What if we assumed that boys’ instincts and inclinations were good and right, instead of inherently destructive or deviant?
That’s me, waving my hand over here. Because as a mother, I struggle with the inherent destruction that comes along with boys. Have you ever seen the ‘definition’ of the word ‘boy’?
boy: noun A noise with dirt on it.
In my experience, parenting two of them, this is true. If E chooses khakis to wear to school, they will come home with grass stains and a hole in the knee (even though they had indoor recess). An activity as quiet as coloring at the table will result in G sporting a red bandito mustache and fingers as black as Crayola markers will make him.
As mothers, we protect our kids from the moment we find out they’re fluttering in our wombs. We eat as well as morning sickness will allow, we abstain from alcohol and tobacco, we avoid dangerous activities that could harm our growing child. We craft a birth plan to help our medical providers ease our child into the world, including the “cut me open without anesthesia if he’s in distress” clause (was I the only one who had that conversation with my husband?). The first time we leave the house with him, we wish madly for a way to erect a force field around our car to protect him from the insane drivers. He’s the most precious thing, and we’re charged with protecting him until he can protect himself.
Fast forward eight years, when you’re fighting over bicycle riding boundaries and “Why do I have to wear a helmet when D—- down the street doesn’t?” and you can’t exactly explain to your hazel-eyed negotiator that your husband has been first on scene to a kid vs. car accident where the kid’s head hit the curb and it’s smashed like a cantaloupe because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. So you say the word that they hate more than all others (except for ‘leftovers’), which is SAFETY.
Boys hate safety. They hate it. Mine roll their eyes and airquote me when I ask, “What’s the most important thing?” And I’m learning why they hate it. Because they’re wired to take risks and climb trees and jump off the garage (I had to shut this little experiment down again just last week). They do backflips off the pool ladder, they have kick fights (you should see their shins) and take turns sliding off the top bunk bed on a piece of cardboard. They live for danger, thrive on it, look for the chance to balance on the edge of a rock wall and set ants on fire with magnifying glasses. They learn and create through excitement and destruction.
It’s why, when I see a boy with his arm in a cast, I smile and nod knowingly at his mother. I hope that smile conveys my understanding.
He’s a boy. He does these things. He’s dangerous with a purpose.
My husband recently cut down two trees in our yard, and the boys helped stack the smaller limbs by the fire pit. The last few times we’ve had a fire, G & E have been picking out long limbs, catching the ends on fire, then running around the darkened yard with their ‘torches.’
This sets my heart to hammering. Because I remember the first fall, the first head bump, the first bloody lips, the first finger avulsions, the first fractures resulting in ER trips and X-rays. And I see in my mind one of my precious, dirty boys getting poked in the eye with a sharp (fiery) stick. And I have to bite my lip and my tongue and let them be.
Because they are boys. And they are dangerous with a purpose.