(A shorter version of this post will print in the Press Democrat on June 15th)
I grew up in a family of three girls. My dad was good-natured about it, inviting us along to magical places like “the dumps” and the racetracks at Sears Point (now Infineon). And he merely stepped over our Barbie shoebox hotels that lined the hallway. He got us into sports like soccer, took us for hikes in the hills, and taught us how to get back up when our horse bumped us off the saddle. We learned how to mow the lawn, muck out a barn, and pull out loose nails from the deck. I love that my dad instilled in us a few rough and tumble characteristics so that none of us could be classified as “girly girls”.
I always wondered if my dad wished he’d also had a son to pass on some of his knowledge. In a way, he got his wish when his grandson, aka Taz, was born 11.5 years ago. And I got a first course lesson in what it was like to raise a boy – not a simple feat when I was only accustomed to being around girls.
Mysterious pee puddles. Potty talk. Lego landmines. There are many things I think “they” purposely forget to tell you when you have a boy. So let me share a few of the things I learned over the years.
1. Look before you step – particularly around the toilet. Little (and big) boys are not the best at aiming, if you get my drift. It only took several moments of soaking wet socks after a late night visit to the bathroom to master the fine art of sitting down without my feet touching the ground. More than that, though, is when your potty training toddler discovers that his equipment is portable. You can thank his dad for teaching him this neat trick, especially when you find him “watering” your plants.
2. Legos are both a blessing and a curse. Little boys can spend hours fitting those colorful little blocks together to create buildings, cars, or towers. The Taz still keeps a huge box of Legos around for those moments when videogames aren’t accessible (i.e. taken away). But careful, those tiny little blocks are lethal. The smallest Lego has the ability to camouflage itself within the carpet and then attack your bare foot when you’re least expecting it. You haven’t experienced pain until you’ve landed on a Lego landmine.
3. Speaking of videogames – don’t. What I mean is, hold off until you can’t hold off any longer. It may seem like a cute idea to buy your son his first video game so that the two of you can travel through mushroom land with Mario and Luigi. But it stops being cute when your son is hunkered down in his room with a pallid TV screen tan at 2 am, trying to mass murder as many zombies as he can while the screen turns red from their gore.
4. Keep your house well stocked with Costco-sized portions of food. Don’t believe me? Just wait till your son goes through his first growth spurt and is furtively shoveling a whole box of cereal into his mouth in between bites from his ½ pound ham sandwich. But there’s an even bigger reason why your snack cabinet needs to stay full. Around the teenage years, boys particularly forget the fine art of communication – meaning, they stop talking to you. If you want to know what your son is up to in his life, you’re going to want to know who he’s hanging out with. Boys will go where the best food is. Make that be YOUR house. Even if your son only speaks to you in grunts and eye rolls, you have a better chance of knowing what he’s up to if your pad is the hangout spot for all his friends.
5. Potty talk happens. Just go with it.
6. Boys can make a weapon out of anything. I have a friend who refused to allow her boys to have anything that resembled a gun, not even water guns. She allowed trucks and stuffed animals, and even threw in a couple dolls for good measure in an attempt at gender-neutral parenting. But it wasn’t until her son had chewed his toast into the shape of a gun and was making rapid-fire sounds at the breakfast table that she realized that weapon play was unavoidable.
7. Boys are different from girls. They don’t sit still. They prefer wild and crazy over calm and sane. They want to jump and run around instead of sitting in a desk for hours. Celebrate the differences in your son by not expecting the same from him as you would from your daughter, and working with him in whatever way speaks to him best.
8. You will visit the ER with your son at least once in his lifetime. I’ll never forget the sound my son’s head made when he was balancing on a table in our front yard during a garage sale and fell off of it. His head hit the sidewalk with a sickening thud, resulting in a very frightening lump that grew rapidly on his temple. We packed everything up and raced to the ER. Unfortunately for us, the wait at the ER was ridiculously long. Unfortunately for the ER staff, the wait at the ER was ridiculously long. As we waited patiently to see a doctor, energetic Taz raced all over the hospital, climbing everything like a monkey with a huge goose egg on his forehead. We felt obligated to apologize to everyone in the hospital as we packed up and headed home with our lopsided but healthy toddler boy.
9. Boys can get scary angry. I mean, the kind of anger that has him wanting to hit, throw things, scream, cry, and hurt anyone in his path. Worst thing you can do? Yell back at him. Best thing you can do? Remain calm and let him get it out. If it’s hard to remain calm, leave him in his room until the storm has passed. But don’t ever try to fight him when he gets to the red-hot level of anger. By not going down in flames with him, you’ll serve as an anchor to help him pull out of his fury. And when it’s over, he may even need a hug and some love from you while the two of you work out solutions to whatever has set him off.
10. Boys love their moms a whole lot. My son has reached the pre-teen age when he appears not to need me as much as he used to. But I’m the first person he looks for in the crowd when he’s done something brilliant in baseball. He still shares with me how pretty the girl is that he has a crush on. I’m the only one he unabashedly brags to about milestones he’s passed in puberty (lol). He never fails to tell me he loves me at the end of every phone call and when I say goodnight to him at the end of the day. And when I rub his feet or give him a squeeze, he leans into me in a way that shows me I just don’t show him affection nearly enough. Until your son pushes you away, hug him every single day – more than once. Tell him you love him. Share with him how proud you are of him. Give him attention. All the love you heap on him not only builds his confidence sense of self worth, it will reflect in the way he will love when he becomes a husband and a father.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in raising a boy?