably proud of their excellent parenting skills and a little too free in giving others parenting advice...advice that always seemed to be offered to the parents of boys and advice that always failed.  Though I had no children at the time, I was already then beginning to wonder, despite my beliefs as a 20-something year-old, if it would be different to parent girls vs boys.  I watched closely the two little girls of my friends, and was shocked to see them (the girls, not the friends) happily sit in one spot for more than an hour and play with a rock (literally, actually, a rock); on another occasion, they sat with one crayon each and a piece of paper and simply stayed there.  Wow, I wondered, maybe there was something to say for my friends' parenting skills - because sure enough, shrieking and running laps around the girls (again, literally) were the male offspring of other friends.  The boys were wild, man, by comparison to those adorable little creatures who sat motionless on the floor in their little dresses and capri pants a few feet away from their near-perfect parents.

I laugh when I think about that family now, and about some of the advice they were dishing out.  "Just ask your boys to sit still; they'll surprise you by being willing to do it," was one oh-so-wise comment they offered out on one occasion.  Yeah, and that's gonna work for my boys.  I give them five seconds (if squirming is allowed)...maybe six if I say pretty-please.  But then, maybe if I give them each a rock to play with they, too, could sit still for an hour (more likely, they'd be pounding each other's heads in with it after a mere thirty seconds had passed).

I digress slightly from what I wanted to talk about.  But talking about gender differences is always an interesting debate, don't you think?

The real point I wanted to make was this:  my experience parenting a little girl is different than my experience parenting little boys, and the more I get used to having a daughter, the more I love it!  I knew before Seth came home that I would love having another boy because I already had one and kinda understood little boys...and loved them.  But I'd never experienced a daughter before and I'm thrilled to say that I'm really loving that, too.

Lizzie is amazing.  I've talked before about her wildly expressive face - she is so animated in her expressions, and has such mobile eyebrows.  I could just watch her for hours.

