My son loves garbage trucks. Every morning, without fail, he keeps his eyes peeled. When he finds one, he says,
Mommy, Ga-bage Tuck! Watch it?
Having raised three girls before him (and another girl after), this vehicular fetish is a bit new to me. The novelty of his request is a big part of why I am so willing to indulge my waste-dump-loving little man whenever possible. Plus, I never tire of seeing his wide, saucer eyes light up as the stinky garbage cans get dumped into the truck and crushed by…whatever that crushing thing is.
My girls aren‘t into trucks. Give us some dance music and a balloon and we‘re set for hours. Throw in a tiara and a tutu, and no further entertainment is necessary. But this guy, he‘s something else. For him a tiara is a like frisbee, only fancier. Balloons and flashy dance moves hold his attention for a bit, but only if the balloon is actually popping…or if he senses that an interpretive dance might morph into a wrestling match.
My son is a boy. He is a ball-kicking, truck-loving, hammer-banging boy. And for the record, I didn‘t condition him to like these things. It just happened. Being the fourth kid, he was born into a wealth of toys. I didn‘t buy race cars, trucks, and tractors for him to play with. But somehow, through the baskets of jewelry, musical instruments, and dress-up clothes, he picked out the things that bounce and make the most noise when banged. My conclusion: This boy‘s propensity toward all things that roll and boom is innate.
One of my girls recently suggested that I cut the boy too much slack and that I come down harder on her for her indiscretions. I inferred from her tone that she thinks I treat him differently because he‘s a boy. She‘s darn right. I do. I also treat my 12- and 8-year-old girls differently than I do my 10-year-old and 2-year-old.
I don‘t love my kids the same, not the girls and not the boy. I love them differently. Each one of them is a planet unto themselves–fabulous, blessed planets. I love and like them not only because they are, but because of who they are. Our Sages teach that we should “educate a child according to his way“ (Chanoch le‘naar al pi darko). I think, in large part, the way we educate our kids is the way we love them.
I think so long as we are coming from a place of unconditional love and we are devoted to helping each of our children find their “way,“ then we‘re probably not going to stray too far off track.
When my son starts to get toxic for whatever reason, throwing a ball outside or hammering nails into a board are great ways to lift his mood. When my girls get a little freaky, painting nails is a better way to reach them. As many times as my son has been given a “pedicure“ by his older sisters, it just doesn‘t lift his spirits the way it does with the girlies … go figure.
In virtually any situation with my boy and with my girls, when categorical love is my motivating factor, gender and competition fade. At those time all I see are miniature people in progress and a mom who is doing her best to give them all the love they need–in the way they need it–to help them find their way.
For more on kids and gender, read why one mother is not ashamed that her daughter wears pink, the son who wore pink shoes, and how to embrace a girl’s princess phase.