He enjoys being a boy

This post is inspired by Shot@Life, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation that educates, connects and empowers the championing of vaccines as one of the most cost effective ways to save the lives of children in the world’s hardest to reach places.

moustachioed My son is smack-dab in the middle of his sixth year, entering what child development folks call “middle childhood.” A number of physical, cognitive, and social milestones mark this time: by this point, kids can dress themselves, catch balls, follow a beat, begin to show independence from family.  They start the swing from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” and grow to be able to describe their thoughts and feelings in greater depth.

We’re extremely fortunate that so far, our boy has been more healthy than not, thanks to the vaccinations and medical care we’ve been able to provide him. When he has become sick, we’ve seen him through to well again.  So our milestones are sweet, interesting, fun ones, and he seems to be arriving at them more or less on time.

I’m guessing on that, of course, because we tend to make sense of our kids using yardsticks of our own fashioning, derived from our read of our kids (“Do they seem happy?” “Do they seem at ease in their worlds?”). If we’re worried, we becalm ourselves with the rhetorical exercise practiced by so many parents before us. “Do we really think they will be engaging in ____ [insert worrisome behavior] by the time they’re ______ [insert age comfortingly far enough in the distance]?” So far, so totally okay.

But there is one element of his development we have been watching with some concern, the more so this past year, his first in the wider world of elementary school. We’re two women (admittedly occupying spots fairly far apart from each other on the female gender spectrum, one more womanly, one more mannish)  raising a child who is living life from inside a boy’s body. It’s a life path novel to both of us, no matter how aptly we may find analogies in our own experiences. After years of opening every door we could and supporting his full range of self-expression, we have watched our younger child find his way from kid to boykid. And his sixth year has marked a point of clear arrival. This year he has hewed a path toward his own kind of boy, and has begun to walk it, clear-eyed and confident.

Already he knows a number of things about what he calls “rowdy” boys, or “boyish” boys.  Each of these types of boys (boys more ordinary, more “traditional”) is a kind he recognizes as different than himself. He is unequivocal, after the end of his Kindergarten year, that: he loves movement, but he is disinterested in cars, trains, or much of anything with wheels. He loves imaginary, fantasy characters, but is disinterested in superheroes. He loves to challenge his body and defy gravity, but is disinterested in all ball sports. He loves playing with friends, but tends far more toward ornery, scrappy girls than ornery, scrappy boys. Given a choice between a butterfly and a basketball tattoo, he’ll go for the butterfly nine times out of ten.  He wants a pen far more than he wants a sword, though he knows how to brandish both.

He has been mapping the landscape of “boy” with a cartographer’s keen eye for several years now. Since midway through preschool, he has become aware of the bounds around boy, reflected back as much by his peers as by the toys and narratives fashioned for him by adults. He started preschool as an occasional and happy skirt-wearer, and ended it knowing that boys who wear skirts draw attention, and at least as of now, extra attention is not what he wants, not from strangers. He wears his hand-me-down traditional boy clothes to school, and swaps into his gold lamé dancer pants at home.

He is not confused about what he likes: music, dance, art, imaginative play, cloth that is silken against his body, costumes of all sorts. Bugging the bejeepers out of his big sister. Skipping a bar on the monkey bars. Making people laugh. Growing his hair long enough to hold back in a ponytail, like four or five of the cooler boys at school. His current career aspiration, per an exercise in Kindergarten a few months back: “set de-ziner.”  I’d be happy for him if he followed through with this. I can also see him thriving in dozens of other life paths, regardless of how he spells them.

Most important is that at six, he has identified and is carving out a place for the kind of boy he is: a “gentle” boy, as he would put it, though that’s only relative, and inadequate a descriptor. More a “girlish,” than “boyish” boy, but again: inadequate.  My fondest hope is that in the future of his and his sister’s making, the landscape of boy (and girl) will be so multi-dimensional that measurement on a linear scale will barely even make sense.

[What sort of a boy or a girl (or a boyish girl, or a girlish boy) were you, at six? And what about your kids? When you comment below, know that every comment provides another vaccine for a kid who needs one.]

During Shot@Life’s Blogust, 31 bloggers, one each day in August, are writing about moments that matter. For every comment on this post and the 30 other posts, Walgreens will donate a vaccine (up to 50,000 vaccines). A child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease. We can change this reality and help save kids’ lives! 

Sign up here for a daily email so you can quickly and easily comment and share every day during Blogust! Stay connected with Shot@Life at www.shotatlife.org, join the campaign on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.


258 Responses to He enjoys being a boy

  1. Jess August 12, 2013 at #

    I don’t remember how I was at 6. I wore skirts and pants and nothing I wore ever matched. I had crazy curly hair (still do) and I think it was at about that time that I stopped looking like Shirley Temple and started looking like a giant cotton ball had landed on my head. Life was hard then and my father made it very clear that being a girl was shameful. To him, girls and women could never be intelligent and only existed to provide a service to men. I cannot remember taking joy in being a little girl.

    My oldest daughter is 3 today and she is brilliant. She wears dresses and pants at the same time. She shakes her butt and makes fart noises. She plays with cars and dolls. She climbs and jumps and roars like a lion. I love watching her enjoy her childhood.

    Also, hurray for vaccines!

  2. zev August 12, 2013 at #

    at 6 i was a girlish (if a little muddy) girl and loving it. funny now that i’m a queerish boy, but i was happy at the time and i’m happy now, so who cares! love the vaccination drive!

    • LD August 16, 2013 at #

      I love this: “but i was happy at the time and i’m happy now, so who cares!”

      Absolutely perfect.

  3. Erin August 12, 2013 at #

    Such a fascinating perspective, and thank you for sharing it – and for what you’re doing for Shot@Life!

