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. Dfox August 6, 2013 at #

    Thank you for sharing this story. It gives amazing insight and confidence to be exactly who you are… No matter what people may think 🙂

  2. Alicia August 6, 2013 at #

    I loved reading this and the interesting perspective!

  3. Mackenzie August 6, 2013 at #

    So many things I love about this post. I think it’s incredible that at 6 years, your son has realized what ‘extra attention’ from his peers is and looks like. I love that your children are growing up knowing that their choices of play/dress/activities are OKAY and that you will support them. And I LOVE that my comment results in a child’s vaccination. Thank you!

  4. Hira August 6, 2013 at #

    I remember equally loving to play Barbies and Aliens 🙂 love the cause and hope the vaccines help InshAllah

  5. Joyce August 6, 2013 at #

    Neither of my boys were rough and tough. There Dad is a gentle man . My brothers were scrapers always physical a d ready to fight with each other. one so. The gentlest of the 2 is an RN and very good at his job. The other son is single, a hunter and fisherman who enjoys all outdoor sports. Wonderful men, gentle men, completely different.

  6. Amy August 6, 2013 at #

    Great post!

  7. Tracy August 6, 2013 at #

    I was more of a girly-girl than a boyish-girl. I didn’t like getting dirty and I hated playing with cars. Bring on the barbies and paper dolls! I hated doing chores outside and preferred to do the house chores. I am basically the same today; hate doing outside chores, love reading, sewing,crafting. However, I love playing sports. and I hate when my daughter plays sport “like a girl”. Because boys and girls do play differently, up to a certain age. In elementary school, for instance, in basketball games, R and her teammates would scream, stamp their feet in frustration and basically not really play the game if they missed the ball or a shot. Whereas watching my son J play sports is much more entertaining, as boys actually play the game and strategize. They don’t waste energy bemoaning the fact that they missed the ball or the shot, but they continue to play as though they didn’t mess up and they start thinking about the next play.

  8. Dick August 6, 2013 at #

    Thank you for sharing this lovely story about your family.

  9. Christy@SweetandSavoring August 6, 2013 at #

    Beautiful post! Glad I clicked over here and discovered your blog! When I was six, I mostly played with my little brother and looked up to my older sisters. My favorite color was pink, but I loved playing in the sandbox, building towers with my brother, and going to stock car races.

  10. Caryn/The Mid Life Guru August 6, 2013 at #

    At six, I was a girly -girl and then I had my tomboy phase in my tween years. By the time I started dating at age 16, I was back to a girly-girl who loved talking college sports with her dates. Our society gives plenty of opportunities for girls and boys to experience positive aspects from both genders. A loving, caring boy will make a great father some day.

  11. Lucrecer August 6, 2013 at #

    Oh, i love this so much!

  12. Carol August 6, 2013 at #

    So nice to see someone doing good for others.

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      This campaign from Shot@Life is a great thing. As is the good they do with it.

  13. Sheila August 6, 2013 at #

    This was fabulous!

  14. CAROL August 6, 2013 at #

    I like that you said,” 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.”
    Isn’t this the truth. Thank goodness for Shot@life to start making this a reality in the countries served…..
    I was a timid 6 year old, don’t remember much from 6….played with my younger siblings and was working hard to get to know the world around me as I had moved from MA to IN,once in IN moved 4 times in 2 1/2 yrs and two different schools.
    Our children are grown now and lived in the same house and town from birth to their twenties.I tried to teach them to be open ,caring human beings.

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Indeed: we have the luxury of watching these subtle, social and emotional milestones because the critical physical well-being ones keep being met with first-world, sufficient income ease.

  15. melodyrn August 6, 2013 at #

    My oldest son is definitely a boy boy who sleeps and breathes sports while my middle son is more sensitive and appreciates a good musical and watching Glee. I’m happy to be living in a time where its more and more acceptable to by a kid and not confined by what a boy or girl are “supposed to like.”

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      And how wonderful that each of your sons is becoming uniquely himself.

  16. I’ve always been a girly girl. I loved (and still love) dolls, playing dress up, and playing “tea time” with my friends. I’m happiest with my feet on the ground (usually clad in impractical but beautiful shoes) and far, far away from snakes, bugs, or other slimy creatures.

    I am so grateful to have grown up with liberal access to good healthcare as well as with two parental figures – my mom and my stepdad – who never cared who I wanted to be when I grew up as long as that person was respectful of others, honest, and had a happy life. I know I am privileged and I wish I could wave a wand and make it so for every child in the world!

  17. Lyssa August 7, 2013 at #

    My guy loves being a boy too!!! (and that keeps this mommy super busy!)

