I consider myself extremely lucky, as a woman, to have been raised in an era when it was possible to believe that a girl could do anything a boy could do. As a youngster I could pass off difference and disadvantage as socialisation, historical baggage or institutional bias.
And later, despite a growing body of evidence that life was not a gender neutral playing field, I found great solace in the stories psychoanalytic theory told about how such difference came to be. I liked it because it made a lot of sense to me, but I also liked it because it left open hope that difference could be overcome.
Without getting too waylaid into a discussion of feminist theory, and the difference between androgynous feminism (men and women could and should be the same) and a more liberal feminism (men and women are certainly different but could and should still be equally valued, with equal opportunities and choices), my point is that as a post feminist daughter I was never comfortable with discussions which centred on gross generalisations based on gender.
But competing with my ideological stance was a growing interest and belief in a science based paradigm. Perhaps the watershed was reading Matt Ridley's totally excellent Genome, or maybe it started before that, as my friends started having kids and the newspapers started reporting the exponentially interesting research findings about how people work. Clearly my placement on the nature vs nuture scale was vulnerable.
What Ridley's book did was make me realise that all those miles of genetic code we carry inside us did a range of jobs that went way beyond determining our eye colour, our propensity to disease or the tenor of our voice. We learn grammar from a gene (which incidentally switches off working at a certain point), we have a gene that makes us like cigarettes or not, we have genes that determine all sorts of things usually ascribed to behaviour that is learned.
Now given that we know this, and given that girls get two of the x kind of chromosome and boys get just one of the x and one of the itty bitty y, it stands to reason that girls and boys are not the same.
Lots can be said about the similarities of course - we share far more in the genetic material department than we differ - and lots can be said (as Ridley strongly and expertly does) about the way environment breathes life into genetic code to make it less a script for life than the stage on which a life is lived. And, of course, what is true in general is not always true in the particular.
The bottom line is that there are inherent differences between sexes that are innate, inscribed in our cells and utterly inescapable. So while I have gradually been inching down the line, seeing ever more nature in our lives and ever less nurture, I have retained a deep suspicion of generalising, categorising and most critically of limiting our understanding and expectation of people based on what nature has supposedly provided.
But you know what? Forget it.
As soon as Wil could crawl, he picked out a car from the toy box, put it on the ground and started driving it around. He even makes the brmm brmm noise. No mama, no dada, just brmm brmm. D spectulates that perhaps cars were made to make the noise they do because boys did what Wil does even before motor cars were invented. Cars and balls. One end of the house to the other. No obstacle too great.
When Amy declared at the age of 2 or so that she would no longer wear jeans or pants because that was what boys wore, and the colour blue was henceforth banned from her life, I felt that environment could not fully explain her conviction. It is true she had a bit of contact with other kids, and some of them belonged to the all things pink brigade, but given the utter lack of reinforcement she got from any of her significant role models, there seemed to be something more to it.
As a baby and small child she had a very gender neutral wardrobe to match her gender neutral toys (and very non girly mother). But when I took her to buy shoes she would pick out stilettos for me and pink plastic glitter for her, plead with me to wear a skirt, refuse anything but pink, paint lovehearts on every surface. That had to be more than a few kids at childcare whispering in her ear, surely? When I bought her a new rash vest just this summer (pink, hello kitty) to wear with her pink love heart and rainbow surf hat, her pink crocs and her flowery white and blue boardshorts she still had to ask why I was dressing her like a boy (it was the blue that did it).
What I see growing in Wil now is a set of characteristics so different from Amy, so completely stereotypically boy, that nurture barely rates a mention on my radar any more. I know he's still young, but somehow that makes his declared hand all the more convincing.
Using only the volume and channel changing buttons on the front of the TV he has managed to reprogram the TV into Chinese (twice) and totally delete channel 2. Amy regularly claims to be bamboozled by doing up her own zips.
Last week he hit his head really really hard on five consecutive days. He looked like an escapee from a new years eve party in Glasgow. Amy had a very good sense of her physical limits as s child and major hurts were very rare.
He throws himself at people and things with a total disregard for the consequences. He regularly injures us as well as himself. The other day in the time I had my back turned to get a spoon from the drawer he had climbed out and fallen from his highchair and was hanging upside down by one foot.
He is obsessed (not just interested in, but utterly consumed by) mechanical things, electrical things, hinges, catches, buttons, phones, computers and vehicles. When denied the remote he melts into a puddle of screams. Amy was easily placated with a $2 plastic mobile phone and an old remote from some long gone piece of equipment.
He is really straightforward. No agendas, no confusion, no mixed messages. I don't always like his behaviour but I can pretty much always understand what he's doing and why. I nearly lost my mind trying to work Amy out. She remains a very complex creature who regularly surprises and confuses me.
He has no idea why anyone would want to interfere with what he wants, feels no need to try and communicate and simply resolves all situations physically. He is genuinely mystified for example if I get cross when he bites my nipple - he wants more milk, why wouldn't he bite? Amy will happily negotiate for a better deal, apologise regularly and has a sense of shame about breaking rules.
He looks really good in navy blue. Who would have thought any child of mine would be getting around in navy (with a sister in pink)?
And he's not a particularly energetic kid, Amy certainly takes out the award for the party hard animal, but he is intensely physical in a way that Amy never has been.
So I'm starting to think now about what the future holds for us, not just about his personality and how we'll get along, but about how different it is going to be to try and manage the problems and life choices that come with that boy thing. What I will do when he starts getting big enough that those physical challenges are beyond me, how I will stimulate and amuse him, how I will cope with a troupe of his mates coming over for play dates.
And it's not that I'm daunted or scared, it's just that I am slowly realising that just as Amy's dolly wrapping, fairy princess loving, frilled up life kind of took me by surprise, so is hearing myself saying (so often) that he is such a boy. I am glad, really glad, that my kids are so different and that mothering Wil won't just be the evening reprise of the matinee.