When I was a little girl my father worked as an executive at an urban health clinic. We lived in a brownstone that had been turned into 3 apartments. On the first floor was a Dr., his wife, and their two boys. Myself, and my sister had the apartment on the 2nd floor, and a series of cool single women lived on the third floor. In a reaction to the stupidity that was early 90’s cable programing, my parents cut our cable. The Dr.’s sons downstairs were being raised in an anti-TV homeschooling environment. In the brownstone across the alley from ours, were two girls who were being raised as urban Mennonites. Their father spent the school year as a lawyer and would go down to Latin America every summer on medical mission trips. On one side of us lived the Sisters of Mercy (Catholic nurses), and on the other side of us was a Hispanic Pentecostal Church. There weren’t a lot of other children in the neighborhood, in fact most of the neighborhood was filled with shady or criminal characters, the downtrodden, and the well-intention-ed social reformers. Occasionally I had 1 girl cousin and 3 boy cousins visiting and they would join in our neighbor’s games. And sometimes the CEO of the health clinic would bring his son and daughter over for dinner and all of us would play in the alley behind our brownstone. Even at school from third grade to sixth grade I was the only girl on the all boy’s soccer team but these boys weren’t weird other-beings, they were my friends. I was to them another sister. Boys were not real mysteries, they were always present and generally smelly.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that our co-ed multi-cultural play-dates were not normal. Or not normal per the New York Times. The New York Times recently ran an article on “How to raise a feminist son.” The point that surprised me the most was that early elementary boys these days don’t play games with girls. How can this be when my own experience tells me that isn’t so? How can this be when my own daughter’s best play-mates are boys from Sunday school or her Dad’s job?
So I decided to ask my husband about his childhood experiences. He wasn’t raised in North Philly, but along the border of Boca and Deerfield. He told me that his playmates were all boys from the neighborhood, apart from his cousin. They knew of girls, but they didn’t play with girls, since girls liked to be in the air conditioning. And when they were 10 or 11 one of the boys brought an adult magazine into their circle which unintentionally distanced them from real flesh and blood girls even more. It wasn’t until high school that they developed friendships with girls through art classes or ROTC programs. Prior to this, the boys in the neighborhood knew of girls as girlfriends, grandmothers, aunts, mothers and teachers, but friends? Not really.
Now the New York Times maintains that co-ed play dates increase problem solving, and communication. Aren’t we all on board for that? It suggests organizing co-ed birthday parties, and sports teams, and when referring to a group of young people being gender neutral by saying “children” instead of “boys and girls.” I think this is a great guide, but it’s not earth shatteringly new information. How about yours? When you are planning a party, do you spend more time on making sure that gender numbers are equal, or that you and your child are inviting people you both enjoy the company of?
What are some other ways we can create co-ed play dates? Do you think that this is something South Floridians need help with? My daughter and I both enjoy visiting our local Barnes & Noble story time, and there are plenty of little boys and little girls there. We also enjoy Sunday school where the demographics of my church is highly multi-cultural and equally split in the boy/girl department. I expect there to be more girls in her ballet class next year, but more boys in her judo class, will I be proved right? What has been your experience as a mother in Florida?