While it began with a small stuffed teddy bear, she will now hold just about anything close to her chest in a tight squeeze and lovingly pat said object. Stuffed animals. Her sippy cup. A bundle of cloth wipes. Anything. And we are, of course, continually reinforcing this behavior by practically peeing ourselves with cute every time she does it. I’m not ashamed. I just hope she’ll turn these tender impulses on the cat, who is balding for love of her and her grabby little fists.
But what’s got me thinking about this in another light is an afternoon we spent with one of her friends and his parents, a boy near her age who delighted us with an equally dear display of his own: whenever he saw something with wheels – the bigger the better – he began to gasp and point and grin in overwhelming excitement. His joy was so profound that when I found a book about tractors among Miss E’s enormous collection, I passed it on to his mother.
I can’t help but wonder for these two little people, too young even to know that they are a little boy and a little girl in a social sense, what’s going on here? As parents I’m sure the four of us are acknowledging and encouraging all the positive behaviors our children exhibit, gender “typical” or otherwise. But I’d be lying if I said the thought that Miss E is acting like a girl and her friend is acting like a boy hasn’t crossed my mind, no matter what I believe to be true about gender, because I’m just as much a product of our culture as she is bound to be. But she doesn’t have to grow up with my baggage, and I’m happy as she grows to grow, too, in how I think about the things that she does.
I honestly don’t know what’s going on with all of the patting, but I believe my daughter’s temperament has a great deal more to do with her behavior than the fact that she is a girl. She’s already a deeply social creature, which a friend pointed out may be the real source of her desire to comfort inanimate objects (and to beam at the responses she receives when she does). Whatever is going on here, I know a day will come when Miss E will recognize that she is a girl and begin to amass an understanding of what that means. I can only hope that when she does begin to construct that knowledge, it will include being daring (enough to climb steep stairs and big kid jungle gyms), calculating (the precision required to stack two, three, four blocks high), so strong and nurturing. Because daddy’s been waiting for a hug for months.