Friday, February 29, 2008

Boys & Girls

A few weeks back, Caitlin came up to me after school, during one of the rare occasions when I went to pick her up alone, and asked if she could have a playdate with E.

Now a request for a playdate after school is not unusual. What was unusual was that E is a boy.

I've got to tell you, I was surprised. Stunned even. At a temporary loss for words. Then E, standing tall next to Caitlin on his scooter said, "Yeah, Caitlin's mom! We'd like to have a playdate! Can we do it now?" I stuttered and then hedged by asking, "Where's your mom?"

This was the first time since Caitlin was in preschool (the good one) that a boy wanted to have a playdate. I wanted to make sure he was serious and to eyeball his folks before I either handed my daughter off to a stranger's care for two hours or took on a boy I'd never met until that moment. Turns out his mom is quite nice and was just as surprised as I was. Both of us, however, jumped all over the chance to have our kids mix it up. For me, anything that would get her hanging with her peers and having fun for a couple of hours was the big draw as well as the possibility of an actual friendship with a boy again.

When Caitlin was in her fabulous-yet-seriously-expensive preschool, the teachers referred to everyone in the classroom as "friends" instead of students and they worked on being inclusive instead of exclusive, especially when misbehavior would occur. (They would essentially stage little love-ins when someone got in trouble.) I loved the place, Caitlin loved the place and the staff loved her. However, eventually we had to say goodbye and started going to an inexpensive and more mainstream (and cheaper) preschool conveniently located down the street from our house. And did I mention it was cheaper? Yeah.

It was in that preschool that Caitlin discovered the division between boys and girls. The kids there all seemed to have siblings and were very serious about sex-based separations. Boys couldn't play with girls and girls couldn't play with boys. All of the standard irritating sayings were trotted out as evidence: "Girls rule and boys drool!". When those words dripped venomously from Caitlin's mouth, we had a long talk.

"You know, Daddy's a boy and cousin Max is a boy and Grampy is a boy. Do you think they drool?" Are stupid? Ugly? Mean? Etc. Ad nauseum. OMG do they hand out pamphlets on the differences between boys and girls and the ways to make either sex feel smaller than the belly of a grasshopper? Honestly! I have to tell you, it made me very sad to see Caitlin rejected simply because her plumbing didn't match theirs. Then it happened again in kindergarten. At least until she tamed The Angry Young Man with her uber friendliness. Weird, but good.

Today, however, was the second playdate for Caitlin and E.

Apparently the first one wasn't a fluke, they really did enjoy playing together. So now we're getting ready to set up a third.

Interestingly (Where interesting = hair-pulling-frustrating.), when one of the other boys in their class heard of it, he tried to convince Caitlin that it wasn't going to happen. This pronouncement upset her terribly. Clearly she was violating the social norms by actually expecting to have a playdate with someone of the opposite sex.

Can someone explain to me why my kid would believe some other kid's word on anything over my own? It took awhile, but after the storm of crying was over, she believed us that they really were going to have a playdate no matter what that other boy thought. And so they did.

Someone please tell me that this generation can actually be friends and fill in the chasm of differences that separate boys and girls? Someone?





Red Flashlight said...

Yay playdates! I'm not qualified to say much else, because I don't have kids.

Scylla said...

I can hope this generation will be different, but to be honest, there are differences between boys and girls.

Maybe our kids can embrace, cherish, and support those differences in each other, instead of using them divisively, but we will have to see.

We can teach our children to behave that way. I had many boy friends growing up, simply because my mother didn't tell me it was weird to do so.

In fact, I still have more boy friends than girl friends. And so does Marlena. She plays regularly with three boys at her school, her best friend last year was a boy, and Simon has always been a good friend of hers.

Maybe Caitlin and Marlena are already shoving aside social custom and engaging with boys.

Missy said...

Ok blogger is irritating the crap out of me today. I already tried to post this comment once let's see if we can get it going this time.

I think it is entirely possible for this generation to be different. My kids changed schools this year and the first friend my oldest daughter made was a boy. There were no repercussions due to gender that I was aware of, however she did get some minor flak from other kids, as this boy has some challenges and he has historically had difficulty making friends prior to this year. My younger daughter has a couple of boys that she plays with at school as well, and both have counted boys among their playmates since preschool.

It is too bad that there are obviously still those out there in the younger generations who see differences among gender as divisive. I think it is up to us as parents to open up discussions with our children and other adults who care for and influence our children. In my opinion that is where the change starts. It is all too easy just to say, "Oh that is just kids being kids." when the boy/girl issue occurs and gloss over the bigger issue.

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