But there's so much more to say about her, like...
  • She loves being with her older brothers and wants to do every. single. thing. that they do.  In this way, she defies the gender stereotyping that I just copped to above.  As I write this I'm watching her outside with the boys - like the boys, she's thrown her shirt onto the front steps and she's wielding a hockey stick (more like a club, to be honest) and the three of them are trying to figure out a way to make a little round of driveway hockey work.  I'm envisioning the up-coming owies.  They all just finished trying to climb the biggest tree out was her short legs rather than her gender or sense of determination, that stopped her from getting as far as her brothers.  She's covered in scrapes and bumps from her many falls, just like my boys, and her hair is wild and crazy just like the look she's sporting.  She plays car games with the boys rather than cuddling her dolls - her hand-painted little doll cradle remains full of mostly-unused babies.  She's a pistol, that one, and not one to take a back seat to her brothers.
  • But...she is also classically girly in that she can sit for a long period of time if she wants to - I'm betting that she might just be able to sit and play with a rock for at least twenty minutes!  And if I'm reading her stories, that girl will (and does!) sit on my lap for hours.  Also, when she wants to do her bits of school work, she can focus for longer than my boys if she wants to, and I never need to tell her to run ten times around the house to expend some energy so that she can sit still for the time needed to finish her 'work.'
  • Lizzie is the most cuddly person I've ever met.  Matthew's fairly cuddly, too, and I'm very fortunate to have had this in my mothering life, but Lizzie is in a class by herself when it comes to cuddling.   I used to wonder if it was attachment issues that made her so touchy-feely, and maybe it was attachment at the beginning that had her clinging to us.  But it's also simply her personality.  She would be happy to be carried, held, cuddled, kissed, nuzzled, and tucked under blankets for twenty-four hours every single day.  Many times throughout the day, she tells me "Mommy, I need a kiss" or "Mommy, I need to kiss you" and the same with hug and cuddle demands.  And she is as giving as she is receiving in this regard.  I have never been as touched as I have been by this little girl.  She nuzzles me, nibbles my earlobes, kisses me, combs my hair, strokes me, inspects my skin for every flaw, caresses my cheeks, and launches herself at me to give me hugs throughout the day...she wormed her way right into my heart from early on by her exuberant and generously affectionate nature.
  • She is able and willing to express her needs.  If she wants affection, she demands it.  If she wants food, she comes to tell me that she's hungry "now."  If she wants to do school, she demands we go down to the classroom to "do letters now."  If she wants to be doing what her brothers are doing, but isn't allowed for whatever reason, she asks "but whhhhyyyy?" about a zillion times and then weeps huge crocodile tears and utters heart-breaking comments like "I wanna be with Seth and Matthew and do what they doing."  If she sees her Daddy leaving in the car to go to work or wherever else, she stands at the front window with tears running down her face and crying "I need my Daddy; I need to hug him; I love Daddy; I need him."
  • Her favourite clothing, by far (and this way, maybe she's a little counter-stereotype, too), are her jeans.  Her daily refrain is "I want to wear jeans, mommy!" and the only way we could get her to wear anything else until recently was by buying coloured jeans, or by naming her cords or sweats or tights "jeans that we just call cords/sweats/tights."  A couple of weeks ago, she wore a skirt and pantyhose/tights for the first time since arriving in Canada, and she looked so adorable!  (She wore a few sundresses last summer, but this was a first for thin pantyhose-like tights.)
  • She's stubborn as all get out.  In the past two or three weeks, she has adopted a new favourite way of resisting my parental edicts:  when I tell her that she may not do something, she looks me right in the eye, and says "yay - I can do it!" and then flounces away to do precisely what I just finished telling her not to do.  Thankfully, her conscience often (well, sometimes) has her look back at me for one final check and she usually ends up listening to me, but she always, always has to push the boundary (and my buttons) first.
  • She loves being fed by hands other than her own!  She is great with utensils (including a knife), and arguably better than her brothers at wielding them, but hardly a meal goes by where she doesn't put them down with a sigh and ask "could you help me eat, please - I need you to feed me."  She wants the attention (which, trust me, she gets a lot of) and she wants not to have to work...and she wants to eat!
  • When it's cleanup time, Lizzie generally decides that this would be a perfectly acceptable time to lie down and feign a nap.  She doesn't like to clean up, unless it's on her own terms, and feels very free to say "you do it, Seth/Matthew.  I'm tired."  The boys used to jump to her every imperial command until I wizened up to her little games and suggested that if she was really tired, I'd tuck her in to bed for a nap (which she would hate).  She's now reasonably good at helping, especially if I give her specific and time-limited tasks and make it sound like fun! 
  • She's terribly mischievous and has a great sense of humour.  And darn it, she knows she's funny and doesn't hesitate to use that knowledge to her advantage.  Using that expressive face of hers, she flirts and giggles and belly laughs and gives us precocious little looks designed to charm and get what she might want in that moment.  My mother and sister have fallen for her charms hook, line and sinker, and she gets whatever she wants from them with one flirty little look or crunched up eyebrow!
  • Maybe it's a factor of her age more than personality, I'm not sure, but Lizzie would give away her last gummy bear to any of those who she loves...and maybe even to those she doesn't.  She is extremely generous of spirit, and would give to any one of the four of us her most favourite candies or foods (well, maybe not sausage!) or whatever she was asked for...even if it was her last.  And she would do it with a smile and with zero hesitation.
  • She's rarely grumpy.  The other day, she was in a bad mood for about ten minutes and I was puzzling over what was going on with her, when I suddenly realized how rare it is for her to be out of sorts.  She has (lots of) short tantrums throughout the day, and lots of upsets and owies that need to be comforted (I don't know how her elbows can handle even one more owie!), but it is truly not very often that she's just plain ol' grumpy.  It's a lovely quality.
  • She seems to attract older girls to her like bees to honey.  Whether amongst h/schooling families we get together with, her cousin, or girls at her Ethiopian dance class, girls in the age-range of eight and twelve seem, for some reason, to fall all over themselves wanting to play with and please her.  She has a little bit of a following already!
  • Time, nurture and vitamins have made a huge difference in Lizzie's ability to learn.  In the first few months home, we wondered a little about her slower (than Seth) start in language acquisition, and we wondered because of her repeated questions about the same or very obvious things about how challenging learning might be for her.  But wow has that changed.  Her language acquisition has exploded (beyond Seth) and her desire to get even grammatical things right is remarkable - she happily repeats things over and over, trying to learn the right way to say things and self-correcting her mistakes.  I don't think she's too far off, in her language skills, from any born-in-Canada child of her age. She laughs at her own attempts to say things, too.  For example, she simply cannot say the words "remote control car" together, as desperately as she tries to.  It always just comes out "remote tuntroll."  She loves trying to repeat these words after me, over and over again, and when she just can't do it, we both get lost in the giggles!  I love that she can laugh at herself with the same humour that she applies to others.
  • To watch Lizzie focus is amazing at times.  Though we were concerned until recently about certain 'mind/memory glitches' she seemed to have in learning certain things (malnutrition- and trauma-related most likely), she has suddenly expressed a huge interest in trying to learn letters.  Suddenly we see all of those fish oils taking effect on her brain and she now begs to do school (specifically, letters).  Though the actual learning of letters is still affected by her learning glitches, she's suddenly working hard at these things and has (more or less) learned about a dozen letters in the past month or so.  She often cries when we stop working on her letters.  For any four-year-old, and especially for this one, I think that's amazing.  Giving her time, and not pushing her learning, has seemed to help along with the vitamins.
I could go on and on about Lizzie...seriously.  Perhaps the most shocking thing for me in writing the above list is realizing how easily these things came to mind.  Whether she's a stereotypical girl, or just like my boys, I could write all kinds of other lovely things about my little Bean and how amazing she is.   She's just a real treat of a girl to call daughter and I can hardly believe she's mine.


  1. I am so happy for you that you got to experience being the mom of both boys and a little girl. It really is very different. I had to laugh at the part about if you gave your boys a rock they would likely be hitting each other with them...true boys! My boys don't sit still for anything either. After parenting boys for five years, having my first girl was a real shock and a lot of fun!

    Lizzie sounds like such a sweetie and I love all the facets of her personality shining through!

  2. I think it is a gift for a child to have a sibling of the other gender. I think boys should be exposed to dolls, and girls exposed to dump trucks!

    My children were fortunate to have these exposures. My daughter can climb a tree better than my son, and she doesn't think twice before holding a snake or picking up a spider (where he certainly would!). BUT - there is no doubt that there is a difference.

    My son, at 18 months fond the 1 and only little dinky toy tractor we had, buried below all of the dolls, and other such (mostly girlish) toys in the box... and he would sit for hours a day playing with that one tractor. I never gave it to him, nor encouraged him to play with it. He did so because of a desire hidden within his 'boy' DNA.

    Today, my children are offered equal opportunity... and their preferences are typically gender oriented. My son loves machines and tools etc... and my daughter has no interest. She would rather make jewelry or play Barbies. It's strange, yet wonderful watching them grow into their genders, even if it does mean they don't necessarily subscribe to all the stereotypical traits. ;) (hopefully they don't!;)
    You have many wonderful years ahead of you to discover the joys of a little girl... especially the shopping dates, and your first double pedicure! ;)

  3. Thanks Sharla, thanks Jo, for your comments.

    Jo, I liked the way you put it - that you offer your kids equal opportunity but that their preferences are often typically gender oriented. That's my experience to, so far. It is fascinating to watch!