Nature, nurture, boys, girls and jellyfish
Mum never let me take sea creatures home from the beach.
I remember many tantrums while begging to adopt a hermit crab or urchin.
“They won’t survive,” Mum said. “They need to stay in their proper homes.”
It was terribly unfair. Curse her environmentally sensitive soul.
So, when my three-year-old, Libby, wanted to bring home some jellyfish last week of course I allowed it.
Four jellies sat in a plastic container on our kitchen bench for about three days.
At first I thought it would be a nice little learning experiment. We’d find out what they ate, how they moved, look them up on Wikipedia and all that highly scientific jazz.
Instead, mother Libby reared her caring head.
“Hey little darlins,” she’d say each morning. “I love you so much.”
She kissed the jellies, nursed the jellies and cuddled the jellies – as much as you can ‘cuddle’ a jellyfish, that is.
I should mention, I’m pretty sure the jellies were dead by the end of the first day.
As I watched Libby’s attachment grow, I wondered how (and if) I would break the news to her.
I decided I’d go for a Mother of the Year award. I lied to her.
“Sweetie, I don’t think the jellies are comfortable here,” I said. “See how they’re not moving… I think they want to go back to the sea.”
Libby laughed in denial.
“Oh, no, Mumma,” she said. “They’re just sleeping. They’re just babies.”
“Well, if they’re babies, maybe they need their mum and dad,” I said. “Do you think we should take them back to the beach so they can find their parents?”
Libby frowned. She knew I was right, but put up a good fight.
“But I’m their mum now,” she said. “I can look after them.”
We went back and forth, gently arguing until she gave in.
“OK,” she said. “If they’ll be happier in the sea, we’ll take them back.”
Libby cradled the jellies on her lap as we drove to the beach.
She held them to her cheek and gave them one last smooch before casting them into the water.
As ridiculous as it sounds, it was heartbreaking.
And it got me thinking about the nurturing instinct in children.
Is the urge to nurture stronger in girls? It seems to be assumed, by most, that it is.
In the local bakery line just a few days ago a man noticed me wrangling Lib and her 10-month-old brother Jonah.
“Lucky you had the girl first,” he said. “They’re much better with babies than boys.”
I don’t know if I’m convinced that things are so black and white.
I’ve been scared by many a group of stick-wielding boys in the park, but when I see them with babies they tend to soften and melt.
I also remember picking Libby up from daycare one time and shedding a tear as I saw her surrounded by boys pretending to breastfeed baby dolls.
Is nurturing innate? Or do we teach our girls to be caregivers and our boys to be more of the hunting and gathering types?
Perhaps we should let nature take more of its course and give our boys an equal opportunity to be as nurturing as girls.
I guess that means encouraging ‘soft’ play with the same vigour as ‘rough and tumble,’ giving them dolls as well as cars… and even letting them kiss and cuddle jellyfish… before taking them back to the beach.