Talk To Me, Baby

mama-to-mama111On the heels of Ellen’s post about ‘Girl Talk’ last week, I’ve got to tell you a funny story that just about says it all.

My oldest, Sam, just graduated from college. He and his girlfriend left a few days ago on a four month backpacking trip through South America. Gulp.

The journey has been months in the planning, and we’ve been in touch with Megan’s parents through much of it. I always had the feeling that, while we certainly had our own set of worries, her parents were demonstrating a unique kind of bravery by allowing — no, to be honest by supporting — their daughter in this adventure with our son.

As we said our goodbyes and weighed their HUGE packs on departure day, Megan’s mother and I agreed (with an OK from the kids) to forward any emails we received to the others, thereby doubling our information. Or so we thought.

Day 2: from Megan
hey mom and dad,
sam and i made it safe to quito yesterday. we went to bed at 630 pm and didnt get up until 730 this morning..hah. the flight in was okay, but a little shaky from san jose to quito..lots of turbulance. today we explored quito a bit. the city is huge, intimidating, and dirty, but it is nice to be here. going to manta tomorrow around 11 and starting the language school on friday. im really excited to be hitting the coast and a smaller town. it feels so good to finallly be down here!
love you lots,

from Sam
Hey ma and pa,
I don´t have much time to talk but I wanted to let you know I´m safe and in Quito. Tomorrow we go to Manta by bus.

After receiving those messages I sent Megan’s folks an apology for our son’s — well, lack of detail. It’s not that he doesn’t have decent verbal skills. He was a philosophy major, for god’s sake. He just didn’t feel the need to say more. We definitely got the better part of the deal.

And that got me thinking about the differences between boys and girls, men and women, and how deeply they cut to the core of how we communicate.

From the earliest ages, put girls together in a room and we will start to talk. About almost anything, but mostly about ourselves and each other. We will look at one another and discuss. Girls build relationships with conversation. Talk is the essence of intimacy. Social connection is happiness.

Not so for boys. Think about a group of little guys on the playground with no girls around. Is anyone chatting? No! They’re zooming around on their trikes, colliding for the sheer fun of it, climbing to the very top of the play structure, vying for the equivalent of who can pound their chest the loudest. Boys are all about doing and out-doing.

They can’t help it, it’s an evolutionary thing. To spread his DNA around, the male beast has to rise to head honcho of the herd. There’s a primal urge at play, and it has nothing to do with shared experience or consensus building.

When girls are stressed we seek human connection. As Ellen described, we want — no, we NEED — to talk about it. Just talk. Reflect. Consider. And talk again. That’s how we get relief. It makes us stronger.

When boys face a problem they often face it alone. They focus on what to DO about it. To share it makes them feel vulnerable and exposed.

For you moms who have both boys and girls, I’ll bet you’ve already seen these differences in spades. The most committed childless feminist is forced to reconsider some assumptions when kids come on the scene. I know I was.

What’s it like when you drive carpool with a bunch of little girls? Giggly, chatty, they tell you everything. Particularly about the boys. But fill that car with boys and you know you get a series of grunts, body noises, and jabbing elbows.

When my boys were young it always helped when I was friendly with the mom of at least one of the girls they knew. Then I had a source of information. The girls’ moms knew everything.

So embrace and appreciate these very different creatures, ’cause they are who they are. It comes down to expectations. We can’t expect our boys to talk to us, or each other, like our girls do. It’s not how their brains are put together.

And I’ll expect those emails from South America to be — well, concise and to the point.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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