Reflections on Motherhood; the Mystery of Boys
When I was pregnant with my first child, I cried the the day I found out I was having a boy. I had no brothers you see, and boys were more than mysterious to me, they were simply and profoundly absent from my life experiences.
Men...now men I knew. Men I understood. Men I could handle. Men, I believed, are essentially simple and straightforward creatures.
But men are first little boys, and I was desperately afraid that I would do something egregiously wrong in my rearing of a male child and end up unleashing upon the world some oddly Oedipal manwoman incapable of relating to the opposite sex in any but an entirely superficial and/or thoroughly unsettling manner.
I was afraid of raising Norman Bates.
It was a foolish fear of course, but pregnant women can be a little irrational sometimes, and first time Moms are distressingly adept at borrowing trouble.
I suppose the jury is still out on whether my fears in that regard were completely unfounded, but I've learned a thing or two in 16 years of parenting boys, and I think I can say without equivocation that I am finding boys to be, all things considered, as uncomplicated as their adult counterparts.
Oh they are different of course, and in some ways, almost alien. But I've figured it out for the most part, with Husband's help. And I now realize that tempermentally speaking, I am much better suited to raising boys. I have no patience for drama, you see. I have no patience for histrionics, catfighting, backbiting, gameplaying or machinations. I cannot mollify, pacify, placate or patronize with adroitness or sincerity.
They don't mince words. They don't play games. They punch each other and then it's done with. I'm not saying that's necessarily a good thing. It is a whole lot easier though.
There is one way in which we differ that I find thoroughly frustrating. It is the same issue that has plagued relationships between men and women since time began.
Boys do not like to talk. Oh they will yammer on about matchbox cars and dinosaurs and Star Wars. Or, when they're older, real cars, sports and real cars.
But feelings? Relationships? Conflict Resolution? A pox on them.
Nosiree. They'd rather adopt a "wait for it to blow over" strategy. The "walk on eggshells until she forgets she's mad at me" strategy. The "if I don't think about it, it will cease to be true" strategy.
Husband is pretty good at communication, which is why, I feel, our marriage has lasted almost eighteen years. But even he will sometimes practice tactical avoidance when he knows I am upset, but thoroughly mystified as to the cause.
Recently, Pubescent One had a protracted disagreement with his best friend. Both of them are unusually affable kids, so it was a little strange that they hadn't worked things out after a couple of days. Usually, all it takes is a couple of insults, a couple of good natured and half hearted thwaps, maybe a nuggie, and all is well.
"You're such an asshole."
"I'd rather be one than look like one."
"Wanna play Guitar Hero?"
But apparently, this argument was of a scope and seriousness that such a strategy would not suffice.
So he brooded.
On the third day, he came home from school, stomped up to his room, slammed the door, and burst into tears. Now...as a mother, my instinct is to fix things, and my way of fixing things is to talk about what is wrong and how to mend it. But this is the wrong tack to take with a boy. Forcing a boy to emote when he wants to cave is really not constructive at all. It can be fantastically ineffectual and even disastrous.
I've learned this the hard way and in so doing, I've had to face Husband's pursed mouth, head shaking, I-told-you-so look when my insistence has resulted in one or the other of our male children closing us out completely, with stubborn, sullen, persistent muteness.
So I sent Husband to do deal with it. Birds of a feather and all that rot.
In the meantime, I decided to call Best Friend's Mother to see if she had some insight. She didn't and agreed that it was frustrating that neither child would talk about it. But, she confided, girls are worse. MEANER, she qualified. Much, much meaner.
She said she would try to talk to Best Friend, but that realistically, it would probably just have to blow over. We sighed together over the ridiculous maleness of it all and hung up.
She called back the next day to let me know that there was actually more to the issue, which I had suspected. She filled me in. And she told her son that it wasn't fair to give Pre-Pubescent One the cold shoulder without explaining why he was angry, and that they owed it to one another as friends to be honest and direct.
But he wasn't ready to talk to Pubescent One about it. Of course. "I can't push him" she said apologetically. I told her I understood and we agreed to just wait it out.
I went up to talk to Pubescent One. I told him Best Friend was angry about more than just the one incident, and that his anger was justified. I told him that when Best Friend was ready to talk about it, he needed to listen, and really hear what Best Friend was saying to him.
He nodded very earnestly, clearly relieved that Best Friend was actually planning to talk to him again at some point.
The next day it snowed, which here in Georgia is a VERY big deal. Every kid in the neighborhood was outside, including of course, Pubescent One and Best Friend. They initially ignored one another, but a couple of hours later when I looked out they appeared to be, once again, bosom pals.
Later that evening, I asked Pre-Pubescent One about it.
"So...things are okay with you and Best Friend?"
"Well did you talk?"
I looked at him and he looked at me. Clearly, I was going to have to drag it out of him one word at a time.
"What did he say Pubescent One?"
"He said I was being an asshole."
"I listened, I heard him, and I apologized for being an asshole."
"Didn't you ask him why he was mad?"
"Why would I do that?"
I felt there was more, because with a boy, there almost always is. To my credit, I did not harangue him further. It would have been pointless.
And like that day so long ago, when he came home from his very first day of school, and I was hungry for details of his first foray into the world without me, I simply settled down to wait until he was ready to unburden his heart.
The moments come when I least expect them. Sometimes, they are casually tossed into the hectic conversation of day to day life. Sometimes they are whispered to me in the darkness on the cusp of a dream. Sometimes they are blurted, tearful confessions wrenched from them by guilt.
But always, they are precious to me for their rarity.
A boy's heart is often a closed and mysterious thing.
But sometimes, sometimes, a mother is privvy to it's secrets.
If she can wait.