Growing up, I always thought I’d have girls, little angels dressed in pink who quietly held tea parties and played with their dolls. This image was, of course, pure fantasy, but as some sort of cosmic joke, I was told, in two out of three pregnancies, that I was having a girl. Each time they were wrong. For the third, I told them not to bother trying to guess since there really was no point.
It worked out exactly as it should. I adore being the mother of three boys, but I had to learn some lessons along the way. I got used to buying blue, investing a small fortune in Thomas the Tank Engine, and understanding the rules of soccer (it took years for me to understand offsides, and I’m still not entirely sure I fully grasp the concept). Sometimes I see myself as a sort of cultural anthropologist, exploring the unknown world of the male psyche. Now that the boys are older (20, 16, and 13), bigger, and much hairier, there are still lessons to be learned.
1. Pants are optional. Once the door to the outside world is closed, everyone in my house loses their pants and strolls around free and unfettered in boxers. I don’t wear boxers and don’t understand the joys of being pants-free, but if I did, panic and chaos would ensue. My boys shriek and cover their eyes if they catch me even for a second in my undies, so I have come to the conclusion that pants are mandatory for any and all female members of this household (aka me).
2. The pants optional rule remains in effect even if visitors appear, but only if the visitors are close friends or family. I can tell how close a friend is by the reaction of my boxer-clad bunch. If it’s someone in their inner circle, no pants are required. They remain in their normal lounging position, which is something between a sit and a sprawl on the couch. If the visitor is not part of that group, however, they spring into action, covering with a blanket and sprinting up the stairs, like a herd of pants-less cockroaches.
3. Second breakfasts aren’t just for Hobbits. People aren’t exaggerating when they say teenaged boys are hungry all the time. I recently had to explain to someone why we have dinner at the ungodly hour of 4:30 pm (on most days). It’s because my boys get home from school and their afternoon activities completely ravenous, and have a very narrow window of opportunity to eat before their evening activities begin. Don’t worry – they normally eat an additional meal at a time that even the most sophisticated Europeans would condone later in the evening. We can call this “supper” or simply “foraging in the pantry.” It involves a lot of standing, staring, and cries of “What do we have do eat?” and “I’m so hungry.”
4. I know more about sports than I ever cared to know. My boys play soccer and tennis, so I am pretty knowledgeable about both those sports and enjoy watching them compete. I’m not terribly interested in sports in general. My cries of support during soccer games are usually along the lines of “Good job! Now tie your shoes.” I get a little startled when the other parents shout things out that sound awfully negative, and I’m often seen clapping even when the other team gets a goal. Tennis is a little easier since you aren’t really allowed to shout things out. My comments in tennis consist of the ever popular “Nice shot” and that is about it. My boys only play these two sports, but they seem to know everything about every sport. I don’t understand it. They know the players, the teams, the rankings – and I have absolutely no idea how they acquired this vast knowledge. Maybe having the “y” chromosome allows some sort of sports knowledge by osmosis thing to occur. It’s a mystery.
5. They don’t understand how the laundry chute works. Yes, they get the complexities of rugby, even though they have never been to a single game, but they cannot understand that the hole behind the secret door in my bathroom leads directly to the pile of unwashed clothes in the laundry room. Instead they leave their clothing, like some sort of sacrificial offering to the laundry god, on the floor right next to the laundry chute. Why? It’s also a mystery.
6. Speaking of laundry, it is a never-ending, full-time occupation. I just got a new washer and it changed my life. Honestly. I can wash like ten pairs of jeans at once now. In the last twenty years, I have learned a lot about laundry. I know how to remove grass stains (even from the brand new khakis that weren’t supposed to be worn for impromptu soccer games), how clean and dry cleats and shin guards without ruining them, and how to get chocolate, blood, or vomit out of anything. It's also a chance for my to express my feminine side. They don’t really sell any manly scented fabric softeners, so I get the most floral, girly, lavender and vanilla scented stuff I can find just to mess with them.
7. Scents, deodorants, and why I really should buy stock in Axe. Walk down any middle school hallway anywhere in the country, and soon you’ll get a little tickle in your nose and feel your eyes begin to sting. The aroma of Axe, that magnificent spray-on deodorant that has become a rite of passage for pre-pubescent boys. Breathe it in. Enjoy it. Accept it. I’ve tried holding my breath so I didn’t have to inhale it and just ended up getting lightheaded. Just embrace it and move on.
8. Speaking of smells, boys have a lot of them. Some of these make them very, very proud. There are certain smells, produced by their own bodies, that bring them great joy, especially if the are accompanied by sounds. In a freak accident, I lost most of my sense of smell about ten years ago. I am oblivious to almost all of the odors they produce. I also can’t smell sweaty shin guards, old shoes, or nasty socks. It’s a blessing. Really.
9. Balls. Lots of them. I’m constantly tripping over soccer balls, tennis balls, inflatable balls, and little rubber bouncy balls, but these aren’t the only kind of balls I’m talking about. Boys are obsessed with balls, especially their own. They love talking about them, scratching them, and sometimes just sticking their hands in their pants to reassure themselves that they are still there. I’ve observed this in adult males as well. Boys also love making jokes about balls and other parts of the male and female anatomy. Girls don’t seem to find this quite as amusing. There is nothing even remotely funny about a uterus.
10. Which brings me to my final point. I’m so glad I have boys. Girls seem much more complicated. They have all sorts of feelings, and although boys are hormonal, girls take it to a whole new level. An annoying level. A scary level. My boys are basically always pretty nice to me. They have their moments, of course, but compared to some of the teenaged girls I’ve observed, they are a walk in the park. Another bonus, they aren’t interested in stealing my clothing. If anything, they are terrified that the unisex sweatshirt I offered to lend them might be (gasp) a “girl” shirt. They approach it with the same caution and wariness an Amazonian would a brightly colored snake in the jungle. Perhaps poking it with a stick a few times to make sure it won’t bite. My husband’s clothing, on the other hand, is open game - especially his socks. In a valiant effort to protect the last few pairs of sports socks he possessed that weren’t grass stained and pair-less, he hid an entire stash in his closet. The boys sniffed them out in minutes. Nothing is sacred.
There are so many things I haven’t mentioned. Their sudden hairiness. The way they can break furniture just by sitting on it. The wrestling. The noise. The endless episodes of South Park. They might seem like a pack of St. Bernard puppies at the moment, but they are growing into interesting, amazing, and caring men. I’m just glad I got to go along for the ride.