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Mothers with no sons lived for 33.1 years after their last baby, vs 32.7 years for mums with three boys.

“…the life-shortening effects were experienced only by mothers, not fathers.”

So, the hot news in evolutionary biology is that women with sons die earlier than women with daughters.

Nature, which I read all the time (when I’m not following links tweeted by @zooarchaeologis), reported that each son born shortens a woman’s life by 34 weeks. I have three boys, so that’s nearly TWO YEARS of me-time I’ll never get back.

But why? The researchers aren’t sure. Their study was based on pre-Industrial Finnish villagers, so it’s a bit late to ask. Are the reasons biological (boys are milk-guzzling energy leeches) or social (daughters help more with the housework)?

To help unravel the mystery, I devoted a morning to science and collected some data. Our house has pre-Industrial hygiene levels, so I’m confident it will stand.

The day begins at 2 am, 4 am and 6 am. Support for the biological theory that boys are “energetically more demanding to breastfeed”. Though I suspect only my baby boys think four night feeds is the deal for the first year.

The day really begins at 6.30 am, when my other sons pad into the room. I open my eyes to see my four-year-old walking up the bed, sans nappy.

Mothers with no sons lived for 33.1 years after their last baby, vs 32.7 years for mums with three boys.

Mothers with no sons lived for 33.1 years after their last baby, vs 32.7 years for mums with three boys.

“My nappy’s dry. Can I have a star?”

“Where’s your nappy?”

“There.”

I turn my head and recoil in horror. The nappy is laid out, Godfather-style, on the neighbouring pillow. And it is dry, so I’ll have to reward him for this. Another point for biology – boys spread bacteria.

08:45. The baby naps and the boys are ready for second breakfast.

“I’m going to hop to the table,” announces the eldest, carrying four pints of milk without a lid. I remain calm. Crying over split milk could lop a couple of weeks off an already truncated lifespan.

09:08. We need to leave the house at 9.30 am to get to swimming. We’d better get dressed.

“Where are those pants you had?”

“Upstairs, in the pirate ship.”

And they were. A point for the social theory. In a house of boys, nothing is ever in the right place.

10:00. Take children swimming. An aging experience, whatever their gender.

“What did you do in swimming today?”

“We played nits.”

What?

“Oliver had nits, and he had to catch someone, and then they had nits.”

Time and a fine-toothed comb will tell if that’s the latest version of tag, or a biological reality.

12:05. Garden time! “I’ve got flowers for you Mummy.” My two year old comes in holding most of a shrub, ripped from the ground. Boys love their mums, but the way they express it often doubles your workload. It’s 4–3 to the social theories.

12:20. My two-year-old is back inside, in tears, peeling off wet, muddy trousers. He eat three-quarters of my lunch and heads for the stairs.

“Don’t go upstairs. The baby’s sleeping.”

“I be quiet.”

[Fierce voice] “What do you want up there?” Whatever it is, it can wait.

[Sad whisper] “Trousers.

That actually seems reasonable. I feel like a mean mummy.

As I creep across his bedroom to fetch dry trousers, there is a crunch underfoot, a silent cry of pain, and a light bulb moment. It wasn’t hungry babies, bacteria or even stress that killed those Finnish mums of boys. It was 32.7 years of picking up Lego.

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There were Mother’s Day cards to collect at preschool pick-up. They’d asked every child to answer the question ‘I love my Mummy because…’ and stuck the answers to hand-painted pictures.

I got a preview of other kids’ answers as my four-year-old’s keyworker flicked through the pile:

I love my Mummy because… “She tickles me and it’s funny”

I love my Mummy because… “She is beautiful”

I love my Mummy because… “I love her”

And then we came to my son’s card:

Hand

Added to his assessment of how I spend my time when he’s at preschool, I think they are building up a fine picture of my parenting technique.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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