Wednesday, January 13, 2010

. . . And Then We Had Boys

Parenting boys?  It's no different than parenting girls.  Or so we thought until we actually had boys.  As the parents of six daughters, my husband and I thought we had the parenting thing down pretty well.  We never thought we wouldn't have the chance to experience sons.  In fact, we never doubted that we would someday have boys running through our house.

I grew up like most little girls in America, dreaming of motherhood and playing with dolls.  I had dolls that cried, dolls whose eyes opened and closed, even dolls that wet their doll-sized diapers.  But through the years all my dolls had one thing in common . . . they were all female.  I'm not sure how this impacted my developing psyche, but after the blessing of six daughters in my life, I just assumed that parenting was the same regardless of gender.

Then the wonderful day finally came when we welcomed home not one, but two sons through adoption.  Matthew was four and Mason was a bustling 23-month old.  We prepared for their arrival by painting and decorating their bedroom in a sweet baseball teddy bear theme, complete with coordinated bedding, pillows, and wallpaper border.  My heart warmed as I looked into the completed room with the thought of the two boys happily playing in it.  Little did I know what fate awaited the room and us.

The day we picked up the boys to bring them home was filled with excitement.  We carried them into our once tranquil, unsuspecting home to introduce them to their new stomping grounds.  Almost immediately, there were signs that gender differences were more profound than I had thought possible, and that I was completely unprepared for them.

One delusion I had was that we would have a "no gun rule" with our children.  No toy guns, no cap guns, nothing resembling a gun.  Of course, with all girls until then, that rule held up pretty well and was never disputed.  When I shared my no gun rule with my friend Collette (mother of four boys), she grinned and said, "Just let me know when you get over that."  I was horrified!  How could she say something like that?  Get over it?  It's a rule!  If we say "no guns" that's the way it's going to be.  I thought that obviously, she wasn't the conscientious and effective mother I am.  Boy, was I in for a rude awakening!

Well, reality struck when within the first week at home, the boys had their own creative solution to the "no gun rule."  They crafted guns out of anything and everything.  Lego blocks, sticks, eating utensils, straws, Play-doh, hangers, you name it.  And would you believe even their sister's Barbie doll?  I began to notice that it wasn't just them.  Little boys everywhere were doing the same thing.  So much for gun control!

A few years and hundreds of homemade weapons later, I finally relented.  I told the boys that they could play guns only if they pretended to shoot 'things' and not people.  Unfortunately, the term 'thing' ended up being a bit ambiguous.  One day I caught Matthew shooting Mason with a Lego gun.

"Matthew, is Mason a person or a thing?"  I asked.

"I'm Anakin Skywalker!"  Matthew announced proudly.  "And Mason's not a person, he's a Sith."

Hmmm.  Interesting loophole.

At a loss, I turned to my husband for some sort of support.  As surprised as I was, he just laughed.  Then Dad, in all his sci-fi/Star Wars wisdom proudly reminded the boys that Anakin and Siths use lightsabers, not guns.  Thanks Dad.  So much for the "no swords or lightsabers rule."

Oh, and by the way, that adorable baseball teddy bear bedroom?  By the end of the first year, the bears were decapitated, the cute bedding became permanent marker Picasso reproductions, and the windows had to be replaced twice because the "no baseballs in the house rule" didn't hold up either.  And who needs to learn faux painting or wall texturizing techniques when you can have boys throw muddy balls and drive dirty toy cars on the walls?  By the way, the cute wallpaper border . . . completely stripped off.

I've learned many lessons from my sons over the past eight years.  Valuable lessons I never would have learned through my daughters. 

Here are the top 10:

10.  Boys are actually different.
9.  They break things . . . anything.
8.  They move from 0-to-60, nothing in between.  Walking pace isn't a part of their nature and needs to be developed over the years.
7.  They can't just sit on something, they have to jump on it.
6.  They jump on each other for no apparent reason.
5.  They believe nothing in the world is funnier than bodily noises.
4.  They take great pleasure in terrorizing their sisters and each other.
3.  The toilet bowl just gets in the way of 'target practice.'
2.  A "no gun rule" may be a bit unrealistic.  Maybe a 30-day waiting period would be a better option.
And my number 1 is . . . I wouldn't have it any other way.

What's in a Name?

Just over 18 years and several I.Q. points ago, I considered myself reasonably intelligent. I had gone to college and started in the workforce. I spoke in complete sentences, could carry on a decent conversation, kept up on what was happening around the world, and remembered people's names. I was even a Trivial Pursuit wiz and could answer questions on Jeopardy.

