I had not planned to have boys.
When I was a little girl, I spent a fair amount of time playing with dolls, and acquired a new one each birthday and Christmas from ages four to about 10. Two dolls a year for six years is 12 dolls. They were all girls. Most had blond hair, blue eyes, wore pink and were very subdued. (Except Baby Thataway, who, powered by two D batteries in her bottom, could crawl indefinitely until she ran into a wall or refrigerator.)
I have one sister, Maureen, and no brothers. After school in the winter, Maureen and I would speak with distaste of boys who would take off their boots and run around the classroom in their tube socks. The boys’ socks were always too big, and a couple inches of sock would hang off the end of the their feet, soaking up the dirty melting snow from the classroom floor as they slid around. Some people can’t stand fingernails on a chalkboard. For my sister and me, it was gray, soggy, flapping tube socks.
When I babysat, I preferred the families that had all girls or mostly girls. I found little boys to be messy, loud and generally more trouble than the two dollars an hour I was being paid to take care of them.
So when I imagined myself someday as a mother, the children in my mind’s eye were always girls.
And now I have two boys.
At five and eight, my boys are in their prime in terms of little boyishness. Today, during church, Liam matter-of-factly pulled a piece of rope, a glow-in-the-dark frog and a dead cicada from his front pocket. When my boys run on grass, dirt or any soft surface, they feel compelled to slide, fall, tackle or dive. Keeping as much of their bodies in contact with as much of the earth as possible while simultaneously moving forward seems to be the goal. This leads to showers and baths involving heavy scrubbing of all bendable parts on each boy. Whenever they engage in pretend play, it’s never about going to the store or taking care of the house. Someone is always in crisis and needs to be immediately and loudly rescued by someone else who has special equipment, special powers or a combination of the two.
And I love it.
There is something about living with two little boys that is akin to living with lion cubs. You’re never exactly sure what’s going to happen next, and your furniture might get chewed along the way, but you never doubt that you’re living where the action is.
My friends who have girls about the same age as my boys say that already, they have dealt with cliques and long, involved stories of recess-time drama.
Jacob’s idea of a heart-to-heart talk, on the other hand, is to curl up in bed with me on a Saturday morning and give me a play-by-play of yesterday’s lunchtime football game. As someone who remembers her own share of recess-time drama and cliques, Jacob and Liam’s world of constant movement and fewer words is refreshing.
My sons’ unceasing drive to run, jump, throw and catch has awakened the latent athlete within me. If I want to spend time with my boys, it’s not going to be quietly stringing beads together for a craft project. I have developed a pretty good spiral by playing pass with Jacob, and Liam’s daring relationship with water has forced me off my towel and into lakes and pools before I even get to my magazine’s table of contents.
And now, eight solid years into my adventure with my little XY chromosomes, I have a girl. Teenasia, our foster daughter, will be two next month. She’s been with us since she was 15 months old, and while she has obviously been a girl that whole time, babies seem rather androgynous to me. Teenasia’s upcoming birthday makes me wonder about the girl aspect of her. Other than the obvious dresses and bows, so far, toddler Teenasia does not seem so different from toddler Liam.
But, if Bill and I should have the privilege of seeing Teenasia grow into a little girl, I wonder what differences we will see between her and our boys?
Strange as it sounds, I believe raising two boys will make me a better mother of a little girl. I already knew about doll buggies, four-square and friendship bracelets. But Jacob and Liam have brought me to the boys’ side of the playground. It’s rougher and sweatier, but just as fun. And I want to make sure I introduce any daughter of mine to this muddy, wild side of childhood.
A girl in our household — either Teenasia or another foster daughter — will have the advantage of a mom who has been a girl, but has spent the last decade with boys. And while I might play dolls with my daughter, because that is what I know from childhood, I will also teach her to punt a football, because that is what I know from parenthood.
I have to believe that the cliques and recess-time dramas that are part of being a girl will be easier to deal with if you can come home, run around with your brothers, and punt a football. And maybe, the mother-daughter relationship, so tumultuous during the pre-teen and teen years, would be a little easier after a game of one-on-one.
But there’s only so far I’ll go. We’ll keep the tube socks out of it.