The Garden Gnome Incident
October 11th, 2015
Is a boy’s instinct to destroy lawn décor a result of nature or nurture?
Last week, my five-year-old son bludgeoned a lawn gnome with a child-sized garden rake. At least, I think it was our Red Sox lawn gnome. The remaining pieces were too tiny for positive identification, but the gnome is now missing, so the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong.
When I gave birth to my first child – a girl – seven years ago, I was convinced that gender stereotypes were entirely a product of (poor) parenting. Girls were only inclined to prefer baby dolls over dinosaurs and makeup kits over rocket ships because we trained them to be that way, I thought.
I set about proving myself right with the self-righteous zeal of a first-time parent. We bought gender neutral onesies, banned Barbie from the house, and conscientiously tried to introduce a variety of toys. These actions, I smugly assumed, would assure that our child was well-rounded. My daughter would be feminine, but not girlie. She would have a range of favorite colors (not just pink) and would love engineering as much as she enjoyed sparkly tiaras.
For the first couple years, it seemed to be going pretty well and I patted myself on the back for a Job Well Done. Then two things happened in short succession: my son learned to walk and my daughter discovered the Disney Princesses.
To be clear: I also strove for gender balance with his upbringing. His prized possession for a while was his Sleeping Beauty doll. And I think he’s a pretty amazing kid. He’s kind, loving, and affectionate. He adores his sisters and loves to tap dance. He flouts established male fashion conventions by wearing leggings and zebra-print skirts.
On the other hand, he’s also wildly destructive, extremely active, and generally covered from head to toe in dirt. Any game he plays involves some sort of combat. The other day, he fashioned a pair of boxing gloves out of two single-serving Fruit Loops boxes and ran through the house practicing his karate moves.
And then there was the lawn gnome incident. I’m fairly sure my son isn’t a burgeoning serial killer, honing his craft on unsuspecting garden decorations. But he does seem compelled to see if things break. Or come apart. Or bounce when dropped from high altitudes.
What is that about? Is it gender-related genetics? Birth order? Inexplicable twist of fate?
I’m eagerly awaiting the further development of my tie-breaker child. Will my third-born follow in the footsteps (or genes?) of her demure older sister or will her big brother’s rambunctiousness rub off on her?
Last week, I watched her land a hefty punch onto her brother’s head while simultaneously clutching a baby doll to her chest – a reminder that, in the end, our children inevitably forge an identity that is entirely their own.
This post initially appeared in the October 11th edition of our SmallTownUSA newspaper.