It’s a biological fact that the human male determines the gender of his offspring, but I’ve often wondered if my innate attraction to the opposite sex conspired against me when I produced four sons.
My mother traces this appreciation to infancy. She said, “You couldn’t have been more than 9-months-old. I was holding you in my arms and this GI came up and ‘Oh, what a pretty baby.’ You lowered your lashes, then flashed him your big blue eyes and said, ‘Hi, dere,’ clear as day.”
Whatever the reason, I’ve always liked boys. I didn’t like roughhousing or frog-catching or getting sweaty, but I admired how whole-heartedly the boys in my world pursued those endeavors. Their otherness fascinated me.
When I married I looked forward to being a mother. I pictured myself producing a slew of pretty princesses and one spoiled prince.
Real-life squashed that fantasy but good.
Instead of tea parties and Barbies, my life revolved around soccer games, GI Joes – and dirt. My sons developed an amazing appreciation for soil. They brought it home in their pockets. They rolled in it and yes, they tasted it. You’d think with their proclivities I’d have at least one geologist in the bunch, but no such luck.
Did I mention I don’t like dirt?
Still, I’ve enjoyed mothering boys – it’s being the mother of men that’s gotten tricky. My oldest sons are 22 and 20 and living independently. They regularly return to the maternal roost for homemade meals, but they’re making their own choices, paying their own bills and no longer need my nest.
It’s an odd and sometimes frightening thing to be more of an observer of their lives and less of a participant. I’ve tried to stay out of the way as they’ve moved from childhood to adulthood. I want my love for them to be a stepping stone, not a stumbling block.
This week Ethan, 22, came over specifically to catch us up on what’s happening in his life. It was wonderful to have him share a window into his grown-up world.
And recently, Alex, 20, set aside time to spend with his youngest brother, Sam. They went to a pawn shop to look at video games and then had lunch together at a hamburger joint. It meant so much to me to know he still thinks about his baby brother.
And now 17-year-old Zack is spreading his wings. He landed his first job at a local pizza chain, and his music career is blossoming. At his first solo gig he surprised me by playing my favorite song. “This is for my Mama,” he said.
And I cried. Of course.
When he got his first paycheck he went out and bought his dad Van Halen’s “Diver Down” CD.
Watching boys turn into men is bittersweet, indeed.
A few weeks ago, while on my regular three-mile walk, my sons were heavy on my mind. When I rounded a corner, I noticed a tiny boy on the street ahead. He was chasing a remote-control car, operated by nearby adults. As I approached, he looked up and met my eyes. Then he ran toward me with his arms outstretched. I looked around to see if someone was behind me, but there was no one else on the street.
When he drew near, I bent down and he threw his skinny, little arms around me, wrapping me in a fierce embrace. “Well, hello there,” I said into his ear.
He held me tightly and then let go, shouting to the adults by the curb, “I gived her a hug!”
They looked surprised by the toddler’s spontaneous burst of affection. I shrugged, smiled and kept on walking.
But a few blocks later I noticed I was wiping away tears with my sweat. That hug came at a time when I was doubting my mothering skills once again – wondering why on earth I’d been entrusted with so many men-in-the-making.
It took an embrace from an unknown child to remind me how much I love little boys – even when they turn into men.