If little girls are from Venus, then boys must be from Pluto.
There’s no other way to explain the scene at a recent birthday party for one of my son’s toddler friends. As usual, one of his girl friends was eating quietly — and neatly — staying near her mother and being gentle with others.
And the boys? One was running around while his mother trailed closely behind, trying to sneak him bits of pizza when she could. My son sat sucking down water, then spitting it all over himself.
“Do you know what your Elijah’s doing?” the girl’s mother asked my wife.
Well, yeah. That happens a lot at our house.
Ah, to have a son.
I’ve always been one to believe in nurture over nature. Or rather, I understood that children are born with their own personalities, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, but I always thought that as a parent I could influence those traits, especially when it came to gender stereotypes.
I didn’t buy my son a bunch of trains to play with when he was born. I didn’t tell him bedtime stories about monster truck rallies or put a football in his crib when he was in the hospital, as they do in Massillon, Ohio, near where I grew up.
I treated Elijah, nearly 22 months old now, like a blank slate. It turns out that might have been a flawed assumption.
An experiment by a professor at Cambridge University found that newborns just 24 hours old already show some differences in behavior and interest based on gender. As described here, when shown a human face and a mechanical mobile for the same length of time, a girl’s stare tended to linger longer on the face — alive and full of emotion — as opposed to the boy’s, which preferred the mobile.
In my son’s case, that would be an automobile. “Truck” was one of the first words that he learned. His favorite activities these days include watching the garbage truck roll by and reading at least once a day a book all about cars and trucks. (Never mind that the assembled vehicles include a hot dog on wheels.)
Elijah’s fascination with looking at these machines is dwarfed only by his desire to drive them. If I take just a moment too long to close the car door, he sneaks in, heaves himself up to the driver’s seat, and takes the wheel. He’ll honk the horn and turn on the and windshield wipers with delight. To him, it’s the greatest toy on earth.
It turns out that’s just one of many developmental differences that researchers have found between young boys and girls. As this article explains, boys are more fearless and squirm, wiggle, and kick more frequently; girls are more likely to say their first words sooner and excel at fine motor skills.
I’d like to enter my own research into the record as well: boys are more reckless and sloppy. Most female toddlers that I’ve seen eat are very deliberate, slow, and careful with their food. Mine is not.
Consider Monday’s lunch, during which Elijah grabbed a piece of turkey and bit a hole in the middle. He then placed it on the table and “bonked” it with his fist — his word, not mine — then slid it around the tabletop to clean up the rest of his mess.
Next came the coup de grace. Elijah tore the turkey into small pieces and stacked them in his open left hand, announced “Night, night!” and laid his head on that same hand as if he was going to sleep. Then finally, mercifully, the turkey found a happy home in his mouth.
This would not happen with a girl.
For months I thought that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen with anyone else, so it’s actually a relief when I see other boys acting this way. Elijah may be on Pluto, but at least he’s not alone.