We had a lovely Christmas, we really did. Our prep, while time-consuming, came off without a hitch. The boys were thrilled with their gifts in the most simple, refreshingly non-greedy way. They had a blast playing with their cousins and wishing everyone a “Mawwy Chwimas!” / “Ma mas!” And we thoroughly enjoyed witnessing their joy. Like I said, it was lovely.
But you know what came next, don’t you? The Day After Christmas. The one that you tell yourself will be great because children will be tired and they’ll have lots of new toys to play with and a couple of new movies to watch. But the problem is, children are exhausted and they have lots of new toys to feel possessive about and a couple of new movies to compete with their shouting matches. Or at least, that’s how it went in our house.
Towards the end of the (LOUD, jarring) day, my fried little brain started asking that unkind question: “Why, oh why, has God seen fit to give me all boys?”
I can only assume that these boys are meant to give my patience and my intellect and my very soul a supreme work-out, because I promise you that I am not the kind of woman who is naturally suited to life with boys.
Don’t get me wrong: my boys are wonderful. They are ridiculously cute, more loving and cuddly than I could ever have hoped for, bright, cheerful, creative, even kind and polite. The cliché rings true: I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
But still, I find life with small boys to be something like walking through an automatic carwash. You’re jostled, you’re sprayed (sorry – that one was too easy), you’re pelted, you’re surrounded by NOISE, you’re knocked down, you’re roughed up, and everything’s coming at you so quickly and furiously that pretty much all you can do is react. And duck.
So, as much as I love, love, love my boys, do you know what comment from well-meaning strangers I find most irksome? It’s not, “You’ve got your hands full!” It’s not even “Treasure every moment!” It’s… wait for it… “Boys are easier than girls.”
I get that all. the. time.
Stranger: “Two little boys!”
Me: “Yep. And we’re expecting a third!”
Stranger: “Three boys! Well, at least boys are easier than girls!”
I’m generally very good at not letting strangers’ comments bother me; I think that most come from kindness or sympathy and I choose to take them that way. But this one bugs the heck out of me.
For one thing, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a girl. Or I was. And I was a girly girl too, so any drama/intrigue that you want to blame on girls, I’m sure I was guilty of at some point. Sue me for being a little defensive of my sex.
For another thing, my desire to someday have a daughter is quite genuine. It’s not so wobbly as to be shaken by strangers’ warnings that girls are particularly hard to parent. I could give you a whole list of reasons as to why I’d like to have a daughter. And cute little dresses don’t even feature prominently among them. (By the way, I loved this post. I loved seeing daughters celebrated, for once. Just because I don’t have girls of my own, doesn’t mean I want them to have a bad rap.)
But mostly, the comment bothers me because, this parenting boys thing? This is not easy. Wonderful in its own way? Most definitely. But easy? Absolutely not.
Boys are LOUD*. They are destructive. They are aggressive, even violent. They think they are invincible. I know that parents bemoan the difficulty of dealing with girls’ emotions, but I personally feel better equipped to pick my way through the emotional morass than to constantly worry if my boys are going to break their necks. My mother used to say of my brother and me: “You have to worry about keeping Julie happy. You have to worry about keeping Eric alive.”
(*Yes, yes, yes – I know that there are exceptions to every rule. I know that there must be some rare docile male specimens out there, as well as some destructive females. But I’ve found that, by and large, there’s a truth to the aforementioned stereotype. Certainly, it’s borne out in my home.)
Boys, as little males, also think rather differently than we females do. And I confess, so often I just don’t get them. They delight in destruction, seeming to build only so they can tear down. (Seriously, why do we even have building blocks – aka sharp-edged projectiles – in our house?) They are often oblivious to others’ pain. Little brother can be lying on the floor, shrieking from a bleeding head wound, and big brother will be trying to tell me a story about how monsters can be scared away by dogs. They are forever in-the-moment, emotionally. The boys and I can have just emerged from a major, dramatic disagreement, involving (them, not me – I promise) wailing and throwing themselves on the floor, and all-of-a-sudden, they’re fine! I’m left all hot and huffy and they’re like no big deal! Let’s eat lollipops!
