CANDY ALLAN: Comparing apples and oranges

As my kids grow up, it’s interesting to watch the differences between them.

Before you start yelling at me that I shouldn’t be comparing them because they’re two different people, let me tell you every parent of more than one child makes comparisons. I’m not talking about saying, “Why can’t you be more like X?” I’m talking about noticing this one is more interested in art and painting than the other and acting accordingly.

It’s not just personality differences, either. My friends with children and I compare and contrast first children versus second children, boys versus girls, introverts versus extroverts. At times, raising kids can be like having front-row seats in an interactive lesson on human behavior.

My husband and I had one of those revelations last weekend when our daughter had friends over for a birthday sleepover.

Let me confess we’re not super-organized parents when it comes to children’s parties. We don’t plan games and activities. We tend to let the kids direct their own amusement (within reason, of course) while the party’s happening.

Last weekend, the girls decided to do crafts. The party began Friday afternoon while I was at work and I came home to find the living room carpet hidden under a work session involving scissors, paper, glue, cereal boxes, crayons and markers. Later, they decided to raid the dress-up clothes and staged a skit, complete with a song and dance number. The next morning they opted to create Play-doh food while my husband and I dutifully played restaurant customers.

It was interesting.

We looked at each other and couldn’t help saying, “This is a lot different than Nathan’s parties.”

When boys come to visit, they ransack the box with the plastic swords and Nerf guns and head outside to do battle. They disappear into the woods, emerging from time to time shouting and chasing — or running from — invisible foes. They come back inside dirty, sweaty and asking, “What is there to eat?”

Researchers have been arguing the nature/nurture question for years. I don’t pretend to know the answer. I just notice the girls seem to stay inside more and be quieter. When Bailey was younger, they were louder — but still mostly inside, still playing with crayons and pretend food and dress-up clothes.

My daughter is completely capable of holding her own in the war games, just as my son is able to quietly complete a project indoors. I’m sure their friends are equally diverse in their talents as individuals. So what makes a group of boys do one thing while a group of girls does something else?