  18. Paula Kiger August 7, 2013 at #

    I can barely remember six! I do know that I wasn’t much of a “doll” person — probably books, Captain Kangaroo, and …………… playing outside because we lived in Puerto Rico on a Navy Base. I love the gold lame’ pants!

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      …and so does he! When he has ’em on without a shirt, all I can think of is Cirque du Soleil and how I hope it doesn’t occur to him to run away and join up with them. Not that he wouldn’t be a tremendous acrobat. But I want him to hang around the house for a good ‘nother dozen or so years.

  19. Jacob August 7, 2013 at #

    Great !

  20. Morra August 7, 2013 at #

    Polly I want to meet your son! What an incredible soul!

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Thanks: he is a doozy of a human being, I’ll say that. Not short on personality at all, though not quick to show it to new folks. I rather think if I was his age, I’d really want to be friends with him.

  21. Ruth Brown August 7, 2013 at #

    At age 6, I liked music and played a lot by ear on the xylophone. Two of my kids loved reading already by age 6, and one was already a bit of an artist.

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Wow: playing by ear on the xylophone. You were either really good or you had really patient, loving parents. Or, happily, both. 🙂

  22. Dorit Reiss August 7, 2013 at #

    I liked your point that we should get away from linear measures of girl” and “boy”. I hope your children really can get away from them. And that they both stay healthy.

    I was a tree climber as a six year old girl.

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Thank you. I hope the same for all kids: freedom to become their happiest selves, and the health and healthcare to get them there.

  23. Samantha August 7, 2013 at #

    I was a girly girl. I loved my dolls, Disney princesses, and Sailor moon!!!

  24. Claire King-Mercado August 7, 2013 at #

    Set de-ziner! Love it

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Right? I had to stare at the word for a long while before it made sense. Fortunately he had an accompanying illustration of a theater stage, complete with curtains, so I had a hint.

  25. Lori August 7, 2013 at #

    Thanks for sharing and supporting the important mission of Shot@Life! We are quite blessed to live in a country where medical care and immunizations are rather readily accessible.

    I enjoyed your post and especially like your reference to the linear measures of boy and girl. As the mom of a 5 year old boy, I’ve been amazed at the statements that he sometimes comes up with – girls can’t do that Mommy, boys don’t play with dolls, etc…none of these have come from our house, but from neighborhood children, comments from daycare, etc. As a rather independent woman, I remind him often that anyone can do whatever it is that he or she wants in life as long as he works at it – be it a dancer, fireman, football player, or artist.

    Thanks for your insight! Bless you and your family!

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Thank you, Lori! And yes: it has been pretty amazing to see how clearly the available paths become defined for our kids (and by so many various sources we’d never be able to steer them around: other little kids, you name it). Our daughter knew clearly that the hand-me-down Star Wars t-shirt we pulled out of a bag was not for her, even midway through Kindergarten. “Star Wars stuff is for boys,” she said. And of course she was more or less right, too, since when we eventually watched the movie a few years later, she lamented that Princess Leia basically got saved and didn’t save anyone. Sigh.

  26. Gwen August 7, 2013 at #

    I have two boys who are more into the arts than sports. I love that my oldest is to the point where he wear what he wants when he wants to. My youngest is starting to worry about what he wears and I am dreading the kindergarten full of boys who only wear “boy” colours. I hope that dance, theatre and music are always big parts of their lives.

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Ah, yes. We had a lot of concern upon his entering Kindergarten, too. What seems to help is that kids, while aware of social norms and such, are still so very very open at that age. Also, kindred spirits recognize one another. I would hope that even if they don’t seem to be in the majority, he’ll find other similarly inclined boys (our son has found such folks at school, even if they are relatively rare, they do exist, just like he does).

      I, too, hope that dance, theater, and music continue to be big parts of our son’s and our daughter’s lives. Their mama is a youth music theater director, so they see dozens and dozens of cool high school kids, girls and boys alike, finding themselves in the arts. Thank heavens for the arts, basically.

  27. Kathryn August 7, 2013 at #

    I love how you are letting him mold himself, not holding him back because society says one thing! When I was 6 I was a fashion diva with the skirts earrings, side ponies and nail polish. My 2 girls are different from each other my oldest at 6 hated dresses, always sneakers and jeans. My youngest who at the moment is 6 just like me! Little diva! I say let children be children and discover who they are!

