Sunday, March 11, 2007

Boy oh boy

Txmommy recently asked about the gender mix in our family and how Noah feels being the only boy in our homeschooling family. I went looking for a photo of him doing a 'boy thing' for this post. I looked through the soccer pictures of him aggressively stealing the ball or diving for saves in goal. I looked through photos of him carving wood, climbing trees, diving off the raft into the lake, legs flailing, leaping off picnic tables, using the Dremel to grind symbols into beach-rock 'runes', pictures of him laughing maniacally whilst maneouvering his RC car into dirt piles, throwing things for the dog, swinging like a monkey on the 20-foot rope we have hung between the trees in our yard, driving the snowplow tractor, crouched at the computer playing Runescape with a friend, shooting hoops with the teen boys at homeschool gym day.

But I settled on this one, because this is, at the heart of it, who he is. He is a philosopher. While he loves all the things he does in the physical and social realm, he has a gentle peacefulness within him that shines through. It is always there. We all see it. He senses it. And sometimes, almost inadvertently, like in this photo taken as part of a series depicting the activity of the GRUBS kids at the garden, I capture it with the camera.

Our home is certainly overwhelmingly female in gender. Three sisters, a mom, a female cat and dog ... even our chickens, when we keep them, are laying hens. Noah's dad is the only other male in his home realm, and he doesn't exactly work simple 9 to 5 hours.

But, like age, gender doesn't seem to loom large in our homeschooling family as a defining characteristic. My kids don't view themselves based on age and gender in nearly the same way that most kids seem to. Erin, for example, has three people she would likely consider her most important friends. One is 19 and female, one is 14 and male, and the other 12 and female. The girls in our family are not particularly 'feminine.' While I bake bread and sew, I also split wood and clear snow. Sophie and Fiona enjoy wearing dresses, but they play basketball and climb trees in them. Erin is obviously and delightfully a young woman, but without any of the affectations so many teen girls try on.

When I was a new parent I read "Reviving Ophelia" and felt it to be an incredibly important book about raising girls, a book that would help me be sensitive to the myriad issues that girls face entering adolescence. But as my daughters have grown, the book has seemed less and less relevent. The gender culture stuff hasn't been a part of their lives.

Every year or so I try to soldier my way through "Real Boys," figuring that since I read "Ophelia", I should cover the boy issues through something complementary. I read a chapter or two and enjoy what Pollock has to say, feeling that his points are valid and important, but that the "boy code" simply isn't a part of Noah's realm of experience.

There's no doubt that Noah is a true boy and that there are things about him that result from his Y chromosome that make him different from the girls. But my kids are all unique in so many ways, they are each their own people, and are treated as such, and which differences are gender-based and which are temperament-based, or interest-based, or learning-style-based, or whatever ... it really doesn't matter where the differences come from.

Noah does lots of boy things. His two closest friends outside the family are boys. B. is 14, and is also Erin's friend, but probably plays more with Noah. They see each other at least three or four times a week. P. is 16, a fellow-violist whom Noah identifies with as he would with a big brother. Noah is physically adept with amazing gross-motor intuitiveness. He likes machines, and computers, and things with sharp edges and electricity in them. He likes building, and taking apart. When he is learning something, he needs the big picture first, rather than the background information or the details. He likes power, and he likes speed.

When I think about it, he has lots of contact with other males. We haven't had to make an effort in this direction -- it's just happened naturally. In the last 48 hours, for instance....

  • The phone rings. It's C., wanting to talk Runescape with Noah. They chat for ten minutes or so. Noah spends a few minutes talking to C.'s 18-month-old little brother as well -- very sweet.
  • Homeschool gym. Noah hangs out with four teen boys, though he also plays four-squares with his mom and his two littlest sisters for a while. Mostly he shoots hoops and whacks badminton birdies around with the boys, and talks computer games with them.
  • I teach violin on Friday afternoons. Three of my students are male, and two of them always spend some time playing with my kids after their lessons. Noah is inside and outside with these boys, aged 5 and 14.
  • Quartet rehearsal. Noah's quartet is made up of three boys and a (not-at-all-girlish) girl. The other boys are 10 and 13. Noah has known them as acquaintances for a few years, but they are new friends. Quartet rehearsal and its aftermath are very much social occasions. The kids have a lot of fun. Gross body noises are involved.
  • Noah chats on-line with two (male) friends
  • and there's conversation and other interaction with his dad
There's a lot of male contact that occurs naturally in Noah's life. But honestly, while he tends to form friendships mostly with other boys, he is pretty unaware of gender. He did an art class last year and for two years before that. There was one other boy in the class for the first year. When the participants shuffled and reassembled for the following year, Noah ended up being the only boy. It took him the better part of a year to notice!

In our family-that-has-always-homeschooled, gender culture doesn't seem to play much of a role. The kids cross gender boundaries in their friendships and their play, blissfully unaware of the fact that gender could ever be considered a boundary. Life seems to naturally allow the opportunity for Noah to experience plenty of social contact with other boys. And yet he is not held to the standard of the 'Boy Code' as Pollack calls it. Despite his need for speed and his aggressive soccer-playing, he is a gentle, contemplative soul, empathic and introspective, and would never see himself as "not a real boy" for that.


  1. thank you for sharing your insights. Noah seems like an awesome boy, as do your girls. It's nice to see your family really doing something that works so well for you.

    This gives me some things to think about that I think will be very valuable for me. Thanks again for taking the time to answer.

  2. Your post really resonates with me, too. I also have 1 boy and 3 girls. And although we have not ALWAYS homeschooled we have most of the time. And I would concur on your observations. However, as my boy is getting older (13 now) I see him entering male culture in the dominant culture and I am a bit sad about what that is!


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