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Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's a Boy!

It was confirmed! We were going to have a boy! Mark has always wanted to be a Daddy to a son, someone whom he could do all the "Daddy-ish" things with - go trekking, camping, play chess, play ball, the list goes on. He was overjoyed. I, however, have always been deeply petrified at the thought of having a son. I have always wanted a girl, someone to giggle and play masak masak with.

However, God in His infinite wisdom chose for our firstborn to be a boy, and not just any boy, but a real "boy's boy". Our son never ceases to surprise us in all the ways he lives up to his true boyish nature. He never walks but runs. He doesn't just eat but gobbles down his food. When we go for a walk along the canal, he insists on walking along the full-length of the iron grating beside the path. If there is a puddle, he insists on stepping in it. If there is a leaf, he has to either pick it up or kick it. Last week, he even tried to eat one. He leaps down stairs, two at a time. He has succeeded in scaring away quite a few of our friends' daughters with his biting and hair-pulling tendencies, all of which we have been trying actively to curb.

When I look at him, I can see in all the rawness of my little one's behaviour, the true heart of a boy - the wild abandon and the boundless energy and passion which He has given our son, and which He has given us as parents as gifts which we must tame and nurture so that Z grows up to be a man after His own heart. As his parents, we are enjoying every moment of it.

Never in my wildest imagination would I have been able to say that I am thoroughly enjoying the ride. In my comfortable, sheltered girl-only existence (till the time I got married and actually had to live with one!), boys were generally messier, more odorous, hyperactive, had violent tendencies and unfathomable in terms of their strange behaviour. The oldest of three sisters, I had been in a girls' school for ten years and subsequently taught in the same school. I knew girls well - all the delicate nuances, the reasons for their temperamental tendencies, the intricacies of their friendship issues - and I would definitely know how to parent one more than I would a boy.

But having a boy has been fun! God has definitely chosen to throw me into unfamiliar territory - and it's been exciting. Out with the familiar dolls and stuffed toys and pink clothes I have known all my life, and in with the trains, planes, automobiles and basically anything that moves or makes sufficient noise. I watch in wonderment (and trepidation!) as our little one tears his way around the house, curious about everything in sight. I am amazed at how he lifts his face skyward during our walks, to examine the branches above and to look at the vast expanse of sky. The world has gained a fresh, new perspective as I see it through his eyes.

And yet I worry. Literature is not positive when it comes to raising boys. Research consistently shows that they walk and talk slower, get stressed more easily, have more difficulty socialising, and tend to exhibit more learning and behavioural issues than girls. As a counsellor, I see many more boys than girls referred in school. I know that the classroom can be a difficult place for a boy who needs space to explore his surroundings and who learns by touch and not just by sitting in a lecture. How can we help Z to realise his full potential as a boy, and later as a man, becoming all God has intended him to be?

I know that we must first let him realise his true identity as a boy, and help him to be secure in it. It is easy for me to do otherwise when his reckless behaviour causes me to worry, or when his seemingly defiant tantrums cause my temper to rise.

I realised this last week when we were on a walk at West Coast Park, just me and Z. He was once again being himself - refusing to walk along the path, stepping into every puddle there was, wandering off into the muddy grass and playing with the soil even though there was plenty of sand to play with in the playground... I soon became exhausted with worry, trying to ensure he did not slip on the wet ground or hurt himself on the metal grating, when suddenly, for a brief moment, I looked up at the branches which my son was inspecting, and realised that there was so much to be thankful for - my little one with his inquisitive nature and his general zest for life, the fact that I had the luxury of spending these precious moments with him.

Yet, while we give our son the space and time to be himself, we also know that he needs us as parents to give him the structure and loving boundaries that he needs. One of the books that has been very helpful to us is "Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys" by Stephen James and David Thomas (Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Illinois, 2009). In the book, they describe boys from the ages of 2 to 4 as being in "The Explorer" stage - active, aggressive, curious and self-determined. The authors say that what boys need most from their parents at this stage are loving boundaries which help him feel safe and build bonds with his caregivers, open space to explore and release aggression, consistency, to bring order to the chaos, and most of all understanding, that they are uniquely wired and different from girls.

We also intend to show our son as much affection and warmth as we can and give him the tools to express his emotions and learn how to show empathy for others. My mother shared from a book she was reading that especially since boys have more difficulty socialising than girls, that it was all the more important that they received lots of affection, cuddling, kisses and hugs from the adults in their lives.

"Wild Things" also talks about "The Mind of a Boy", and how boys are wired very differently from girls. Findings show that boys tend to be "spatial instead of relational, aware of objects instead of faces, and action-oriented, as opposed to process-oriented". This basically means that even from infancy, boys prefer looking at objects instead of people, and are more interested in things that move rather than things that are still. This means parents of boys have more work to do in the emotional spheres of parenting. This goes against traditional views of gender - that big boys don't cry, that they must be strong. Instead, we must teach our son that emotions are normal, and give him the emotional vocabulary he needs so that he will find alternative ways of expressing his feelings.

To put it in simple terms, we have to love him so much that he will know how to show love to others in return; We have to give him so many cuddles and hugs that he will know he is unconditionally loved, and thus be able to love others in the same way. We need to teach him empathy by showing empathy to others. Recently, Z's response to his pet cat Whiskers has shown me that at an early age, children already know how to show love and affection. Whiskers is a battery-operated cat which meows and moves his paws when stroked. Z has developed a great fondness for his new pet, and looks for him first thing in the morning and showers the kitten with hugs and kisses throughout the day. I hope that our son is developing a love for animals through this make believe play, but I hope more than that, that he will ultimately learn how to show love and care for his fellow human beings.

We are only at the start of our journey. One day, our son will become a man, and there is so much more that we must teach him before then. Recently, the prospect of a second child has come up, that we would like to have a sibling for Z. Both grandmothers have explicitly indicated their desire for a granddaughter - they can't wait to dress her up and both feel that one boy is more than enough to manage! I surprised myself by entertaining the thought of a second son, a brother whom Z will be able to roll around and have adventures with. Well, who knows? Just as much as I am hoping to raise a sensitive, caring boy, I suppose a spunky, self-confident girl would be lots of fun too.

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