When people ask, I tell them I have two girls. This is a partial truth, it oils the wheels of social interaction. I've given birth to females with all the relevant physical bits and pieces but to claim they are girls - a social category, a shaky edifice built on their biology - glosses over their distinct and idiosyncratic selves.
Heaven knows there are days we seem to live in a girl world. We separate the washing into three piles: darks, lights and pinks. The girls' room is a rosy symphony and at the end of each day we trudge around collecting dolls, babies, kittens and other soft toys. (How did this happen? We were committed to providing gender neutral colours; life was was going to be yellow and green and white. Instead, la vie en rose.) Nell, a baby herself, is happiest with her own baby Amalie, and Lu's conversation is peppered with 'so cute', 'sweet' and demands for jewellery, creams and ungents, perfumes and fairy wings. Some times, on some days, we have girls of the most girly kind.
But each of those times on each of those days is countered with not-so-girly things. Lucy claims to be a cow with chocolate milk in her udders and a koala in her belly. (Appropriate response: "That's handy".) She is aggressive and as rough as guts. She is confident in her body. She yells a lot. She cannot sit still. She loves trains and heavy machinery. These are stereotypically 'boy' characteristics. Lu's stated career aim is to grow up to be a 'lady digger [earth mover] driver' so that she can dig big holes, scoop up lambies and send up blankets to the rock a bye baby on the tree top (a nicely gender-bending aim). She's dressing the part already.
Nell's own self is just emerging as she learns to negotiate and control her body and her world. But all signs point to the same movement and noise that Lucy uses so effectively in our lives.
I think about my uncategorisable kids as I hear another mother say 'I always wanted a daughter, someone to go shopping with', and remember an article on determining the sex of babies, where parents talked about balancing out the family or wanting a daughter to go horse riding with while the five boys rode their BMX bikes. I'm not saying anyone is a bad person for wanting these things but it strikes me, looking at my Lulu and Nell, that it's a set up for disappointment. In the end we get kids, individuals who are both familiar and strange to us, who choose their paths in response to and in spite of our own preferences and expectations.
All of those 'traditionally feminine' pursuits and atittudes are productive and skilled and create beauty and joy; I'd not be disappointed if Lucy chose to sew and spin. But my kids have reminded me we're each of us made up of snips and snails and puppy dog tails and sugar and spice and all things nice (which for me would include Stone's green ginger wine, duck and greens from The Vietnamese in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane, bush walking in snake free terrain, and chocolate meringues). I know this anyway - I spent years reading sociology and gender studies - but now we're living it, seeing the ways in which Nell and Lu come into the world hard-wired, and our social practices and expectations let us tinker around the edges a bit - and maybe make people feel bad for not doing and being the 'right' things - but aren't the overwhelming force I used to argue they were. On good days, child raising seems to be more about offering suggestions than forging a being in the fires of 'No'.
Seeing my girls reminds me that while we designate behaviours 'masculine' and feminine' for ease of categorisation and argument, it's hard to argue they exist in meaningful ways in young children's lives. As Lu and Nell grow older cultural expectations will become more pressing, throwing acceptable differences between boys and girls into sharp and disappointing relief, but I love that at the moment they are simply themselves with no thought of what they 'should' be. It's only in my thirties I'm able to even recognise this as a possible way of being, let alone live in that freedom; my heart hopes my two forces of nature carry that knowledge with them right through their lives.