  28. Sean August 7, 2013 at #

    This makes me think about myself, not at his age but looking down from atop my 45 year “pinnacle” to see how I got here . When I was about his age, my parents divorced, largely due to my father’s problem with alcohol at the time. To make a long story short, I had mostly women as my role models, my father was not close to me until much later in life. I had sporadic male role models and these were mostly positive, but some not so. I became a believer in Christ in my early teens which was a big change. Jesus, was my new male role model and not like a “rowdy boy” or “boyish boy” which I too felt were not my “type” of boy, so I felt comfortable around Him as do many others, (maybe for similar reasons?). My inclination was more towards philosophy, music, fantasy and science fiction as well. I was different too. In school, in work even now- I just don’t know how to “jaw with the guys” about baseball and sports etc. I feel akward when I’m around guys like that (the majority I think). Honestly, I feel like a space alien. I don’t feel judgmental or condescending, but it’s like I don’t speak the same language. I feel much more comfortable with women than men. I wish though, that I had learned to be able to relate to both in the same way. I feel like I’m missing out on something now. I’m not saying your boy is or will be like me–I have NO idea at all about that. Best of wishes for success with your parenting though.

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Thank you for this, Sean. I do hope our son grows up to feel comfortable connecting with a huge range of people, but I suspect that even so, he will find his deepest friendships with kindred spirits, as do we all. I love all sorts of people – all sorts – and sincerely enjoy interacting with a wide range. But no doubt I am most comfortable being most vulnerable with folks most like me, emotionally-spiritually. The wonderful thing in my own life has been that such people have been both women and men, my same race and other races than mine. (One of the people I most resemble, energy-wise, humor-wise, and engagement with people-wise is an old chum who’s a man, African American, and a Baptist minister. Yet we’re twins separated at birth in a hundred ways.)

      What I see in your statement, which is nice, is that while there are types of guys with whom you don’t feel you connect, there are others (those akin to you) with whom you do. I don’t know what sort of man our son will grow up to be, but I would imagine he’ll appreciate knowing there are folks like you in the room.

  29. 'Tricia August 7, 2013 at #

    So glad you have a sweet boy! Allowing him to feel a whole range of emotions and experience what works for him will pay off in the future. Enjoy his journey!

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Thank you. We’re blessed, any way you look at it.

  30. SimplySuzi August 7, 2013 at #

    Great post. Vaccinate. For life!

  31. Amber August 7, 2013 at #

    My sons favorite color is pink and I couldn’t be happier

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      Brava! And a right snappy color that is, too. Goes with a lot.

  32. ~j. August 7, 2013 at #

    This post brought tears to my eyes. My boy is also six, almost seven. He’s struggled socially at school but not at home with four sisters. School starts again in just a few weeks and I’m walking the line of bracing myself and willing a brave shield for my boy to carry daily. I don’t know what this school year will bring for him, but I know that my heart overflows to bursting just thinking about my boy.

    Thank you for being a part of Shot@Life!

    • LD August 7, 2013 at #

      It’s an honor to be part of Shot@Life. And I dearly hope your son finds a kindred spirit this coming year.

  33. WSW August 7, 2013 at #


  34. AG August 7, 2013 at #

    I cannot yet say what is favourite colour of my little chap, but I guess that soon will be revealed as he seems to have a very determined character for his 2 years old…haha. Nice history of your soon. Cheers.

  35. anohar john August 7, 2013 at #

    Really a touching story

  36. Katherine August 7, 2013 at #

    A touching post. Thank you for what you’re doing for Shot@Life!

  37. UpsideUp Laurie August 7, 2013 at #

    I was a bona fide tomboy at age 6. I was the youngest of 10 cousins, and the only girl. I could either assimilate or rebel. I assimilated. Played every sport as well as my older boy cousins; preferred boy friends to girl friends; first star / birthday candle / found eyelash wishes were always futile requests to just become a boy.

    I love your observations about your son. He’s lucky to have parents who respect his choices as much as you do. That will be so valuable to him as he grows up.

    Thanks for sharing and for participatin in Blogust.

  38. Felisa Hilbert August 7, 2013 at #

    I enjoy reading this post and thank you for helping shot@Life with this campaign also thank you for the work that you and you partner are doing to make sure your boy knows that he can express himself.

  39. GirlsGoneChild August 7, 2013 at #

    I love this so much. Lucky kid you have there. xoxo

  40. Val August 7, 2013 at #

    I was a boyish girl when I was six. I loved climbing trees, zooming matchbox cars in the dirt, and playing kickball until it got to dark to see the bases. I rode bikes and jumped homemade ramps and loved anything outdoors. I did girlish things – usually with my sister, or the other “girly-girls” in the neighborhood. Barbies, carebears, playing house or school. But 9 times out of 10 I would take being outside and being “a boy” over being girlish. It just didn’t mesh with me. Still doesn’t.

