The Joy of Raising Boys
"You’ll be such a fun mom.” People said this a lot to me when I was pregnant with my first son. I loved hearing it and could imagine why someone might say it. I’m silly and loud and have trouble sitting still. I get how those things, combined, might give the impression of being fun with kids. And for a while, when our two boys—now 6 and 8—were really small, I did feel super-fun.
I belted out made-up songs while hiking with a baby on my back. I led dance parties and initiated splashing games in pools. During those first family years, kid activities still revolved around my core capabilities: taking care of expected (if sometimes inconvenient) business, acting ridiculous, dancing, reading, cuddling. I felt comfortable. In control. Safe.
Then our guys started to grow up. After about age 5, their preferred activities migrated toward areas in which I had no skills (sports, peeing in the woods); sports that scared me (swimming in the ocean and riding bikes on real roads); and pastimes that felt feral (burping contests, all-out wrestling matches). My husband was in heaven. I started to feel obsolete.
“Boys will be boys,” friends told me. “Let Jon handle that stuff, and enjoy the time to yourself.” But I didn’t want to let Jon handle that stuff. We both worked full time, and I wanted to hang out with my family as much as I could— just doing what I wanted to do.
My friend Holly, never one to mince words, offered different advice: “Suck it up. Get in the game. Don’t have regrets.” I knew she was right. Plus, I didn’t really buy into the “guy” thing. Most of my girlfriends are confident and assertive, adventurous and bold, and hilarious in a Sarah Silverman sort of way; many, by my standards, are fearless when it comes to personal safety.
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So yeah, I needed to get over it. Or, to use gentler, yogic language: I needed to rewrite some scripts. Until that point— for reasons of nature or nurture—I’d spent most of my free time reading and writing, dancing and doing yoga, cooking and thrift-shopping, while my husband had been playing ball, sleeping outside, mountain-biking, and running with the bulls in Pamplona. I knew that our boys could benefit from exposure to all of those sorts of activities (except maybe the bulls). I knew, too, that I had something to gain from expanding the activities in which I was willing to participate. I needed to start thinking of myself as someone who camped, could swing a bat, and snowboarded (we live in Vermont, after all).
Instead of begging off, I started saying “yes” to playing soccer and baseball— poorly. At first, one kid called me out on my ineptitude, which offered teaching opportunities on good sportsmanship. The other guy applauded my efforts, suggesting I become an assistant coach of his team even after I pitched a Wiffle ball into his head. Now, both boys mostly accept that when they play with me, it will be more silly-fun than skillbuilding. It’s cool.
I’ve embraced (car) camping. In fact, on our big, multifamily trips, I’ve become the go-to parent for freeing sunnies from fishing lines (not to brag, but I’m good). During an all-day canoeing excursion last year, I peed behind a small tree on a sandy island in the middle of the river. My friend Maria couldn’t have been more proud. When we registered the boys for snowboarding lessons, I signed myself up for an eight-week women’s clinic. I would learn to ride properly from a professional so I could feel safe (or, at least, feel that I wasn’t going to kill myself) and have fun. I think I cried more in that first year than both of our boys did combined. But now I am confident enough to take my older guy to the mountain by myself for a one-on-one riding date—an activity that, I suspect, may result in longer-lasting memories than sharing sushi before The Nutcracker.
At the ocean, I force myself to wade in up to my waist and hop waves. If I focus on how much fun my kids are having, I almost forget about the sharks. Last summer, in Martha’s Vineyard, I jumped off the Jaws Bridge to prove to myself just how brave I was becoming.
On the frat-house front, I’m learning to challenge my perception of which rules really matter and which ones I can let go—like, for example, when I recently checked on my son in the shower and found him enjoying a lollipop.
“We don’t eat suckers in the shower.”
“Because you could slip and fall. And choke.” And DIE.
“Well, then, I’ll sit down.”
Huh. “Okay. Carry on, then.”
All of this is not to say that I’ve lost myself. I insert my preferred activities into our agenda often, and the boys partake happily. We visit museums. We have dance parties and talent shows. We do yoga (often ninja-themed). We go to the library, and we knit. We write and draw together in coffee shops. We roll dough for homemade pizzas and bake apple pies.
And it makes me smile to think of my guys, all grown, as well-read, up-for-anything, adventurous dudes from Vermont who can totally rock a signature apple pie. Those little-big guys who forced me to face my fears, lighten up, and find more fun. Every. Single. Day.