Before I had a boy a lot of people said to me, “What will you do with a boy?”
This comment was probably prompted by my complete disregard of anything masculine, except whiskey and bourbon. Which, let’s be honest, why did that turn into a “guy thing”? Whiskey and bourbon are delicious and they are mine.
I’ve never played an organized sport. I hate watching them. I only go to baseball games for the beer and the hot dogs. Once my husband and I went to watch the Red Sox play at Fenway Park on the fourth of July. After a tour of the stadium and the obligatory stadium food, I asked to leave. My husband turned to me very seriously and said, “If you leave Fenway Park on the Fourth of July we will probably have to get a divorce and you’ll have to turn Canadian.” I stayed. But only because I brought a book.
So, having a boy? Well, how in the world could I ever prepare for that? I mean, how could a person raise a man without pelting him with all manner of sports balls from birth until 18?
The other reason people made this comment was because my first child is a girl, who loves all manner of sparkles and unicorns and her ideal day is wearing a princess dress and making mud pies for her imaginary baby chickies, who follow her around and give her crowns and jewels. Or so I am told.
My mother in law, the mother of three boys, took me aside in the weeks after my son was born and said, “Is your daughter ready for a brother? Boys are different, you know.”
I just shrugged. “I guess she’s ready enough.”
My mother-in-law sighed and shook her head. She didn’t think we were ready. In the intervening 21 months since he’s been born, my son has been a very different child than my first. He scales counters. He can always find a knife. He throws everything—food, rocks, sand, glitter. He turns wands into guns, despite never having seen a gun in his entire life. It’s like he just knows that a stick that shoots fire and hurts people would be cool. I have a theory that even cave toddlers, in the days before guns, intuitively understood what a gun was and spent their days pretending to shoot things with sticks.
I think the same about sports too. If civilization were completely wiped out and there only remained a small collective of men who remembered nothing of their past lives. They’d probably invent the NFL before they even had a reliable source of water.
So, a boy, what in the world do I do with a boy? And I hear other mother’s ask this question as well. And it’s truly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Let me tell you what we do with our boy. It’s really complicated, so pay attention.
We feed him. We love him. We read him books. We let him pretend to shoot things. We also let him wear dress ups. We do crafts. We paint. We knock over towers of blocks. He throws balls at my head. He runs and we chase him. We run and he chases us. We put him to sleep. We put clothes on him. I teach him lessons about not hitting, about being kind and gentle, about saying, “Sorry” and sharing. We have him set his plate at the table and clear it when he is done. These are not new lessons but the very same we still teach our daughter. Also, sometimes we bathe him. Although we might give that up because it’s futile.
Do you know what his sister does with him? She gives him horse rides and plays princess. Sometimes they play house and sometimes she pushes him in the baby carriage while he yells, “MORE!” Sometimes she reads him books. A lot of times they fight, mostly over play make up and hairbrushes.
You know how you raise a boy? You raise him exactly like you raise any other human or houseplant, with food, water, love, kindness and a cultivated and careful amount of neglect.
Despite the fact that my kids are so radically different, I bristle at the assumption that raising a boy is so inherently different than raising a girl. People are different. Children are all different. One kid has taught me about magic. The other kid has taught me how to take a weapon from an armed infant. Both lessons are valuable. But in the end, they are both humans first, I try to treat them as such and let them guide me with the rest.
This originally appeared in The Cedar Rapids Gazette.