Let me paint you a picture of life in our home: Imagine a writhing bundle of boy, a tangled mess of arms and legs, shrieking as it rolls from one end of the house to the other. Imagine small boys chasing each other in circles, roaring, fangs and claws bared. Imagine a flurry of crumbs flying from their hands and mouths as they eat, because – didn’t you know – they’re sharks, not boys after all. Imagine pirates and lions and bears. Everywhere. All the time.
You try to sit and read them a book; they jump across the sofa, onto you. (Like, actually onto you – and they’re not particular as to which part of your body bears the brunt of their attack.) You hand them an old paper towel roll, it becomes a sword. You hand them a broom, it becomes a sword. You hand them a sword and a “Thefirsttimeyouhitsomeonewiththisitgoesaway!” and you hear screaming in about three minutes.
Imagine that your boy tells you he has made his dinosaur hairy. You’re momentarily puzzled, until you see this:
And you realize he’s done this:
Or even this:
This Advent, I brought out our child-friendly nativity set to try to teach the boys the story of Christmas. Even though I’d really prefer to focus on the few precious moments when my boys were talking about Mary and Baby Jesus and tenderly moving the nativity pieces across the table, I fear that that the BANG! BANG! BANG!** I heard from the family room one day is closer to the truth. Because my boy was, indeed, smashing every figure of the (thankfully, plastic) nativity set to the floor with his (thankfully, also plastic) hammer.
And that hammer-on-Baby-Jesus scenario is regrettably still preferable to the manger-on-little-brother scenario that took place a couple of weeks earlier. Because, yes, my older son threw this:
At his brother’s face. With force. From across the room.
And even though that offense landed him in bed for a full hour, he still went ahead and repeated it the next day. (Though fortunately, that time he only got the little guy on the foot.)
(**Yes, all three offenses were greeted with the appropriate level of Catholic guilt, including stern exclamations that included the words “HOLY” and “GOD” and “CHRISTMAS.”)
Oh, well – you get the idea. I’ve probably gone overboard with my picture-painting. The bottom line is that Boys ≠ Easy. Which isn’t to say that Girls = Easy. My grandmother, a mother to seven, boys and girls included, maintains that a five-year-old boy about equals a 15-year-old girl in difficulty. They’re both hard, she says – just at different times. The other day, my aunt told me much the same, except she emphasized that my hard (assuming I never have girls, that is) will be over in a few years. Girls’ hard, she said, is “a long, slow boil.”
That may well be true. I don’t know what it’s like to have teenaged boys, let alone teenaged girls. But I feel pretty sure that when I get to that point in parenthood, I still won’t think it’s easy. Easier, perhaps, than the little-boy years, but still not easy. One never stops being a parent, never stops worrying, never stops feeling some measure of responsibility. I expect that when I’m a mother to teenaged boys, my mind will be firmly trained on the self-sufficient, moral, responsible young men I’ll soon need to turn out into the world. My daily life may be less frantic then than it is now, but its consequences (other than the keeping-boys-alive thing, that is) will be weightier.
I’ll end on another boys-related comment I received from a stranger the other day. It was the week before Christmas, at the tail-end of our one-and-only mall shopping trip of the holiday season. I was exhausted, the boys were hyped-up. They were strapped into their double stroller, swatting and kicking each other, squealing. We were waiting to check out in always-cramped Gymboree (why in the world doesn’t a children’s clothing store leave more room for strollers?) and strict-mommy Julie had given up on trying to contain the boys’ enthusiastic aggression. I shrugged and gave the other waiting mommies a pathetic glance and said, “There comes a point when you just can’t do anything else.” They chuckled and smiled sympathetically and an older woman, a grandmother, replied, “Boys are different, aren’t they?”
I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Yes. Yes, boys are different. Not better, not worse. Not easier. Boys are just different.
P.S. If any of you are mothers-to-boys, in need of more sympathy and solidarity, be sure to check out Rachel Balducci’s blog, Testosterhome. Rachel is a mother to five boys – and one beautiful little girl. A friend gifted me with Rachel’s book when I had my first son. It gave me great joy, great comfort, and maybe just a little bit of fear too. It turned me on to Testosterhome, which later introduced me to more mommy blogs, which then introduced me to others. All of my favorite reads today can be traced back to Testosterhome, and for that – not to mention all the solidarity – I am sincerely grateful to Rachel. (And to Mary.)