Oh, Boys

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!

Would you believe that moments after this picture was taken, they dropped to the floor and started wrestling? At church? In front of the HOLY FAMILY?

Would you believe that moments after this picture was taken, they dropped to the floor and started wrestling? At church? In front of the HOLY FAMILY?

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.)

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 18)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

I think I’ll lead off today with my weekly NPR recommendation. Like last week’s, this one is a little off-beat, but I found it fascinating. It’s from one of my new favorite NPR programs: The TED Radio Hour. Per its website, the show is “A journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, and new ways to think and create. Based on riveting TEDTalks from the world’s most remarkable minds.” (TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design. Check out more about TED here.)

Anyway, last weekend’s TED Radio Hour focused on “Why We Collaborate.” The whole thing was interesting, but the second segment stuck out to me the most: “Luis von Ahn: Can You Crowdsource Without Even Knowing It?”

You know those annoying little “CAPTCHA” codes you have to enter to register a comment, etc. with more and more websites all the time? The ones you (or maybe just I) can barely type in correctly, because they’re just so hard to discern? Mr. von Ahn helped to invent them. (And he seems to express the appropriate remorse.) Though of course CAPTCHA codes have their utility (to prevent computer programs from posing as individuals), they take about 10 seconds to complete. And that 10 seconds per person adds up to an awful lot of time when you’re talking about millions of computer users.

So Mr. von Ahn started to think about how those 10 seconds might be used collectively for some productive purpose. He ultimately founded reCAPTCHA, a company that uses images from old books as its CAPTCHA codes. Yes, actual old books. Because – get this – the company is harnessing those individual 10 seconds, from millions of computer users, to digitize the books. When an old text is scanned so that it can be digitized, software is used to read/input as much of it as possible, but there remain portions that the software can’t read properly. So real people need to do it. With reCAPTCHA, you and I get to be those real people. We see a snippet of text from some old book, we use our human eyes and minds to discern what it means, and we enter it into some massive database.

I have to admit that the idea just about made me giddy. Preserving the information in old books for the future? Love. Making efficient use of a (cumulative) massive amount of time? Love. Turning something super annoying into something actually useful? Love! I’m sure I’ll never enjoy typing in CAPTCHA codes, but I’ll probably find them significantly less annoying than I used to. I’ll certainly never look at them the same way again.

* I have to end this Take with a little caveat: When I gleefully told my husband about this digitizing-books-via-CAPTCHA-codes thing, his technical mind was a bit skeptical. How, he asked, does reCAPTCHA validate your answer if you’re the one producing it in the first place? Sometimes you type in your answer and you’re told it’s incorrect. If reCAPTCHA doesn’t already have the correct answer on file, how can it know that your answer is wrong? He’s a clever one, my husband. This problem hadn’t occurred to me. I wish the radio host had asked about it, because I really am interested to know the answer. There has got to be one!

— 2 —

That was long. I promise to make the rest of my Takes much quicker.

I think the following was my favorite image from this week:


“Twain masters get weawy firsty.” He had just said, with authority.

— 3 —

Also (and this is rather less endearing), a short while ago I caught him shoving his little brother. When I stopped him, he said, “Dat’s because I have muscles!”

Me: “You are not allowed to push your brother!” Him: “But I have muscles!” Me: “Yes, and you’re supposed to use them to help people, not hurt them.” I don’t think he was convinced.

— 4 —

Did you see Jen’s post this week on giant, stinging centipedes that you wake in the middle of the night to find on your FACE? (Shiver.) I still don’t have anything to compare with those horrible Texas critters. (“We are NEVER moving to Texas!” I told my husband last night.) But we still do have critters. Brennan’s back into pest control mode here. After finding a few vacated glue traps in the basement earlier this week, he decided to replace them with the standard snapping variety. (Shudder.)

