When my sister and her husband had their first child, they learned that their Harvard degrees and their sincerest wishes to the contrary did not inoculate their daughter against a zealous love of Disney princesses and the color pink.
I had boys. They turned every thing they laid their hands on into weapons; guns in particular. They built guns out of their oversized baby Lego pieces. (That's Duplo, for the uninitiated.) Any stick they encountered was quickly pressed into service as a firearm. In a pinch, they'd just extend an index finger and fire away. All of this before, as far as I knew, they'd ever even seen a gun.
Tractors, airplanes, dinosaurs, superheros, Star Wars, reptiles, space, robots, pirates, soldiers; they've all made playtime appearances at our house. I have found it difficult to muster up much enthusiasm for joining in beyond occasionally buying the boys a pair of suitably-themed pajamas.
As they get older, though, I'm starting to find some common ground between the things I used to do as a kid and the activities currently occupying my boys.
They love to spy, almost as much as I love for them to spy. Spies are quiet, and they hide. My sisters and I went through our spying phase somewhat later, once we were old enough to read the giant spy manual and run around the neighborhood peeping through people's windows. That was creepy of us, but hey--that's one bad idea I'll be able to forestall in my own kids because it's something I'm actually familiar with.
Nels also has a penchant for making potions. He's always wanting to dissolve things in a glass of water as a sort of science experiment. One day I let him add one dash of everything in the spice cupboard. Another day it was liquid hand soap and toothpaste. I didn't do exactly the same thing, but as a kid who made "perfume" by crushing the fine powder out of male pine cones, it is something I can relate to.
Lately, both boys have been into rocks. Nels's interest was sparked by learning about crystals at school. Willem quickly picked up on it and scoured our yard for noteworthy rocks, heaping them on our porch steps and introducing the pile to everyone who happened by as his "rock collection."
I was crazy for rocks when I was a kid, too. The second-best present my dad ever got me was a rock tumbler. (The first best was a Polaroid camera. Both presents were awesome.) I used to go around my back yard trying to break open rocks with a hammer and hoping against hope that I would find a geode. My kids do the same. Or they did, until the day I caught them doing it and saw the rock chips flying. Perhaps Santa will deliver some rock hammers and safety glasses this year.
Last weekend I went to an estate sale where they were selling boxes and boxes of rocks. They were all way more exciting than anything we already had, and I had so much fun picking out some really spectacular rocks and bringing them home to surprise the boys.
While I have been thankful for the new bits of overlap in things we think are cool, I am daily reminded of just how big our differences are. It's eye-opening to watch the physical way my boys relate to one another, as opposed to the verbal strategies my sisters and I employed when we fought. Nels takes a passive-aggressive approach, running into his little brother and "accidentally" knocking him down or tripping him, while Willem answers with a more straightforward punch to the gut. And while I know they're more interested in death and violence than I ever was, I still was not prepared for the day I walked downstairs, suspicious of the quiet, and was greeted with Willem's cheerful:
"Hi, Mom! We're tying our animals to the cross!"
I never did that.