Boys Will Be Boys?

The boys are hunting geckos today.  On the weekend, my oldest son (4.5) and the son of my neighbours’ boyfriend (8) play.  We live on opposite halves of the same house and boys spend their days tumbling and running back and forth between families.

Today they are hunting lizards and geckos.  My pride is hurting as the last two have escaped from me.  Fail.  They chase them out of the plants with sticks and then walk around with their fragile, biting trophies, trying to find the one with the longest tail.

This is much calmer than the water wars with old spray bottles.  That is much, much calmer than the laps of the house with plastic guns (Pra! Pra! Pra!) salvaged from an old storage room and swords made from old broom handles and duct tape.  Much calmer.

Next weekend is apparently superhero weekend and I am faced with the task of making masks (that do not fall down or block their vision—their criteria) and capes (that do not strangle—my criteria).

This is new to me.  What I mean is, my little boy isn’t such a little boy anymore.  He’s gone from toddler to preschooler and this fall will head off to Kindergarten.  We used to build.  First towers, then sandcastles, then train tracks and then with real tools.  We used to play in the dirt and bake train shaped cookies and read books.

I won’t lie:  I have tried to shelter him from some things.  I have not allowed violent books or toys or movies.  We talk frankly and as age-appropriately as possible about all sorts of things: cancer, death, divorce, childbirth, poverty, racism, war.  If in doubt, my rule is: answer honestly what he asks.  There will be no people appearing in the night from storks nor disappearing in the night because they went on a trip, never to come back.

There is life and there is death.

Even if information was not a priority, it would be hard to hide these things from him.  We live in a third world country where it would be nearly impossible to shelter my son from these things.  Daily, he is confronted with poverty, Neolithic technology, inavailability of standard items, with filth, military, crumbled infrastructure and robbery, with a “situational morality” mentality.  He knows some times good people have to steal to feed their kids.  We get the new phone book and it boasts a big picture of a tank.

I chose to not keep him in Canada to shelter him from some of these harsher realities because I want him to understand that this is the way life is.  Some people go hungry, many children only have broken toys and ripped clothes, most do not have cars.  We are, in comparison with most of the world, very rich.

It is simple:  we have much; many have little, therefore we share.  We are healthy; many are sick, therefore we care.  We help, we love and we try to nurture contentment not discontentment.    But this is a long conversation for another day.

This brings me to my current dilemma: boys and their toys.

Maybe because life has enough problems, I have a hard time allowing violence and aggression into our home.  I don’t like guns.  I don’t like monster trucks.  I don’t like boxing and fighting and yelling.  The jury is still out on superheros but even they seem a little sketchy to me.  Why in the world do you need violence for play??  I’m pondering these things one afternoon as we play firefighters at the park.  The baby and I “light” a fire and my son has to put it out.  In walks a friend of ours with his son.  “Hey,” he calls to the boys.  “Each of you grab a stick that looks like a gun and now you can play together.  Pra! Pra! ”  Thanks for that.

Formerly, it was my philosophy that as long as you let kids get wet or dirty and you give them lots of love and fairly-enforced consequences, you were good to go.  Now I’m not so sure.

As much as I’d like to make a case for nurture, it appears to me that there is some truth to the old adage that “Boys will be boys” especially when they are in groups.  Why does every stick look like a gun or a sword?  Who taught him that?  Why does someone have to win at soccer?  Why can’t you just play and have fun?  Why does he feel safer going places armed with an old Super Soaker the size of a bazooka?

I’d like to stop reacting and start being proactive.  I’d like to figure out where I stand and what I’ll allow.

I have two questions.  If you’d like to weigh in, I’d love to hear from you.

  1. Is this a cultural phenomenon, due to the machismo, tough, boys don’t cry mentality?  Is this true for North Americans too?
  2. How do I nurture my little boy in a way that doesn’t promote violence, aggression and competition while not emasculating him?