Well, yesterday evening I cautiously opened the basement door to maybe get something I needed down there. I listened closely, and I heard it: a rustling around, whipping back-and-forth sound. I decided I didn’t need that item so badly after all. Instead, I sent Brennan after it when he got home from work. And sure enough, he found another snake on a glue trap. This time he refused to tell me how big it was. Which probably freaked me out more than if he’d just gone ahead and told me. I don’t think I’ll set foot in that basement again until next summer. At least.

— 5 —

Speaking of critters, it looks like nobody triumphed on my little beekeeping challenge from yesterday. (Though Betsy got kind of close!) For those of you who didn’t see, I included the following picture (taken on an apple-picking trip earlier this week) and asked if anyone knew why my beekeeper husband found it puzzling.


The answer is that (a) those hives are a lot taller than one would expect them to be this time of year, and (b) the boxes that make up the hives look to be “honey supers.” Supers are used for, yes… honey. Beekeepers generally only place them on their hives in the spring, for the bees to fill up with honey during the nectar flow. At honey harvest time (in this part of the country, that’s late June/early July), the supers are removed. Honey is extracted and the comb/supers are stored away for the following year. So fall/winter beehives are usually much shorter than their spring/summer counterparts.

As for why these particular beekeepers might have left supers on their hives, my husband could only assume that they’re being used for brood (that is the eggs/larvae/bees themselves) rather than honey. But who knows?

— 6 —

We’ve had a series of rainy days here this week and – seriously – I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time fantasizing about contraptions to channel my boys’ energy onto something other than myself. I am so very, very tired of being a human jungle gym. (Also, the noise, the noise! I think, for my sanity, I might need to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.)


There is of course, the padded/bouncy room idea. On a smaller scale, I seriously wonder if I could buy them each a small trampoline and tie netting around each (trampoline, not boy) in such a way that the netting keeps the boys contained/safe/bouncing around happily. Similarly, I wish there were a safe way for me to stick them on the treadmill. And also, you know those lovely baby bouncers you can put a 9-month-old in to occupy them? Let’s see the toddler version. It would have to involve a major harness, a big-time bouncing capability, and various things to hit/bang/knock over.


Like this, only way more exciting.

— 7 —

All that said (and all my angsty Facebook complaining aside), I actually struck on a pretty good activity for the boys this afternoon. I suppose you might call it Pinteresty, though I’m not on Pinterest, so I wouldn’t really know. I call it motherly desperation. I threw a couple of bath towels on the kitchen table along with a bunch of measuring cups and spoons and various play kitchen items. Then I filled the bowls with water and told the boys to go at it (but not to tip over the bowls!) It kept the little one occupied for nearly an hour and the big one occupied for over two. I don’t think I’ve ever happened upon an activity (even our outdoor water table) that has held their interest for so long. I’m rather too proud of myself right now. (And yet also aware that this activity is probably a no-brainer to most mothers.)



On that note, let’s call it a week! Have a great weekend, all! Don’t forget to head on over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes. (And if you haven’t “liked” These Walls on Facebook, please do!)

Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 2)

— 1 —

Well, good morning! I feel like I’ve just emerged from a tunnel, blinking at the bright light of the great outdoors. I’m worn out, bleary-eyed, and trying to get a handle on the long, long list of things I need to do so our family can function normally again. All because… we just got back from vacation. (A tad dramatic sometimes, Julie?)

It wasn’t even a very stressful vacation, it’s just that I’m coming off a few weeks’ worth of constant logistical planning, two flights with toddlers and all their associated gear, a week with my two rolling, wrestling lion cubs in a house filled with breakable things, and about four times the number of outings we’re used to having per week. Not to mention the fact that we had a houseguest with us for the two weeks prior to our own trip.

So, I’m tired. And a little loopy. Consider this fair warning, friends: Do not expect much of me for the next week or so. (Except for blogging – see number 5, below.) Talk about Recovery Mondays… I think I’m in for a good recovery week, at least.

