Saturday, December 7, 2013

Back in 2003, I offered a humorous glimpse into my life with my three sons then aged 10, 9, and 8. It was our own Schweddy Ball kind of Christmas tale. Here is the original, with a decade later update:

I am the mother of three young sons, and I take my parental role very seriously. I have read many books about boys, how to help them become promising young men, how not to damage them unduly, how to prevent them from creating a homemade atomic weapon and blowing up the neighborhood, etc...
I was pondering the idea of hardwiring today and considering that while some mothers' experience sons like Thoreau who, while tiny, lisped sweetly, "I am trying to look through the stars to see if I can see God behind them."
I have sons who say things like yesterday's gem:
"Hey, if we melted down this silver baby Jesus nativity scene, we could make a bunch of bullets."
Surely there must be a reason for my sons to emerge from the womb screaming for blood and glory, and refusing all toys except projectiles. Bereft of toy guns by me, their naively idealistic mother, they deftly mastered the art of shaping their toast into the shape of a realistic looking guns and pointing them at me and saying "Bang!" by mere toddler hood.
Television, I detest, yet they have had only a smattering and none before age four. Apparently, have no genes.
Yesterday, I noticed my lovely and realistic 500,001 piece Bethlehem village looked... odd. Looking closely, I discovered someone had carefully placed 100 or so small, plastic soldiers complete with full battle gear at strategic locations throughout the village. Especially daunting was the prone soldier holding Mary at bay with what appeared to be an AK-47.
Kind of authentic really.
Only last night did realize how very little control do I hold over these testosterone laden young mammals. We were doing the traditional kids get to make candy activity with peanut butter balls and chocolate. The boys were busily crafting small spheres of sweetened peanut butter and Christmas music was playing softly in the background.
All was a Christmas postcard.
I heard some smothered giggles and emerged from the kitchen just in time to see my middle son, Benjamin, in the act of chocolate-covering the most perfectly rendered set of male genitalia I have ever seen (created from sweetened peanut butter, that is). Replete in its perfection... he had indeed created peanut butter balls.
Wish me lots of luck with these guys, please.

Update, 10 years later:
It has been a decade and the boys are now 20, 19, and 18. They are all making those tentative steps into the world with college, job seeking, and relationship building. Parenthood never prepares us for new phases, and we generally hear about the bad ones, but sometimes, they are surprisingly poignant. For example, when my sons are together now, and with me, they often enjoy talking about me as if I am not there. They tell family stories and make gentle fun, all while I potter in the background, doing daily things, but listening and enjoying too, kind of like a very present and active ghost. It was disconcerting at first. I would hear: “Remember when mom wore her dark sunglasses uptown and never knew that one lens was missing?” Or, “Remember when mom stopped in the middle of the highway to save that turtle? He was a snapping turtle and tried to kill us all. The stink stayed in the car for weeks.” I was welcome to join, but chose to listen and to just hear. I’ve grown to love the chatter about me, without me, as a way to learn how they remember the events in our shared lives. I have been given a glimpse into the way they may tell family stories to their own children, and those they most certainly will not.
Recently, two of my boys were talking this way and I heard one say, “Yeah, Mom ruined porn for me.” The other, who very recently had gleefully used his online store magazine gift card (a birthday present from his grandmother) to subscribe to Playboy, inquired why. “Well, all those discussions about the male gaze and patriarchy. I end up just feeling sorry for the women. Mom’s feminist agenda rubbed off.” They were silent, thinking about that and I was tallying a small win for myself until the other said, “Well, little brother, I don’t share your issue. “ I silently sighed and erased the point. A parental rub. Clearly, more of “Mom’s agenda” work is needed.

Mostly, however, while raising them, I had no agenda. When they were small it was all I could do to not constantly shriek and collapse. I recall when they were 1, 2 and 3; my main goal was to keep actual shit from appearing around the house, outside of the appropriate shit receptacles. As they grew, my agenda, if I had one was simply to not raise assholes.
Looking back, that was my agenda throughout their childhoods. It factored into every decision: the tough call to remove them from public school despite all three were gifted athletically and other parents thought (and expressed to me) that I was crazy to do so (I wanted to try to raise good men, not great athletes); the decision to continue to work part time, despite financial struggles in order to give them a strong family (because I felt, kids need quantity time, not just quality time). We have spent thousands of hours talking together, arguing together, reading and laughing together. I have loved every minute of it. Now, they go out into the world as young men. We never know who our children will become and the only certainty is life’s unpredictability. As their mother, I hope they are well and warmly received and that they bring some light along to share. I hope they find their voices and stand up and say a few quiet words for good. My hope is every parent’s hope. I can promise the world this though, most of the time, they are not assholes.