  4. Andrea B (@goodgirlgonered) August 13, 2013 at #

    Our children are the same age. My daughter finished Kindergarten and gears up for first grade and I wonder how things will be for her. She’s a girlie girl, in that she loves dresses and tiaras and princesses and Barbies. And maybe she’s not so much so, in that she loves bugs and dirt and worms and spiders and mud and messes, and have I mentioned bugs? And why is that not girlie? I don’t know. It just becomes tom-boy-ish in many a mind, maybe because when I was a child if you climbed trees (I didn’t, I grew up in Brooklyn) or played stickball (I did, again, Brooklyn) you were boyish? I don’t know. My girl is a perfect mix. A perfect blend. Just as your boy sounds to be. I think our kids would be fast friends, because mine would go for the butterfly tattoo, too, but she’d be that scrappy girl your son loves playing with. 🙂 Thank you for sharing. And striking something in me that made me write my own mini-post here.

    • LD August 16, 2013 at #

      So much appreciated.

      No doubt, one of the reasons we grown-ups who are fascinated and captivated by kids are so fascinated and captivated is that they remind us of what humans can be like before they’re too altogether culturally molded, and how much we all were (and inside, still are) more “both/and” than “either/or.”

  5. Leonie Robertson August 17, 2013 at #

    Love the vaccination campaign – love your story.

  6. Lucy Ann August 18, 2013 at #

    I was an introvert happy in my world of books where you could imagine you could be anything you wanted to be.
    Your entry is a well written and your sentence about a non linear scale to measure should be applicable to everything. As a non-linear thinker I arrive at the place I want to be just in a different way than others

  7. Shannon Des Roches Rosa August 19, 2013 at #

    How reassuring that he’ll have unequivocal support & love as he defines his own path. How many of us, how many of our friends could have used parents like you. Thank you letting us have a peek into just how wonderful your family is.

  8. Jon Armstrong August 20, 2013 at #

    Love this post, this in particular: “He wants a pen far more than he wants a sword, though he knows how to brandish both.”


  9. Lesley August 25, 2013 at #

    Gotta join the love for the Shot@life! campaign. What an awesome idea and what a fantastic post. I was a fairly girly girl but I was also more into animals than barbies and love dungarees just as much as skirts. then again I’ve also always been indecisive about little things so both/and always appealed a lot more than either/or.

  10. lynda @MommyPowers August 28, 2013 at #

    Thanks for sharing your story! Every child matters!

  11. Dolly Navina Lakra August 29, 2013 at #

    Beautiful !

  12. Ann August 30, 2013 at #

    Great post, great photo, great cause!

  13. Stacy August 30, 2013 at #

    At six I was such a little tomboy who loved to play marbles in the sandbox at school.

  14. Melissa August 30, 2013 at #

    I was a more tomboyish girl. My son at 2.5 is drawn to anything super hero or power rangers, no matter how much I try to pull him away. He loves sports, and diggers and trains and cars. But he also loves singing and dancing and telling stories.

  15. Steph August 31, 2013 at #

    Thank you. Great cause!

  16. sean ishum September 1, 2013 at #

    I don’t remember much about 6 but I think it was a good time.

  17. Al Denelsbeck September 1, 2013 at #

    Interesting read! At six, I was still a ‘boyish’ boy, long before getting soured on the rampant machismo of middle and high school in a rural area. Let’s hope he avoids that kind of culture and can do what he wants.

    Thanks for supporting Shot@Life!

  18. Colleen September 1, 2013 at #

    Great post! I’m pretty sure I was a tomboyish girl at 6. I tried to follow my big brother’s example :] Thanks for being a part of Shot@Life!

  19. melanie September 6, 2013 at #

    At 6, I was bookish and quiet and shy, and my son was bookish but energetic and loud and social. Weirdly different, but at least we share books.

  20. Alina September 6, 2013 at #

    A lovely boy, the one you got!

  21. Sinclair September 22, 2013 at #

    Wow, so many comments. Glad to see people are taking you up on the UNF offer to vaccinate. (I do understand that some parents are against vaccination, but as I’m not a parent myself, I haven’t weighed the options and don’t know the pro/con arguments.)

    Mostly what I wanted to comment on was, holy shit he’s SIX?! wow. I remember him so little, two three, and now he’s twice that. Amazing how time works.

    Me at six … I was a bit of a tomboy, refusing to wear anything but dresses to school, disliking how pants made that swishing sound between my legs when I walked. Dresses were free-er, somehow. I had to wear snowpants under my dresses in the winter but it was still better than walking to school in pants. Growing up unconventionally in weather and gender meant many bent rules, I don’t remember anyone ever calling me a tomboy but it was maybe about 6 I started realizing I didn’t really “fit in,” whatever that was. Whatever was “cool” started being not me. A turning point year, probably.

    Amazing how delicate young systems are. Vaccinations and medical care, thank you for that little sidenote paragraph. Fortunate that he has been more healthy than not, that he has recovered from everything.

    I love following your family and blog, thanks for writing & sharing.

  22. LG October 22, 2013 at #

    At 6 I was a tomboy who occasionally liked to dress up in my mother’s “gowns” and put too much red lipstick on. That still describes me now, I’d say, 32 years later. And my son is a beautiful, gentle 3 year old who wears dresses everyday – to school, the park, to bed. Literally all the time. Unless he’s naked (at home). He walks in heels (mine – which would collect dust if it weren’t for him) better than I do (only at home or around the block – they’re impractical, after all). My husband and I are awed by him. He is, in his words, “a boy who likes to wear dresses.” He notices the beauty in the world. And I think he adds to it.
    Thank you for this blog. I also hope that the world becomes a place where the “landscape of boy (and girl) will be so multi-dimensional that measurement on a linear scale will barely even make sense.” May we all make it so.


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