By: Shannon Ralph
Years ago, when my children were nothing more than an unsuspecting twinkle in my eye, I had a vision of what parenthood would look like. In my vision, there were tea parties and tutus. There were hours spent quietly reading on the couch together. There were Disney princesses and Dora the Explorer. There were little striped dressing and polka-dotted leggings. There were braids and pigtails. There was shopping and giggling. There was peace and love and joy and…and…peace.
Then, I had boys.
It seems harsh to say that my vision of parenthood went straight to hell, but…well, my vision of parenthood went straight to hell.
What was I to do with these loud, smelly, noisy creatures? These things who were constantly moving. And climbing. And yelling. And body-slamming one another unprovoked. How could I—a woman and a lesbian, to boot—possibly ever understand these wailing little creatures capable of peeing on their own heads?
It seemed an impossible undertaking, but I am here to say that—after 11 years of parenting boys—I have learned a few things. I am sure all of you parents of boys can relate.
1. Star Wars is akin to religion. I don’t care if you were George Lucas fan prior to having boys. I guarantee that you will come to learn the difference between Darth Vader and Darth Maul. You will fall in love with Han Solo (or Princess Leia). You will even, to your utter surprise, refer to your son as your “young Padawan learner” at some point in his childhood. This obsession with all things Star Wars hits early and it hits hard. Kind of like the plague. It infects the male population and there is no vaccination. No cure in the works. It isn’t even on the radar of the World Health Organization. So do yourself a favor and just submit.
2. Simultaneously hating and being grateful for the privilege your son will have as an adult male. This is a tough one. We all want our children to succeed and let’s be honest, males—particularly white males—have an advantage in the skewed world we live in. It’s easier for them. We don’t like it. We fight hard to change it. We rail against it with every fiber of our feminist being. But in the back of our minds, we breathe an uneasy sigh of relief that our boys will not struggle as hard as others. We hate ourselves for it, but we do it nonetheless.
3. Boys give the best hugs. And kisses. And snuggles. When you get a hug from your son, there is no agenda. There is no ulterior motive. There is no plotting going on in the back of his mind. Affection from little boys is simple. You will find nothing more pure in this world, I guarantee it.
4. Farts are funny. At least your boys will think they are pretty hilarious. They will cultivate their farting talents early. The louder the better. The stinkier the better. Your house will be filled with a glorious symphony of released gasses. One day, in a state of child-wrangling-induced exhaustion, you will even find yourself chuckling along with them. On that day, waive the white flag of surrender. The battle is over and you have lost.
5. Everything will be covered in pee. Seriously. Everything. The toilet. The floor. The bathroom rug (that you will replace no less than 156 times during your son’s childhood). The side of the bath tub. The wall. Occasionally even the bathroom window (WTH?). Apparently, hitting the toilet is much more difficult than the basic laws of physics and gravity would suggest.
6. Anything can, and will, become a gun. Try as your might to instill your pacifist ways in your young sons, the fact remains that boys love guns. You don’t have to buy them the gleaming guns they stare longingly at in the Nerf aisle at Target. They can make a gun out of anything. A stick. A toilet paper role. A banana. A snorkel. Their finger. Hell, even their penis can be a gun (though as I alluded to in #5, their aim requires some serious work)! I spent years fighting this whole gun thing until I realized that it is innate. Through gunplay and swordplay (strangely, I feel less anxiety over my son impaling someone than I do him shooting someone), boys explore relationships, their sense of right and wrong (or good and evil), and their own aggressive impulses. Gun play is healthy and normal. Do I talk to my sons about the dangers of real guns? Absolutely. Do I teach them basic respect for all human life? Absolutely. Do I scream, freak out, and enroll them in therapy when the shampoo bottle becomes a gun? It depends on my mood, but probably not.
7. Boys are physical. From the moment they come crashing through our vaginas and into the world, boys own the space they inhabit. They climb on the furniture. They jump on one another. They smack and punch for no apparent reason. An innocent hug between brothers turns into a NFL tackle in mere seconds. I lost count years ago of how many times in a single day I utter the phrase, “Keep your hands to yourself.” Though all of the broken collectibles in my house scream otherwise, this physicality is normal. It’s how boys relate to the world. Experts even say it helps promote positive relationships and intelligence in boys. I am convinced, based on this, that my boys are going to grow up to be Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, respectively.
8. Boys don’t listen. Really, they don’t. My swollen vocal chords and two-pack-a-day smoker voice are a testament to the fact that even screaming doesn’t work. But here’s the thing—it’s not really their fault. Studies show that boys have less sensitive hearing than girls at birth and the gap only widens with age. Girls’ hearing is much more sensitive to speech patterns, making it easier for them to hear what others are saying than it is for boys. Boys’ brains develop this talent slower than girls’ brains. As a result, your young son may not really be ignoring you as he happily spreads his Legos over every inch of your living room. That does not make it any less infuriating when you step on those Legos while calling his name over and over. And over. And over again. But it’s understandable.
9. Marvel versus DC. Pick one. Pick one early. Your son will have a definite preference and he will want to know your opinion.
10. Clothes mean nothing. Yes, shopping for boys is much easier than shopping for girls. They don’t care what they put on their bodies. The flip side of that, however, is that your son will systematically destroy every article of clothing you ever purchase for him. Ever. Every pair of jeans/slacks/pajama bottoms will have the knee ripped out of them. There will be grass stains. Food stains. Mud stains. Stains of unidentifiable origin. You will mourn the loss of your hard-earned cash. And there is nothing you can do about it other than accept the fact that sending your son to school naked is frowned upon in most Western societies.
11. Boys love unconditionally. The anal retentive in me screamed to stop this list at nice, round, even #10, but this is by far the most important thing I have learned about raising boys. Boys love unconditionally. They love unabashedly. They love with their entire little bodies. When your little girl stomps her foot and tells you to leave her alone, your son simply loves you. When your tween daughter is sullen and sulky and hates you, your son simply loves you. When you teenage daughter gives you the silent treatment for an entire, your son simply loves you. Their love is solid. Their love is strong and consistent from the start. And it sticks around for the long haul.
I am in awe of my boys’ wonder, energy, sensitivity, curiosity, innocence, and compassion every single day. My experiences of parenthood may not match that vision I had years ago, but it has surpassed my wildest dreams. And I have a couple of amazing boys to thank for that.
Photo Credit (top) Rory MacLeod