Last night, several hours after they should have been in bed, we stood together and watched with amusement as our eldest little people danced under the stars. Surrounded by actors dressed as faeries and woodland spirits they held hands and spun around on the stage with five year old abandon, declaring it the “best night EVER” and grinning wildly at each other.
Being born just months apart they have grown up together sharing trips to the beach, play dates at our houses, visits to Father Christmas and a couple of crazy nights like last night’s wild woodland summer ball. They think of each other as family - there is no quiet bit at the beginning of a get together where they need to warm up to each other, they have an easy friendship and will be roaring with laughter at a shared joke one minute, screaming at each other for some perceived slight the next and will usually end up exhausted and sprawled lazily across each other watching the programme of the moment.
One of the greatest things about their friendship is the gender blindness. They don’t see a boy or a girl they just see a friend they enjoy hanging out with. Together they play with cars and dolls, they play house and they play superheroes. They do glittery craft and they do a nice line in poo jokes.
We’ve both tried to ensure that our children’s interests are not limited by their gender. I have two boys and although I have spent more time than I care to remember hunting for the ‘right stick’ and I can tell a stegosaurus from a spinosaurus I have also enjoyed many lovely teddy bears’ tea parties and I can sing every word of the Sofia the First theme tune (just trying to illustrate my point – please don’t judge me too harshly).
Avoiding labels and generalisations is harder once they’re at school though. Suddenly they start to have quite clear ideas about what it means to be a boy and start dismissing toys, activities and even books as ‘for girls’. Although this is disappointing and I try to counter it at home what really matters to me is that they don’t dismiss the girls they feel those things are intended for and so far we seem to be doing ok. Friends are judged on how kind they are and how much fun they are rather than whether they are boy or girl but I don’t know how long this will last and how much influence I can continue to exert when faced with the power of peer pressure.
One of the reasons Helen and I delight in the bond between our babes - along with the fact that it’s much easier for us to have a meeting (or a gossip) at the kitchen table if they are happily playing in the next room – is that they have the opportunity to understand and enjoy each other as their whole selves rather than the stereotypes they may see on the surface at school.
Their friendship teaches them that boys can be caring, sensitive and imaginative and that girls can be funny, silly and strong. Most importantly it encourages them to see each other as equals.
Last night at the woodland ball they had their faces painted. One chose to be a butterfly and the other a tiger. Predictable maybe but then the tiger told the butterfly she looked ‘beautiful AND awesome’ and took her hand to run off and join the dance.
Let’s hope we are raising strong girls and strong boys and that they will always celebrate the awesomeness in each other.