There it was in black and white. “Parents,” said the sheet that came home from school, “have your child name each member of your family. Put an ‘x’ in the appropriate spot.”
Down below, two rows of boxes marched across the page. “Girls and women,” said the first one. “Boys and men,” read the second.
“Okay,” I said to Little, pen poised. “Give me the names of everyone in our family.” Obediently, he began.
“Mama,” he said solemnly, pointing a finger at me. With equal solemnity, I drew a smiley face in the girls/women row.
“Who else?” I said. One by one, he named them off, and I drew their faces in the other row. Boy, boy, boy, man, boy. Five boys/men. One girl/woman. Five. One.
There was no doubt about it. Here, it was one against the odds, leaving the lone female outnumbered, outgunned and unarmed. As if to put an exclamation mark on the end of the assignment, I glanced down at the living room floor. Scattered there in no apparent pattern was a silver cap gun, Cowboy Woody, one football, a Nerf gun with a laser pointer and eight Nerf darts, the whistling kind.
I sighed. One little mother. All those boys. How would I ever prepare them for life with other emotional creatures down the road? It was hard enough for their father who’d conducted 25 years of research up close and personal in an effort to understand his outnumbered wife. How was a mother supposed to teach a horde of rowdy, noisy, ravenous creatures what made a woman tick and what was the language of love?
There was so much to teach. Boys weren’t born knowing, for instance, that colors mattered. That some went together and some didn’t, and that one should consider skin tone and eye color when picking one’s palette.
They didn’t know that girls will make purchases based strictly on color. Like purses, for instance, and sandals. They’d learn it (ask The Mister), but they wouldn’t understand it.
How did a mom teach a son to read a mood by the color of an outfit or the shade of a handbag? That bright, happy hues meant a bright, happy wife? That certain other shades could mean something else, and it behooved him to take the emotional temperature before tacking into the wind?
Then there was the language barrier. Men said what they meant with no hidden subtexts or subliminal messages. Women were, well, a little more complicated, able to put layers of meaning into a seemingly simple sentence. Some days, it truly was rocket science, figuring it out and catching the clues so as to keep the union intact. How did you teach this?
It was equally important that they learned what didn’t say “love” to a girl. The boys, they’d pound each other to a pulp, rolling and whacking and yelling. They’d wallow like buffaloes, shaking floors and toppling lamps. By all indications, such bohemian activity made them feel terrific, loved and secure.
You didn’t dare do this to a girl. The hair factor, after all, was big. The fellow who made the mistake of messing that up would soon understand that he’d stepped in it. With both feet. You didn’t undo the ‘do.
No, girls didn’t want their hair messed up. They didn’t like breaking nails, either, and were more, well, delicate (read ‘refined’) than their male counterparts. Thus, wrestling matches were out.
Back rubs, though, were a different story. The man who learned how to work the kinks out of his wife’s tired back would see his stock rise sharply. His favorability would triple, and his poll numbers would have the campaigns from both sides bawling into their Styrofoam coffee cups. This, the boys needed to know.
Then there were those “other noises.” You learned, a woman living with males did, that these were endlessly amusing to boys of every age. They were a badge of honor, a mark of masculinity. A good, loud burp that rattled the windows earned a fellow the respect of his peers. He’d get hoots and hollers and a round of high fives, the one who opened his jaws and let it roll.
Contrary to this faulty thinking, bellowing one out over an empty dinner plate didn’t communicate what he thought it did to the one who’d cooked his dinner. He thought he’d said, “That was the best food I ever put in my mouth. Thank you with all my heart for slaving for hours over a hot stove. You are a queen among women.” And all she heard was, “Braaapp.”
Yes, we sure are different. Men process by thinking quietly in the hidden recesses of their hearts. We girls process out loud. They watch football games in silence. We want to talk about the players and their families and how that commercial made us feel.
Marriage is a relational minefield. I just hope I’ll have them ready. Maybe I should start by crying more so they’re used to it. I’m sure they’ll tell me how it makes them feel.