This is an essay about the joy of parenting boys, despite the noise and the mess – or maybe because of it… I wrote this six years ago (almost to the day) right when I was in the thick of all that active, chaotic, boyishness. My boys were eleven, nine and five years old. It’s so bittersweet reading it now that they’re big – my oldest is heading off to college in the fall and my house will be so much quieter. Even at seventeen, fifteen and eleven, the house is still loud and messy and full of non-stop motion, except now they play hockey in the living room, instead of football. But now I know how ephemeral it really is. It seems like yesterday that I wrote this essay and six years from now, I’ll be getting ready to send my youngest off to college…
~ Boys Will Be Boys ~
First Published on Boys, Dogs and Chaos on January 26, 2010
I am insanely jealous of my husband, Jeff. I’m talking green with envy jealousy. I’m not jealous of the women he may talk to. He coaches two of our kids’ teams every season – if I were jealous of all the moms he talked to, I wouldn’t have the energy to watch the games. No, I may be jealous of the coach, but not the women. I am jealous, because he gets to relieve his youth every day with our three boys. He gets to bond with them and experience the joys of childhood. They build model rockets together and paint and glue intricately detailed model cars – Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Audis. They play catch and football.
When I asked if my boys wanted to play with my old Barbie dolls during a recent visit to my parents, what do you think the answer was? A resounding “NO!” of course. I gaze longingly at the doll aisle in Target, knowing I’ll never need to shop there, except for birthday gifts (which, of course, I always look forward to buying). And yes, I tried to dispel stereotypes and bought my boys baby dolls and even the Barbie Happy Family Alan and Ryan set (a dad with a toddler in a stroller). The baby dolls languished in a dusty corner of my basement, until I passed them along to a neighbor, so at least her little girl would get joy out of them. The Alan doll suffered a much worse fate – he’s now a gruesome headless figure used in battles, his preppy outfit and camera long gone, the stroller irreparably broken.
Don’t get me wrong. I love having boys and I wouldn’t trade any of them for a girl (at least not on most days). I’ve only threatened to sell them on eBay once and even then I really didn’t mean it. I think. I wasn’t even “trying for a girl” when I got pregnant the third time – an assumption an annoying amount of people jumped to. I knew I’d have another boy and that was just fine with me. Of course, I’ll admit that if I did get pregnant with a girl now – a little sister to be doted on by her big brothers – I would be over the moon. Only one problem, though – I’d need to find a new husband first. No more babies in our house, girl or boy. I got Jeff to agree to adopt a second dog (another girl, of course) and even convinced him to allow our middle son to bring two frogs into the fold of our family, but another baby? It ain’t happenin’. I just have to wait for daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
I’ve heard time and again that girls are harder to raise. I think that boys are harder until the teenage years, though. When boys are little, they are bundles of energy, using the couch as a trampoline and playing football in the hallway. Even my eleven year old does flips over the back of the couch and tosses passes in the living room. When they fight it pretty much always deteriorates into the physical. Like a clash of Roman gladiators in an ancient amphitheater, the fight’s not over until someone is lying on the ground or I scream loudly enough to burst eardrums. They think bodily functions are hilarious and sneak in the word, “fart” whenever possible. They even put their own charming spin on songs – “Maybe, I can see your butt. Maybe, I can see you fart…,” to the tune of Beyonce’s lovely ballad, “Halo.” I’m sure she didn’t have those lyrics in mind when she and her writing partners penned the tune. But, they are also fiercely loyal and as one friend told me just after I gave birth to my first son, “Boys love their mamas.”
And, they love hockey. This is very important, since it’s my chance to truly bond with my boys. Sure, I read books to them and cuddle with them – that’s all wonderful and warm. But, hockey has us jumping up and down and hugging each other and giving fist bumps and high fives. Jeff, a Boston native, gets them for baseball, basketball and football. I have no qualms that they love his Boston teams, even though we live in New York (and I like the Mets, Knicks and Giants). I just pass along all of the Knicks and Jets gear handed down from my nephew without a second thought – after all, Celtics and Patriots fans can’t wear that. Raising Red Sox fans in Yankees country? I couldn’t care less, but if any of them professed a love for the Boston Bruins – or god forbid the New York Islanders – I don’t think I would ever recover.
I love that my boys get so excited, that they all pile up on me when our beloved New York Rangers score – all of them trying to hug me at once, before we do our fist bumps and high fives. I love that I can pass on that part of my childhood. I have been a Rangers fan since I was four years old and I have many happy memories of cheering them on with my older brother.
My bedroom wall was plastered with Rangers memorabilia and on my night table sat the puck my favorite player, Don Maloney, handed me during a public practice. My boys love hearing about those practices and how I sat in Section 314 at Madison Square Garden, whenever I was lucky enough to go to a game. When we watch hockey together, we get loud and I have to admit, it’s so liberating not to feel like I need to shush them. As any mom of boys knows, loudness is their natural state of being and we quash it so often.
I would prefer them a bit quieter at other times, though. My boys are loud – plain and simple. When friends call, they often assume that I am in the middle of hosting a crowd. “No, no – those are just my boys,” I explain. Add three boys, two dogs and daily drum practice together and you have the makings of hearing loss (or at least a nasty migraine) for mom. There are times that I just go into the bathroom, close the door, turn on the vent and the faucet and… Well, sometimes I’ll just enjoy the moment and sometimes I’ll hiss, “Shut the #&% up!!” half a dozen times and emerge ready to tackle the insanity anew.
Despite the overwhelming chaos though, I cherish all that boyishness – the mussed up hair, the sweaty cheeks, the constant motion and yes, even the loudness. Usually just when I’ve reached my breaking point, my little guy, Aidan, will come over and give me a hug, squeezing my waist with all his might. And, those are the moments when I realize how very lucky I am. Because, I do feel lucky – even when that hug is followed by Aidan informing me that for his 100 day project for kindergarten, he wants to use “one hundred pieces of poopies,” instead of the dinosaur stickers we bought. Hey, boys will be boys.
Postscript: I came upon this while compiling an essay collection, which will hopefully turn into my next book – it’s over 82,000 words, so I’m just about there…
My boys a few months before this essay was written… And two and a half years after the essay was written… And just last month…