I am of the belief that all humans are entitled to the same rights, one of the most important being a right to the self. Namely, that no one human can control or define the race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity of another, and that each and every individual is entitled to the same rights and protections regardless of the aforementioned differences. I believe that the inherent diversity of humanity is too infinite to pigeon-hole or generalize entire groups of people, or to make anyone feel like they are wrong if they don't fit into someone else's prefabricated mold.
Carrying this belief system into parenthood felt natural and Tygh and I have worked very hard to treat our children as infinite individuals; as little persons with endless potential who will reveal their true selves to us over time. We want them to be allowed to be whoever they are, albeit with safety and happiness in mind. As such, both our daughter and son were given tractors and baby dolls, pink bikes and excavators. Both have had green pacifiers, blue stuffed animals, and time-out chairs. Both have taken all manner of art, music and sports classes and worn tutus and football jerseys (sometimes at the same time). Both have repeatedly watched Frozen and Cars. And both jiggle with glee when we have Taylor Swift dance parties.
But, despite this apparently very similar (modest attempt at a gender-neutral?!?!) upbringing, over the last 2-and-a-half years, I have found myself repeatedly running smack-dab into a gender stereotype. More specifically, Harvey.
When June was a toddler, and she got upset, she would tear up or cover her head or want a cuddle. Sure, Harvey often does or wants those things, too, but usually only after he has first punched you in the face. Or slapped you. Or kicked you. Sometimes, apparently, a head-butt is warranted. You just never know.
While June has played with and enjoyed all manner of books, toys and games, Harvey is fixated on all things locomotion (planes, trains, race cars), loves all things construction ("A digger, Mamma! A digger! A digaaaaaaah!") and will color for all of about 30 seconds before he realizes that crayons are much more interesting when airborne. Last Friday, he decided to ride his bike full-bore down the hill in our neighborhood without using his breaks and rode head-on into our neighbors garage - AT FULL SPEED! And, while for a few moments he cried in pain in my arms, he quickly pushed me away, rounded up his gear, and marched that damn bike back up the hill to do it all over again! I had to carry him inside kicking and screaming to avoid legitimately putting a hole in our neighbors garage door, let alone through his skull, while I can still say honestly that June has never even thrown a tantrum.
He throws food at the dinner table, puts toys in the toilet and generally explores every possible iteration of cause-and-effect. Since June was a babe, you would ask her not to do something, and she would stop. Harvey just takes your admonishment as a challenge, and then flips you off while he does it a third time.
Now, often, when sharing these anecdotes, I get the response, "Well, he's a boy!" But, really? Can that be it? Can this behavior really be chalked up to gender? I feel like I have plenty of examples that prove that reasoning to be faulty. For one, my cousin's son, a lovely boy just a few months older than Harvey, is a sweet, angelic doll of an XY chromosomal mix. But, others have argued, maybe it's because Harvey is, unlike his cousin, child number two, and the second kid has to come out kicking and screaming to survive (June used to frankly hug the oxygen out of his lungs - see Christmas card 2014 - so he had to develop some resilience to survive). Or, maybe it's a little bit of both.
Either way, I feel that I am ill-equipped as a parent to handle the unabashed physicality and behavioral roller coaster that is my second born man-child. He LITrally makes me fear for his (and my!!) life, and he's only two. While this has instilled in me a level of patience that verges on sainthood, I had recently started to wonder, how will I survive??
I'll tell you how. Cooking. Now, I realize my blog persona can be anything I create, and how perfect that I would bring this all back to the sanctity of the kitchen. But it's true. Strangely, in the kitchen, Harvey becomes gentler, quieter, dare I say, obedient. He becomes so focused on measuring, sifting, pouring and mixing, that the slugging stops and this sweet little boy emerges. It's weird, but it's the one place where the glaring differences between him and June fade away. Sure, it takes a loooooooong time, it's way messier than I would like and I have to read each recipe a billion times to make sure I'm not leaving something out while I multi-task parenting, coaching and head-chefing. And, while he often wants little to do with the end product, for those 30 or 60 or 90 minutes we spend preparing whatever-it-is, he's not a raucous toddler, he is just my second sous-chef.
As when June was smaller, I generally try to include him in easier recipes. A current favorite is these one-bowl, almond butter cookies, which, truth be told, actually came to me by way of my cousin with the angel first-born boy (see above). And, get this, they are gluten free! But, not like obscure flour mix gluten-free. Just one-bowl-5-ingredients gluten-free. And fucking fantastic.
I'm not sure how long this cooking-to-calm-him ploy will work, but I'll take whatever I can get. I'm tired of apologizing ahead of time for his behavior. I want to suck all the cute out of him I can. As June so poignantly said last week, while we looked through pictures on my phone waiting for Harvey to get out of time-out so we could go to the park,
"Mom - isn't Harvey the cutest baby ever?"
(Sigh) "He is, isn't he, Junie?"
"Yeah. But..." (and here she leans in, hand to her mouth, to whisper conspiratorially) "..he is also the meanest."
Killer Flourless Almond Butter Cookies
These cookies are amazing. No flour, just almond butter and a few other things. They are crackly on top, soft and chewy in the center and still taste amazing on day 2 or 3. Though they are gluten-free, that is merely an accident!
1 cup almond butter (any brand will do, but I often use Kirkland)
1 C dark brown sugar, packed (can use 3/4 C if you want them a little less sweet)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C (at least) dark chocolate chips
1/2 C chopped, toasted almonds, cooled
Oven at 350F. In a medium bowl, mix together almond butter and brown sugar until smooth. Add egg, mixing until just incorporated. Then add vanilla, salt, and baking powder. Toss in chocolate chips and almonds. Dough will seem a bit crumbly, but should squeeze together when pinched. Mound dough onto cookie sheet (I use an ice cream scoop!), with each cookie about the size of a golf ball. Top with sea salt, if desired. Bake 9-10 minutes, until you just start to smell them, but don't over bake!! Enjoy!