— 2 —

Still, the stress of this year’s vacation was nothing compared to last year’s. Then, the trip itself (to Minnesota, like this year’s) was more complicated. The boys were a year younger and required, accordingly, more gear than they do now. The trip was longer, and it included a trip-within-a-trip: We started and ended the visit in the Twin Cities, but also fit in a visit to a lake “up north,” where Brennan’s family had a little mini-reunion.

But the real kicker is that, at the last-minute, we decided to put our house on the market the very day we left for our trip. So not only did we have to plan for our vacation and our vacation-within-a-vacation, but we had to clean our house from top-to-bottom, purge nearly half of our things from it, stage our furniture, etc. for photos and viewings, and conduct negotiations with our realtors and the people whose home we were trying to buy.  And we did all of this in about two weeks – possibly the most stressful weeks of my life. Only those leading up to our wedding came anywhere close. Quite literally, we had our first prospective buyer walk into the house as we were marshaling our luggage and boys out of it.


I can see the carpet! Evidence of some serious decluttering.


Do you see that glass-topped coffee table in the living room? Yeah, the glass was only for show. Normally we removed it for toddler safety and let the little ones use the table as a jungle gym. Same goes for the end tables. We had to stick those lovely lamps in the basement whenever the house wasn’t being shown or photographed.


See, Mom? No dirty clothes on the floor or anything!


If only our room always looked so restful…

— 3 —

But back to Minnesota Visit 2013. We had a very nice time, and for all my bleary-eyed exhaustion, it really was a low-key, relaxing kind of a vacation. We stayed with Brennan’s (very kind) aunt and uncle, whom our littlest guy dubbed “Mama” (Grandma) and “Dat-Dat.” We got to see Brennan’s mother and stepfather, every single one of Brennan’s eight siblings, many of their spouses, one of our boys’ cousins, a couple of Brennan’s cousins, and several of his aunts and uncles. We spent one afternoon at the Como Zoo and another at Minnehaha Falls – just a few hours at each: long enough to have a good time, short enough to avoid toddler/parent exhaustion. And we even took a break from it all in the middle of the week: I did laundry and unpacked/repacked our suitcases while the boys watched a couple of movies. I made a big ol’ mental note to repeat this little mid-week break in all future vacations. It was great to be able to relax the second half of our vacation, knowing that our stuff was under control and we’d all had a bit of rest.

— 4 —

I’ll probably write more about our trip later, but for now, here are a couple of my favorite photos:

Cool kids with their cool shades at Minnehaha Falls

Cool kids with their cool shades at Minnehaha Falls

Cute little passengers, aren't they?

Cute little passengers, aren’t they?

— 5 —

A week away from my computer left me with something of a traffic jam of ideas in my mind. Normally when I have an idea for something I’d like to write about, I type up a few thoughts on a Word document, to be revisited later. And I try to capitalize on the times when the words flow freely. Without my computer, this week was a little frustrating in that respect. As great as smartphones are for keeping up with Facebook and peeking in on my favorite blogs, they are not good outlets for the creative juices, as far as I’m concerned. So I picked up an old-fashioned pad of yellow legal paper and started to jot down some ideas. By the time we got home I had more than a dozen posts lined up. (Lined up – not written.) Which is great, except – When will I get the time to do all that writing?

Enter Jen Fulwiler’s7 Posts in 7 Days: An Epic Blogging Challenge.” There’s still the whole “When will I get the time to do all that writing?” thing, but hey, the gauntlet has been thrown down and (surprisingly enough) I’m feeling up for a challenge right now. Sooo… check back in tomorrow! And the next day! And so forth – until next Monday, when I’ll finally be released from the bonds of Jen’s challenge. Or rather, from my own stubborn personality.

— 6 —

As a post-script of sorts, here’s an explanation of my “Monday Morning Miscellany” idea. I missed a few weeks of it due to the aforementioned houseguest and out-of-town trip, but now that we’re past those things, I’m going to try to get back into it. So I suppose I should amend my ending to number 5, above. I’m committing myself to posting through next Monday. And each Monday morning thereafter. (Cringe.) Happy week to all of you!