08 March 2010

Boys and Girls

Our weekend at the beach was amazing. The weather was warm and sunny and we all enjoyed a change of scene and lots of time outside.

We spend most of Saturday afternoon on the rocky edge where land becomes beach. Riley spent over an hour digging up rocks and hurling them into a little basin. At one point, he stopped toiling long enough to look up and me and say, "Mama! This is SO MUCH FUN!" Then he was back to work, talking to himself the whole time. He had some kind of strict selection criteria for the rocks; they had to be just the right size (meaning not too small), and some were rejected for being too dirty. Considering how absolutely filthy he got during this process, I'm not sure what qualified as making some rocks "too dirty" and others OK, but no matter. He had an absolute blast and we had to drag him away at dinnertime.

Maddie, on the other hand, wanted to explore the shoreline with me or just sit and talk. She made up a game of finding smooth, flat chips of shell and saying that they were "tickets"; she'd gather a bunch of them and stuff them into my shoe, then go on a train ride on my lap. At one point in her digging, she found a worm, which brought her much delight. She held it in her hand and watched it squirm. "That worm is wigging a lot! It really likes me!" she proclaimed.

Riley and Maddie's beach play choices are indicative of their general demeanor. Riley is activity focused. If he enjoys doing something, he really enjoys doing something and will do it for a long time and on his own. He generally welcomes company, but he makes his choices about what to do based on the activity and then lets others join in as they wish. And if no one chooses to play with him, he's totally fine on his own.

Maddie is the opposite. She chooses the person or people, then builds an activity around them. Or she chooses what to do based on who else is engaged in a specific activity. The activity itself is secondary for her. At school, she's a queen bee and ringleader, the one who rallies everyone and works the crowd.

I often wonder how much the activity v. people-seeking behavior is just Riley v. Maddie and how much of it is gender-based. My own biases push me towards thinking that Riley's seemingly inherent love of trucks and rocks and things over people is "just the way boys are." Maddie's desperate need to be social and to be accepted strikes me as feminine. As I acknowledge that, much as I try to fight them, I have biases regarding the gender-roles around their choices, I must also acknowledge that perhaps I pushed them into these roles without meaning to. And society in general probably helped me.

I find myself pulled into the boy/girl trap all the more because of having boy/girl twins. It's all too easy to ascribe differences in their behavior to their gender since it's the most obvious difference between them. I do my best to avoid this, but it's not easy. When people want to get them gifts, most are inclined to get the "princess" version for Maddie and the "truck" version for Riley. Maddie gets a Dora cup, Riley gets Diego. And while yes, that seems to be what they want, how much of that was created rather than being inhernet?

The twins do remain in some ways charmingly gender blind. Riley still wears "girl clothes" many, if not most, days. And Maddie is likewise often found in "boy" outfits. But their play is becoming increasingly gendered. When the play together, they find creative ways to blend their two styles, pushing each other around on toy trucks, building places for Maddie's dolls to rest. But they are Maddie's dolls, not Riley's. Riley's trucks, not Maddie's. I tell them all the time that the toys all belong to both of them, but even when they are clomping around the house in dress-up princess mules, we all know they are wearing Maddie's shoes.

I'm not looking to change or fix this situation, just to be aware of it. I don't want either Maddie or Riley to feel confined by their gender, but it's naïve to think that their gender won't play a role in defining who they both turn out to be.

If you'd asked me back in September, I would have told you without hesitation that Maddie would be the one reading and writing first of the twins.

So much for mother's intuition.

Riley read his first word just over a week ago. After dinner on a Friday night, he picked up a lid that had the word "CUP" on it. "kkkkkkk . . . kkkkk . . . C! p-p-p-p . . . P! kkkk . . .p-p-p-p . . . CUP!" He got a little bit lucky with the vowel, but he totally went through the process of identifying the letters and sounds and putting them together. He's since sounded out a few more words, including HOT and DOG. (Did I mention that he's a fiend for SmartDogs these days?)

Maddie remains as interested as ever in being read to, looking at books, and "writing" letters and cards to her friends. But she has made little to no evident progress in associating letters with sounds or in writing identifiable graphemes. She has a more proper grip on a pen, but it's Riley's caveman-like grasp that forges letters that people besides his mom can recognize. Maddie is way too busy figuring out how people interact and understanding the complex rules of human behavior. Riley, on the other hand, has spent the past few months working intently at school on the letter-sound relationship, helped by his teachers who don't push him but are happy to give him the support he craves. I'm so proud of him, and he's so proud of himself. I hear him making letter-sound associations in bed before he falls asleep and first thing when he wakes up in the morning. Watching the twins learn is one of my favorite things about parenting.