Then I had children. Once I gave birth to my first child, I kissed my brain (as I knew it to be) goodbye. It was as though my mental intellect had been sucked out through the umbilical cord. But I should have seen it coming. I watched it happen repeatedly to other women I knew. As they had babies, they struggled with what few brain cells were left to them. I soon joined their ranks, and the arrival of each child has assured my place in the 'mindless' sorority of mothers. In fact, I think with 9 children, I must be some sort of honorary member.

Oh, we desperately try to cover it up by putting on a face of confidence and intellect. At every opportunity, we bring up our past successes, education, career history, honors, awards, anything to create a facade of intelligence and assurance. But then what comes out of our mouths? Choppy words, incomplete sentences, incoherent mumbles, and uncomfortable pauses. Not only can I not remember people's names, but sometimes I break into a sweat desperately trying to remember who I'm calling on the phone before the person on the other end says, "Hello." The worst is walking into a room and forgetting what I went in it for! No. What's even worse is my eight-year old following me to that room, knowing that she'll have to remind me what I went there for. So very humiliating.

But, all of this, along with the fact that I can now barely answer the questions on Sesame Street, let alone Jeopardy, doesn't bother me that much. And I can live with the fact that I've left the grocery market with everything but what I went there to buy the last eight out of fifteen grocery trips. Nor, does it bother me so much that sticky notes have become my life-line and are found all over my house and car, becoming a decor accessory. No, what bothers me the most is the one shameful, inexplicable brain malfunction that seems to afflict all of us mothers like a curse . . . I can't remember my own children's names!

Oh sure, I remember them right now. That's because right at this moment, my children are all at school. And I can also remember their names when they're asleep. Unfortunately, in only two significant types of circumstances do their names seem to escape from my mid-40's, mother-of-9 brain: when they're either awake and/or in my presence.

Yes, of course, I do know their names! After all naming them was no easy task. Nor was it forgettable. Name comprimising with my husband would have put cold war arms negotiations to shame. I just can't accurately, nor consistently, connect a name to the person it belongs to, then transfer it from my brain and out of my mouth.

In the heat of the moment, I struggle as I stumble through a string of verbal noises that resemble the beginning sounds of their names. The more emotional I am, the more incoherent I become. And oh, by the way, my husband and I thought it would be clever to use "M" names for all but one of our children. Yeah, real clever, huh? So you take a generous portion of Melissa, Madison, Mallory, and Mariah. Then add some Matthew, Marisol, and Mason. Next insert a Kristin, and . . . voila! You have an extraordinary blend of lingual confusion. Just to liven things up a bit more, I throw in the dog's name every now and then.

Each of my children have their own way of living with their mom's shortcomings (and I have many). And when it comes to forgetting or confusing their names, they each take it in stride. My 16-year old daughter has shared her coping strategy with the others saying, "If she's not looking at you, don't answer." Another daughter finds it humorous listening to who I call what. Or is it what I call who? Another teenage daughter doesn't mind as long as I don't do 'it' in front of her friends. And it's heartbreaking to look into the confused and concerned face of my youngest son, when he asks, "Mommy are you okay? You forgot my name again."

The worst happens at dinner as we try to enjoy some 'quality time' forcing our younger children to eat. I turn to Mason, "Mal, Math, M--," then pointing to him, "You! Eat your dinner!" Then to Marisol, "Ma, Maso, Matthew! You need to sit down and eat!" To which my daughter heaves a sigh of disappointment, then rolls her eyes as she informs me, "Mom, you called me Matthew again."

So okay, I've come to accept the fact they might be in therapy the better part of their lives or someday sharing their childhood anguish of identity confusion on a daytime television talk show. But they know I love them with all my heart and would lay down my life for them. Right? And in the light of enternity, does it really matter? Okay, don't answer that. Doesn't the development of eyes in the back of my head, mother's intuition, and multi-tasking juggling make up for it?

My only solace is the fact that I'm not alone. I see mothers all around suffering the same fate. It doesn't matter how many children they have, how long they've been a mom, or their life circumstances. My own mother, my mothers-in-law, and my sister all share the pain. Mothers all over the world endure this plight that can bring us to the brink of insanity. Except, that is, George Forman's wife. They named all five of their sons 'George." Now was that humorously eccentric or proactive wisdom? Sometimes I wonder.