Growing up, boys seemed like a foreign species to me. My sister and I were raised by our single mom, so my house was teeming with girls, 24/7. I had some male acquaintances over the years, but I was never the type to make many boy friends. Really, the male who I have known best in my life is my husband. We met when we were young, and he quickly became my closest friend. Before I met him, I definitely had a bit of a fear of boys, but he taught me that males aren’t just rowdy, dirty, crazy-makers. They have their soft spots, too, their sweetness.
Still, I was sort of shocked when I was pregnant for the first time and found out I was having a boy. I felt like I didn’t know a thing about raising boys. I thought I’d make a zillion mistakes, and I was a little freaked out about the prospect of raising a child made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails.
Raising two boys has proven to be a wild, wonderful ride. I have learned so much—about boys and about myself. My first son (that one who broke me in!) will be 9 soon. This baffles me and also makes me very proud. Not only is he like no one I’ve ever met (boy or girl), but also the way his “boyishness” plays out is one of the most endearing parts of him.
Here are nine things I’ve learned in nine years of raising boys:
1. Penis down in the diaper! I learned the hard way the importance of keeping your baby boy’s penis pointing south in his diaper. No matter how absorbent the diaper, those penises will find a way to squirt pee up and out if not tucked in properly. But once your baby or toddler figures out how to get his hand into his diaper, the safety net goes out the window. Each time one of my diapered boys has had a middle-of-the night accident, his penis had been mysteriously pointing the wrong way.
2. Speaking of penises, no matter what they do to them, they can’t break. I’ve had to ask my husband the same question repeatedly over the years: “Are you sure he can do that to his penis?” The answer is always yes, even when they are pulling them, twisting them into knots, and sticking all manner of small toys inside.
3. Boys do cry, and how you react to their tears means the world. It’s a myth that boys are the tougher sex. Boys cry over small things and big things. Boys cry when their bodies get hurt and when their feelings get hurt too. I think it’s really important for everyone to feel validated when they are upset, and maybe even more so for little boys, who are often told at an early age to toughen up. I always make sure to let my boys know it’s OK to cry, and that expressing feelings—even the sad ones—is part of what makes them strong (and cool!).
4. Boys really are that wild. I know for sure there are girls out there who can’t stop moving and have ridiculous stores of energy. But I do think it’s a bit more common in little boys, and let me tell you, it can be crazy. If my boys stay inside for more than a few hours, they literally start bouncing off the walls. They are little monkeys, climbing on the kitchen counter and crawling across the windowsill. It’s completely exhausting, but can also be hilarious and cute as hell (as long as no one breaks any bones!).
5. Little boys are not hardwired to like little boy things. I never told my boys what toys they should and should not like. When they were little, both of my boys were most attracted to pink and purple toys. One fell in love with a pink shopping cart; the other adopted a sparkly pink tiara. At the same time, they both were obsessed with cars and trucks. As they got more social and learned what boys and girls are “supposed” to like, they chose to play with mostly boyish toys. Still, I was happy to have started them off in with an open mind (and heart) when it came to gender-specific toys.
6. You will be cleaning pee off your bathroom floor for the rest of your life. Once I potty trained my sons, I thought I was off the hook in terms of cleaning up after them, but no. Boys of all ages have a hard time getting every ounce of their pee in the toilet. I thought it was only me, but I did an informal Facebook poll, and this predicament is all too common. Yes, you can teach them to aim, but apparently penises don’t always cooperate. You can make your son clean up his own pee—some people find that to be the best solution to the problem. (If you are successful in making your sons clean up after themselves, let me know your secret, okay?).
7. Not all boys think fart jokes are funny, and not all boys like to roll in the mud. I was pretty certain that having a boy meant living a little rough around the edges, but not all boys think bathroom humor is where it’s at (though mine think burping is pretty cool). I think my sons are the only ones who don’t like to get dirty. Go figure.
8. Boys can be as compassionate, sweet and caring as girls. My younger son is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Yes, he’s only 3, but he senses any time I’m the least bit upset, comes over to me, drapes his tiny arms across my shoulders, and says, “Are you sad?” If I tell him I’m upset, he says “It’s OK, Mommy,” in the gentlest way. Sure, some boys have that stereotypical male aloofness (my first son can be like that sometimes), but some are as sweet and compassionate as can be.
9. You aren’t just raising a boy—you are raising a man. Once I realized this, I knew that I had one of the most important jobs in the world. Here’s why: Good men are hard to find. Yes, they are out there, but far too many men don’t show up for the people in their lives the way they need to. Far too many men are angry, violent or disrespectful. Far too many men have been told all their lives to bottle up their feelings, to “man up.” The more kind, awesome men we raise, the better for all of humanity.
Everyone says that boys love their moms more than anything. I’ve always thought, Duh, everyone is supposed to love their mom. But I think there is something particular about the mother-son bond. The fact that we are the opposite sex means we have much to learn from each another and much to give. As much as my sons drive me crazy sometimes—collapsing on me, whining and moaning, making me hold my breath as they jump down an entire flight of stairs—I know they respect me as a mom and a woman. My sons have a strong, passionate allegiance to me.
Raising my sons is like nothing I could have ever dreamed of, in all the most amazing ways. My boys are the best thing that ever happened to me, and I am grateful for them every day.