Laura can do jigsaw puzzles

27th January 2006 at 00:00
When I was training to be an English teacher, the big issue was teaching boys. How difficult it was, how they were basically useless and only interested in computer games or articles about football, and would enjoy Jane Eyre only if you could somehow persuade them that she was actually a gun-toting renegade in her spare time with a real skill at blowing up huge buildings. I was lucky that all the boys I encountered in my English classroom were generally hard working and good humoured, just as prone to teenage hissy-fits as girls, and just as creative and insightful.

In fact, if I really think about it, the most talented English students I encountered at GCSE and A-level were boys. The gender debate was one issue that, educationally, passed me by.

Now that I am the proud mother of two boys, I am beginning to give more thought to the boysgirls issue. I wonder how I could have ignored it so readily, in fact, given the overwhelming biological evidence that confronts me every day. My elder son, at 18 months, has a little friend called Laura who is two weeks older than him. Children this young having friends is just an excuse for two mums to get together and gossip while their children studiously ignore each other on the playmat or fight over raisins. But our children being of such a similar age has inevitably led Laura's mum and me to compare the progress of our offspring. Let's just say that I don't come out of it too well.

For a start, Laura can talk. She can say, "I love you mummy", "Can I have some more rice cakes, please?", and "I want to play with the ball." My little boy can yell and point; all efforts at communication end there. Nice people who say hello to him in shops get rewarded with a suspicious glare.

I think I heard Laura use intentional irony the other day. That's got to be one of the objectives in the Year 9 English framework, for heaven's sake.

Oh well, they say silence is golden. Laura's constant questioning is beginning to get a little existential for me, actually. We started off this afternoon with, "Why have we got sandwiches?" and ended up five minutes later with, "Why do we get hungry?" I had to hastily switch on CBeebies before we got on to the thorny question of why I existed at all.

Laura can do jigsaw puzzles; my little boy's favourite game is to stand in the middle of the room while I throw his teddy at him. Laura can clear up; my little boy can throw heavy objects with alarming accuracy. Laura has a wide variety of educational toys; my little boy will only play with cars, and our living room is now beginning to resemble a tailback on the M25. A rainy afternoon for Laura means doing art on an old roll of wallpaper taped to the table; a rainy afternoon for us means being dragged round the park at top speed, terrorising the native wildlife, regardless of the fact that we are all drenched to the skin. Laura likes Angelina Ballerina; we are unnaturally obsessed with Bob the Builder in a way that marketing men must dream of. I don't think it's my imagination that "boys tend to be late starters" is the one phrase I'm hearing a lot recently. I hope my son's latent talents aren't being underestimated. I maintain that an overwhelming interest in hubcaps could be very useful in later life.

I wonder what I can do to get a little feminine vibe going in my house.

Already my two boys fail to appreciate the joys of our local shopping centre. Those old PGCE lectures are coming back to haunt me. Maybe I really will have to recast Elizabeth Bennet as a superhero terminator come to earth with the express purpose of eliminating mankind.

Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email:

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