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.