Rachele said...

Fascinating, truly!

SillyJilly said...

I am a twin, and growing up with my brother I would say our experiences as children are in line with those of your kids. My brother absolutely loved to dress up in high heels and have me "do his makeup". Maybe even more so than I enjoyed it :)

Having a twin sibling is a really unique connection. Your kids are in for a fun adventure!

Anonymous said...

As a parent, educator, and researcher (oh, and a friend!) it's so fun to read how the twins become themselves. Plus, it's just charming to hear stories of the rocks and the train. I've also found it fascinating to see kids grow and become, and even without twins theirs a tendency to see it all as an experiment. I suspect that with the pair there's even more of a notion to view them each in their own beaker, each with it's own mix of hormones . . . . but we all know it's way more complicated than that.

A lovely read.

What A Card said...

I've been thinking a lot about stereotyping twins recently, too. I've been trying to avoid the trap of at age 4, defining what my boys are "good" at, though one does seem to be a math whiz and the other a creative genius :) It's hard with twins, constantly having a same age peer to compare to. Must be even harder for the twins!

Sadia said...

I've been pondering personality differences between my twins quite a bit recently. I'm freed from the gender stereotype issues (and even concerns of genetics) by the fact that my daughters are monozygotic (identical).

My personal belief is that most personality traits are innate (but not based purely in DNA), and parents' purpose is to guide, assist, and provide tools for their children to make the most of those traits. I've come to be neutral on issues of gender contributing to personality; in some children it does, in others less, and unless the parents try to radically alter their children and do some sort of psychological damage, they have little to say in the matter.

Thanks for the food for thought. I'm glad you got some uninterrupted family downtime.

Anonymous said...

YES. Your kids ARE fascinating. And I miss them. WE miss them. And American Idol isn't the same without you, btw.


OTRgirl said...

It's fun to hear how they're developing. It sounds like you're mostly responding to their inherent personalities vs pushing them in certain directions. Great stories. Riley practicing word sounds and playing so intently with his rocks sound so cute.

Anjali said...

This is the first time I am commenting.
I have boy/girl twins about 6 months older than yours and my experience has totally been in line with yours. Amazing!!

NanH said...

I usually lurk (thank you!), but have been thinking about gender differences tons lately and wanted to recommend the books by Leonard Sax (Why Gender Matters and Boys Adrift) in case you haven't heard of them. He has a research-based and reasonable approach to understanding gender, I think. I have three boys and a houseful of trucks, etc-- these books make me feel a bit better about not having managed to have more coloring and doll-playing around here. They are also making me think hard about the all-day kindergarten my eldest son is headed for next year -- we'll see if he is really ready for that.

Cloud said...

Hi, I'm another usual lurker, very rare commenter. I have another book recommendation for you: Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Lise Eliot. She is a neurobiologist and a mother. Her basic premise is that there are small biological differences between the sexes, but that we (parents, larger culture) tend to respond in ways that amplify those differences. She includes suggestions about ways to counter that instinct in yourself, if you are so inclined.

Not to bash the books recommended by NanH (I've never read them, so it would be silly of me to bash them)- but Lise Eliot critiqued some of Sax' arguments in her book. She is of the opinion that we make too much of the biological (i.e., in-born) differences, and that this does a disservice to both our boys and our girls.

Anyway, I found it to be a very interesting book.

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

Interesting post. My twins are very different, but they're both boys. They do have some stereotypically "boy" traits, mainly being high-energy, not as good at sitting still as girls, but they also love to do fine motor stuff, and show a lot of nurturing behavior. N was pretty bummed when the girls in his class informed him that "boys don't dress up in fancy dress-up clothes'. I do notice that if they watch a movie or something, they will always make sure to get that "large motor" time in at the expense of small motor activities, which leads me to wonder if excessive TV might not have something to do with the supposed "small-motor" deficit that boys are more likely to have by kindergarten. There's just only so much time in the day. I'll have to check out "Pink Brain, Blue Brain" because I found some of the thinking in "Why Gender Matters" troubling.

Lee C. Thomas said...

Hi, my friend. Thanks for sharing these stories. I got such a vivid and wonderful picture of the three of you at the beach, including the twins' chosen activities. Thinking of you.