    Now, here I am at 40. A mom with an 8-yr old girl who happily follows in my footsteps, and a 5-yr old boy who is, much like your son, finding his way. He does play with the boys, and get rowdy, and break things, but I see the other side of him too, and sometimes he’s very happy being quiet, thoughtful, gentle and less “boyish”. I can only hope to encourage him to be who he is, to do what makes him happy, and if that’s writing stories and “being an artist” [thank you pre-k ‘growing up’ exercise], I hope he follows his heart and his head, and is confident in who he is.

    Your son sounds like he is strong and self-confident, and that’ll get him through the weird stuff when others “don’t get him”. Sounds to me like you folks are doing everything right. 🙂

  41. Sarah C. August 7, 2013 at #

    At 6…I was often confused for a boy. I had chili-bowl cut blond hair with perpetual crooked bangs (thanks, mom) and hand-me-downs from my brothers and church friends. However I was already a little mommy and was never far from a baby doll. To this day, I’m feminine but not nearly as much so as most women around me.

    My son is nearing two and has yet to develop opinions about clothes. He loves tee-tucks (big trucks) and patting dolls to sleep singing “night night baby”. He isn’t as energetic or rough as most of his boy friends but is instead intentional and cautious. I can’t wait to see what kind of 6 year old he becomes.

  42. Peggy Leger August 8, 2013 at #

    Thanks for the beautiful blog, and for the opportunity to provide a vaccine for a child.

    My twin boys are 10 now, and wildly boyful. They love science but not hockey, catching frogs but not hurting them (“You have to wash your hands in the river first, so your skin oils and salt don’t hurt them.”), boffo swordfighting, reading, wearing sarongs when we go camping, swearing handily, cooking, and swimming in the river.

    At six they wanted to be vegetarian: “Animals are our friends. You don’t eat your friends!” But they didn’t want to give up bacon….

    As a single mum, I sometimes fret that I have to work harder at providing them with male role models, men who will show them alternate ways to be a powerful man, other than “better living through murder and mayhem”, which seems to be the pervasive theme in the videogame culture that so captures their imaginations. How can I compete with a fantasy life that gives them instantaneous reward, effortless bounty, unlimited chances to try again? Real life takes so much more time and effort. And identity, and empowerment, are is so very nuanced, and hard-won…

    They recently had to rethink, for themselves, the meaning of being gay. I have raised them with access to information about sexuality, including the fact that people can fall in love with someone of the same or the other gender: that some people are wired to be attracted to only one gender, and others can be attracted to either.

    I told them that when they use the words “gay” or “fag” as put-downs, like they’ve heard kids at school do, they could make someone feel bad about themselves for something over which they have no control. I gave them the example of my cherished childhood friend Jenn, whom they know and like, and who loves her partner Isabeau deeply.

    They kind of got it, but it really came home to them when their much-admired teenage buddy told them he’s dating a guy. At first, one of my boys wanted to defend him against the “accusation” of gayness. The teen calmly and gently said that he wasn’t sure if he was gay or bisexual, but that he really, really likes this guy he’s dating. It was a layered moment for me. I hadn’t realized, until right then, that my teaching hadn’t outweighed the small-town culture of their schoolyard. I was uncomfortable about that. And I was proud of our teen friend for his forthrightness and compassion toward my sons.

    I was also moved to see my boys’ inner shift. Glad to see certitude crumble. Glad to see perplexity give way to acceptance. Glad that love outweighed the need to follow “the tribe,” and that my sons are capable of re-evaluating the community mores, and of standing outside of them, when it becomes clear that the power they can attain from joining in contempt requires them to denigrate someone whom they know to be smart and funny and kind.

    In the end, I can’t really teach them what to think. I can only watch in awe as they find their way. And love them like crazy.

    • Connie Flores August 9, 2013 at #

      Beautiful! You sound like an exceptional parent.

  43. Vivi August 8, 2013 at #

    such a great story.

  44. Anna August 8, 2013 at #

    An interesting read. Thanks.

  45. RonnieBMWK August 8, 2013 at #

    Great Post…thanks for sharing

  46. RonnieBMWK August 8, 2013 at #

    beautiful post…and age 3 is my favorite too!

  47. Connie Flores August 9, 2013 at #

    Loved your blog. Reminded me of my oldest son who’s turning 47. He grew to be a talented, kind and witty gay man I only wish I was as perceptive and wise as you and your partner are. If I were raising kids today I would read your blog all the time!

  48. pingram August 10, 2013 at #

    How lucky is your son to not be pigeonholed into somebody else’s idea of what a boy is. To be able to discover that on his own is a wonderful way to grow up.

  49. Allison August 10, 2013 at #

    I was a tree-climber, Lego builder, backyard gymnast, animal lover and I wore pink converse high tops!

  50. John Bacon August 10, 2013 at #

    Nicely done

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