It’s clearly poetic justice that I gave birth to boys instead of girls.
Growing up, boys were completely foreign territory to me. My only sibling is my younger sister and, as kids, we were much closer to our mother than our father. He lived in the same house, yet he was somewhat remote, a mystery to me.
Like my father, boys were also a mystery to me. They were cut from a different cloth, with different body parts and temperaments, living in a world made up of seek and destroy games, where special attention and privileges seemed to be just another perk of their world. Girls were not allowed on their turf. Instead, they were condescended to and used as an example to point out weakness in other boys. It was a place where girls sought boys’ attention in often desperate attempts, competed for them, did everything to win them over, even when it meant degrading themselves.
It was a powerful place from afar – I say afar because I was never an insider – I was simply a removed observer watching their kingdom, where they were the decision makers, the power brokers, decided which games were played and how, which girls were tapped as worthy or pretty, where the alpha males got the pick of the litter. From my vantage point, males were also predators, perpetrators, and aggressors.
As a child, I envied boys and their special privileges and entitlement, their fearlessness, their physical strength and their position as the arbiters of everything on the playground, in the neighborhood and later on, as men, in the home and office. In turn, I carved out my own world that didn’t include them, where they didn’t hold the same currency. Instead of desperately knocking on their forts and tree houses with their “no girls allowed” signs, asking to be let in, I decided I didn’t want to be let in anyway. Having no boys in the house, a father who worked long hours and was almost an interloper in our little estrogen triad at home, I was able to tune out boys for a very long time. They weren’t noticing me and I surely wasn’t noticing them.
And then one day, I grew up and gave birth to three of them.
I’ll admit, I assumed daughters would be in my future, having spent so much time in a female-centric world as a child, my sister my constant companion. Raising daughters seemed like a natural second act. But of course, life is ironic like that. Life loves teaching you lessons.
Raising boys has been an education. They’ve already answered so many questions I never knew the answers to when I watched boys from over my fence as a young girl. They’ve proven all my theories wrong about the elusive opposite sex that was once so misunderstood by me. My lovely boys have taught me to embrace maleness, to not fear it or resent it but to appreciate it, to cherish it, with all its sensitivity, its vulnerability and its tenderness – and to nurture it.
I hope my boys don’t buy into the silly socialized clichés others have defined for what it means to be male or female. I want them to play and interact with girls and see them as partners and comrades working toward common goals, to not think of pink as a yucky “girl” color, to cry if they feel like crying because boys cry and girls cry — because humans cry. We have a long way to go, especially living in a society that gives mixed messages to boys, teaching them to drive their feelings underground, while at the same time encouraging anger and bravado as suitable traits for boys and men to show in public.
It’s my job as their mother to help counter the messages marketed toward my sons. Because the messages they get at home should be the loudest, even louder than those already being shouted from billboards and screens and music and the mouths of other boys telling them who they’re supposed to be.
My sons, who I love so deeply, have taught me to love boys after so many years of shunning them, and in turn, I’m more capable of helping them love themselves.