Before I became a mother, I was, and still am, a feminist. My version of feminism at the time acknowledged few essential differences between males and females of the human species. I was convinced that socialisation – parenting, schooling, peers, and the media – accounted for most of the differences we see between boys and girls, men and women. Another gap between ideas and the real world, it seems.

Today I found myself at a nearby park at a windy 6:20 p.m. feeling distinctly – well, nervous – as I realised I was the only female for miles around. There were some teenage boys playing basketball in the court nearby and a few rough looking younger boys kicking balls up into trees, and then me and my toddler son, who does such a good drop-kick that he even got an admiring remark from one of the ‘tough lads’: “Good kick, especially for a little kid.”

I notice how at the age of two and nine months, my son’s ball skills have surpassed my meagre ones already, and how he looks at the older boys with fascination, soaking in everything they do with an attentive eye. That’s where he learned how to drop kick: sure, I showed him a couple of times, but he was the one who asked me how to show him in the first place, because he’d seen other boys doing it. As a girl, I avoided ball sports like the plague, even hiding in the cloakrooms before gym (or P.E. as it was called). I was so unco-ordinated I couldn’t fathom how to return a volleyball or hit a ball with a bat, and I froze up with fear when a ball came my way.

So this is all new and foreign territory as I notice I’m spending at least 1o minutes a day doing a formerly despised and feared activity, and almost enjoying it at times. Often it’s all too easy to think of Jude as ‘my child’ and so when his gifts and interests emerge in a different – and very masculine direction – I not only realise that he is after all quite a separate being, but also a sense of foreignness creeps in: after all, I have never even remotely understood the male species (even now).

As a women who grew up in a very female household (a sister, a mother, a grandmother and a lone male: my dad), boys and men fascinate, excite and terrify me by turns. At school, boys were the ones who teased and bullied me most – although girls could be vicious in their own ways. It’s so strange to think that my own child is now the possessor of this masculinity, that can take so many different forms, but often in our society is distinctly twisted in one direction. I walked past a mother with a young son yesterday, saw him fall and bite back the tears as she said, “You ain’t crying, see, you ain’t a cry baby, you’re a big boy.”

Of course there are many girls and women who love ball sports and physical activity: but Jude has been largely brought up by me, someone who couldn’t care less about such things, yet he showed a clear preference for looking at ball play since before he could say the word: from as soon as he could turn his head as a baby.

It’s not just the interest in balls and climbing, the need to be ‘walked’ like a dog (while I was happy to spend hours curled up with dolls and books asĀ  a child), and the ‘vroom-vroom’ gene as Susan Maushart, author of ‘The Mask of Motherhood’ calls it: it’s the sense of separateness, a feeling that in some sense I will never understand my son and what makes him tick, because he is, well, the opposite gender from me. I felt a sadness as I looked at the older boys and realised that Jude won’t want to play ball with me for very much longer, that in the not too distant future he’s going to be firmly ensconced in a peer group of boys. That they will become his barometer of how well he is doing. Now, he asks for cuddles and kisses and to be picked up, and needs me to kiss his knee better when he falls; so I try to appreciate these moments, although I’d really rather be in the bath with a book.

Which, actually, I’m going to do right now that he’s finally asleep (yes, I needed the breathing technique as it was a bit of a battle again…)

But first: a tip for managing the gap between your patience as you’d like it to be, and the rapidly wearing-thin-sense-of-tolerance that is sometimes the less palatable reality. Applicable to parents and non-parents alike. It’s a simple tool called the square breath. Simply inhale to the count of four, hold for four, exhale to four, and hold out for four. Continue until you notice that your state of mind has changed, or at least you’re concentrating more on the breath than whatever’s threatening to ‘make’ you lose your cool. It’s helped me many times when I’m feeling a sense of time pressure or a situation of high emotional velocity.

Oh, and magnesium. I’ve noticed a big difference since I’ve been taking a magnesium supplement once a day. It was recommended on a natural parenting site for helping people cope with the stresses of everyday life, and I’ve noticed since I’ve been taking it that I feel – well, just more in control. I still feel irritated when Jude, say, won’t go to sleep and I desperate for some me time, or he’s asking me the same question for the tenth time – but I don’t feel that sense of water rising above my head. Apparently many of us are magnesium depleted with today’s depleted soil and diets, so it’s worth looking into it. Oh, and it has to be taken separately from calcium or any other vitamin or mineral, so as to be absorbed properly.

Oh, yes…that bath is getting cold. Have a good week!