Flo and Archie were six months old this week. I don’t know how that happened but happen it did. Only about ten minutes ago they were tiny new-born dots with nose tubes, squished up together and looking up at our anxious faces looking down into their little shared cot. As I stand at the hob, Annabel Karmel puree cookbook in one hand, blender in the other, two thoughts come to mind – firstly, how can my tiny bubs be eating already and second, surely I am far too old to be pureeing veg and won’t I be about 65 by the time I do their school run. As far as weaning goes, so far so messily good. With me as dextrous octopus armed with flailing spoons, bibs, sippy cups and wipes, they do all the things you want babies to do when they eat real food for the first time – wince, taste a tiny bit, spit it out, hold then drop the spoon a hundred times, chuck food around, suck their bibs, rock perilously in their bumbo seats etc. One day, Evie helps feed them carrot puree made from the fruits of our own veg patch and I feel a delicious sense of earthy continuity. All is comfortingly chaotic yet familiar.
Less familiar is the interloper that has entered our lives, seemingly without us knowing. Flo is a girl, Evie is a girl, I’m a girl, Just has a sister, I have a sister – we know girls. Evie’s a gentle soul, loves dancing, dressing up, pink and all the usual ‘girl’ stuff. But Just has always played plenty of rough and tumble with her, hanging her upside down, chucking her around and chasing her around the garden. She loves that stuff. And I’ve been sure to tell her that women can do any job a man can do. She thought about that one long and hard and I got a bit twitchy about any come back – she then asked me if men can be mermaids which was a surprisingly challenging one to answer.
When we found out that one of our babies was a boy, I just presumed he’d sort of be like a girl, only in male form. I imagined we’d just treat him the same way we’d treat our girls. As I righteously declared that I believe in the power of nurture over nature and would be raising Flo and Archie just the same, friends with sons stifled laughter. When I said I didn’t think it was a given that boys need to sit in mud, hit other children with sticks, eat like animals and pull the legs off bugs, they scoffed politely. Then I saw that the shelves of most bookshops carry Steve Biddulph’s “Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different – How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men”. Well, you can imagine my thoughts on THAT illustrious tome.
But hey, here’s the thing. For the first five months, the only discernible differences I could see between Flo and Archie were physiological: Flo petite, vocal, smiley, brunette, olive skinned and hazel-eyed; Archie bigger, quieter, serious, pale, blond and blue-eyed. But in the last few weeks, things have definitely changed. Archie’s suddenly much more physical - rolling and crashing into toys and furniture without fear, desperate to sit up by himself, often using Flo as purchase to pull himself around, grabbing toys purposefully and hurling them, grunting when he can’t reach something he likes the look of, touching my face during feeds and shoving his bottle away when he’s had enough milk. And it’s not a character thing – Flo has a strong personality. She’s forthright, highly vocal (deafening at times when she’s telling us she’s hungry – we call her Flo Foghorn), obvious about what she wants and likes. She’s just distinctly more dare I say it: “feminine”. I struggle to find other words or excuses for what’s happening, but god damn it, it looks like when I wasn’t looking, Archie became a boy.