I’ve been thinking about boys lately. Not the way I used to, when I was a boy-crazed teenager. (But that was fun too!) I’ve been thinking about the boys I’m raising, as a mom, as a woman. I want them to be the kind of boys worthy of someone’s love and trust one day. I want them to be the kind of boys who stand up for what is right; who speak up for those who need a voice–even when it is hard. I want them to be the kind of boys who are not afraid of emotion, but find strength in the moments that make them feel. I want them to be the kind of boys who somehow get it that they need to be bigger than the privilege they were born into. I want them to be the kind of people who leave the world a better place than they found it. Not in spite of them being boys, but because they are boys. Truth be told, I think boys are pretty amazing.
Slugs and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of. As much as the stereotypes about girls made me feel confined and angry growing up, the ones about boys did too. Sugar and spice and everything nice?! I for one, was definitely more slugs and snails than sugar; and knew many a boy far sweeter than I—with just the right balance of spice. I was the only girl in my family, sandwiched between a younger brother and older cousins. I learned how to use a power drill and pitch a tent before I could drive, and I never believed I had to choose between building forts and baking cupcakes. And neither should my boys.
My whole life primed me to be a BoyMom.
It started with my younger brother. I was truly my brother’s keeper during times of family turmoil, and in turn, he was my first best friend. He was all at once quiet, diplomatic, and sensitive. Able to keep things inside that I, in my girly-blurty urgency, could not. He showed love and kindness with a subtlety that somehow meant more because it was coming from him. When he held your hand or hugged you, you paid attention, because it didn’t come easily.
As a teacher, before I had my own kids, I noticed the same thing with my students. The girls love easily, they make cards, give hugs, and stay in after school to sharpen pencils. The boys wait and observe. Will you be funny? Will you understand them? Will you even try to get to know them? Once they come around, they are yours, loyal to the end.
My favorite storybook heroes were boys. I’m sorry Gloria Steinem, I really am a feminist; but if I’m honest, the boys in my childhood stories ignited my imagination the most. I loved a good adventure and other than Pippi Longstocking and Lucy Pevensie, most of the books I read were filled with boys. I wanted to explore caves with Tom Sawyer, never-grow-up with Peter Pan, and trek though the Misty Mountains with Bilbo Baggins. Charlie Bucket was another favorite. Who doesn’t admire a kind-hearted, family oriented kid who earned the trust and love of a zany candy maker like Willy Wonka? Just when I was leaving the world of childhood adventure to gather dust on bookshelves, Harry Potter came along. I was hooked again and wanted nothing more than to visit the world of Hogwarts and head to Hogsmeade for a butter beer.
Everything I experienced in life told me that there was more to boys than noise and dirt.
Now, as the mother of two boys, they are often a blur of messy chaos racing through the house. There are many moments I live in fear of destruction—and muddy floors. I’ve had to strip down my little one in front of the house on rainy days, dumping water and mud from boots and wringing out clothes; only to carry his wet squishy body to the tub to rid him of caked-on dirt.
I have had to wildly search my house for dozens of snails when my first-born decided to “rescue” them from the garden and relocate them to his play fire station…in his bedroom. I have found banana slugs in pockets on drives home from hikes… stowed away as a hopeful new pet. “But Mom, his name is Pizza and he wants to live with me.”
I’ve had to leave campgrounds and tents to frantically race down windy mountain roads in search of ER rooms for X-rays of little, bony arms and legs. I’ve anxiously watched skin be glued and pupils be dilated in search of concussions.
And the potty talk is Over-The-Top. I would be rich if I had just a penny for every time my boys bring up topics like farting, burping, or target-peeing on some unsuspecting object (that I am usually left to clean and scrub). And if I could collect a dime for all the times a squealing, naked body has streaked across my living room, I’d be on a boat to Fiji with a fruity drink in my hand—never to return.
They fight. A Lot. Even though they are six years apart, one is not more mature than the other, at least not consistently. There are enough dirty looks, flying fists, and insults in my house to fill up an episode of Game of Thrones. Every. Single. Day.
But, they make me laugh.
My youngest one will often rub my back filled with empathy and say, “I’m sooo sorry Mommy, that you don’t have a wiener.” He is genuinely so concerned, I just don’t have the heart to tell him that I am not sorry one bit, and he can take worrying about my lack of a wiener off of his to-do list.
And here is an actual conversation we had about bodily functions (loudly…in the middle of a store!):
Him (exuberantly): I farted!
Me: You can just say, excuse me.
Him: No, I dooon’t waaaant to say eck-cuze me.
Him: Because then you won’t know that I farted!
And they are tender.
My nine-year old takes everything in and sits with his feelings. He’s a thinker. He is the type of kid to root for the underdog and notice injustice. He cried when he read Where the Red Fern Grows, and when I took him to see The Phantom of the Opera he was deeply moved by the story and the music. He still likes to be tucked in at night and can’t sleep without his dog curled up beside him. (If it were up to him we’d have hundreds more–all rescues.)
My three-year old climbs into bed with me every morning and pushes our tummies together under the covers. He is always ready with hugs and kisses upon departures or arrivals and calls me “Fweety-Pie” more often than Mommy. When I lay with him at night before bedtime, he rubs my cheeks and says, “Wook at that toot wittle face!” with so much love in his eyes it’s palpable.
As the mother of two boys, I bear witness daily to what I’ve always known is true— Boys are as complex as girls; and just like girls, cannot be boiled down to bumper sticker slogans and generalizations. Boys and girls are not predisposition to be one way, to choose sides. We share so much just being human. I live in the overlap of boys and girls and it is a beautiful, silly, and sometimes loud and dirty, place to be.
My boys may be made of slugs and snails and puppy dog tails. But if you look closely, you’ll find that they have bathed and named the slugs, rescued the snails, and snuggled the puppy dog tails lovingly with muddy hands.