Oh, boy(s)–report from the motherhood trenches

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It was a phenomenon I had noticed before. As the mother of boys who communicated with grunts, finger pointing, and one-syllable words, I’d become an expert.

“How was school?” I’d ask when they schlepped through the door, backpacks dropping to the floor.

“Fine.” This was a standard answer. “Good.” Another classic. Occasionally, they’d branch out with, “Okay.” This, of course, as they foraged shamelessly in the refrigerator. Which is when my teacher side would kick in.

“Good, fine, and okay are not describing words, guys. Try again.” Using flip charts and pie graphs, I’d explain the finer points of adjectives, then we’d give it another go. Hoarse from this ongoing instruction, I gradually learned the art of crafting creative questions to start a conversation. And then, somewhere in my parenting career, I found the magic bullet.

It happened on the road. Somehow, in the confines of the family van, they’d open up. Singing like canaries, they’d tell Mother what was happening in their lives. That egg-shaped Toyota Previa, bane of the oldest son’s existence, became the counseling office, the confessional booth, and the classroom with a hefty dose of stand-up comedy thrown in.

In that space, they felt free to ask questions, some of which made me blanche and nearly swerve. Driving back up out of the ditch, I’d say, “Do you really want me to answer that question? ‘Cause I’m gonna tell you the truth.” And I would.

It afforded me countless opportunities to speak into their lives, those driving times with my sons. Too, I found that if I kept the van above 35 mph, they couldn’t jump out. Thus, Truth Telling Time lasted until the rolling office stopped, a most effective technique.

All of this came back to me the other day as I drove The Cub to town. We were on a mission, he and I, to find a tuxedo for his very first prom date. On the way in, he chattered away, giving me news of the day. And on the way home, there it came.

“Girls have it easier,” he said in his matter-of-fact tone. “They only have to choose a dress.” Not a suit coat, lapel style, color of vest, bow tie versus necktie, color of buttons and cuff links, style of pants, and black or white shirt. The choices had overwhelmed him.

I nearly laughed. “Uh, actually, they have to choose from a thousand dresses, and then a lot of them will fight with their moms.” About which dress they’ll be allowed to wear. “And then there’s hair, and makeup, and shoes…” I trailed away, and he picked it up.

“Are you glad you had only boys?”

It was a fair question. Of course, I had wanted a daughter, but I recalled the day I’d gone in for an emergency ultrasound with this son, fearful of preterm labor. Fearful, too, of genetic defects at my advanced age. When the technician gave me the “all clear” and then told me it was boy number four, I cried—first, because I knew I would never have a girl. Then, second, because I knew that God had chosen what was best, and that his best was another boy. My heart nearly burst with gratitude and praise.

Erma Bombeck, legendary humorist, once said, “When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out.”

I know what she means.

The world of boys was not entirely new for this grain-fed, bespectacled bookworm. I had rowdy boy cousins and one brother who could be annoying as heck, but mothering a passel of them was not something for which I’d signed up.

Boys burp, after all. They fart. They break things and eat things and throw things, and this is all between breakfast and lunch.

They slug each other. They pull trampolines underneath maple trees, then climb the trees and jump. They use riding lawn mowers as chase vehicles. They blow bottle rockets and firecrackers when you’re not looking, and they transfer more real estate (read: garden dirt) than any realtor ever has.

They generate dirty blue jeans; so many, in fact, that the pants I have personally laundered could circle the globe at least twice. They are experts at chore evasion and experts in selective hearing. Ask them to wash the dishes, and you’re speaking Swahili. Whisper “dinner’s ready” in the back of a closet, and they’ll come thundering down the stairs, ears suddenly healed. It’s a Hallmark Christmas miracle.

Boys demonstrate their affection for each other with thumps and whacks. After a good, old-fashioned wrestling match with each other and with their dad, they feel better. Asking, “Why can’t you guys just say ‘I love you’ with words?” only elicits groans.

Yes, wild and unruly are part of a boy’s job description. Wise is the mother who does not seek to tame him completely or take all of his wildness out of him.

I am so very happy that I did not tame my boys. Those lively, high-octane sons of mine have become loving, good, and noble men who walk wisely in this world. Their hearts beat strong with love for God and each other, for us, and for their fellowman.

To all who are raising boys, keep going. They will grow up, I promise. Even if you can’t leave the playpen just yet.

America’s small, caffeinated mom, Rhonda Schrock, appears weekly with Bo Snerdley on 77 WABC. You can hear their lively conversations every Saturday in the 9:30 hour. Grab your coffee and join them.

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