What It’s Really Like Being The Only Female In A House Of Males

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I always just assumed I’d have a daughter. I grew up as one of two girls and took for granted the fact that one day I would have an awesome mother/daughter relationship like I do with my mom. Instead, fate gave me two sons, and I won’t be having another child just to try for a girl. Having all boys is awesome, but when I first saw those teeny weeny peenies appear on the ultrasound, I admit I was nervous about what my future would be like surrounded by three men, four if you count the cat. Here’s what it’s really like being the only female in a house of males…

Expectation: Boys are way grosser than girls.

Reality: Boys are no grosser than girls. All toddlers have less than savory habits, but it seems to be personality rather than gender that determines this. One of my boys is a dainty eater, the other ends each meal looking like Dexter after a messy night’s work. I have friends with daughters and the things that come out of their delicate little bodies both shock and amaze me.

Expectation: As the only woman in the house, I will be treated like a queen. Breakfast in bed every weekend, never having to lift heavy things or deal with large bugs.

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Reality: If by queen, you mean “chambermaid” then this is totally accurate. I really hope this changes once my boys get older, but as for now they refuse to acknowledge my royal status as the sole lady round these parts. Never mind saying “Mama” to show home much they appreciate me, they prefer words with infinitely more significance in their lives like “tent”. And as for heavy lifting, I can manage to haul five plastic bags of groceries plus a toddler into the house in a single trip from the car to the kitchen, while my husband takes two bags filled with lettuce and then drops the keys in an effort to unlock the front door.

Expectation: Hide your lamps! Boys will destroy everything you own with their roughhousing.

Reality: See below.

Parenting-Fail-272x200

This is what happened when I stepped out of the room for however long it takes to turn on the Keurig and add Pumpkin Spice creamer to a cup of coffee. I know people use the phrase “This is why we can’t have nice things” ironically, but seriously, I can’t have any of the things, let alone nice ones. Other recent destruction not depicted- one iPad mini shattered (Who?), one pile of unidentified green something mushed into the carpet (What?), two curtain rods yanked down (When?), the charger for my Kindle (Where?), two broken Tiffany & Co. necklaces (Why?) and one soaking wet and traumatized cat (How?). They haven’t even hit the terrible twos yet, so if you see me wearing a neck brace in a few months, odds are you’ll know why.

Expectation: Boys are too rough and tumble for hugs and kisses.

Reality: Horrible mother confession time: I sometimes plead with my kids to get off me. Maybe this will change as they get older, but at 21 months, their favorite game is “Lapfight”, followed closely by “Let me mush myself against you and refuse to let you get up for hours on end.” Not going to lie, the snuggles are kind of awesome. Plus, they provide a handy excuse as to why I didn’t get to the laundry.

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Expectation: Boys toys are boring. I will be surrounded by action figures and a million tiny Legos to step on.

Reality: Toys are toys no matter the gender. Before I had kids I didn’t realize how many toys are universal. Things like blocks, books, stuffed animals, board games and crafts are basically the same as they were when I was a little and my boys love it all. Right now they are really into play cooking. I cant wait for Christmas because I loved my play kitchen set when I was young and I’m excited to relive that with them. Even the more stereotypical boy toys are still familiar to me, there’s not much of a difference between a Spiderman figure and a Barbie.

So maybe I’ll always have to take out the trash myself. All things considered, the reality of having sons is pretty awesome, and at least I’ll never reach for a tampon to find the box unexpectedly empty.

Related post: 10 Things Never to Say to a Mom Expecting Another Boy

This piece first ran on Mommyish. Read more here.

25 Rules For Raising Feminist Boys

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“If you want something in life, you need to put yourself in a position to provide those things for yourself,” my dad said to me about 20 years ago. “Don’t count on anyone to provide them for you.”

We had been standing next to each other finishing up the dinner dishes — he dried while I put them away — and he was likely responding to some whiny teenage request for a purse or new shoes or a pair of Guess jeans. Whether intentionally or not, with those words, my dad gave me my first lesson in feminism: Be independent, take control of your life, and be the master of your own fate. And just as importantly, he was reaffirming his confidence in me as a capable, competent and self-reliant person, just as worthy of respect and opportunities as anyone else.

As parents, we are constantly teaching our children something — whether it is what to do or not do, what is important and what is not, how we feel about ourselves and what we think about the world around us. And because these little lessons have a way of leaking out, in dribs and drabs and whether we realize it or not, it is important, I think, to constantly remind ourselves of our own ideals, values and intentions so that these are the lessons that come through.

Despite the fact that on the outside our family looks like something straight from a 1950s sitcom (my husband works and I stay at home with our young children), I am without qualification a feminist for the simple reason that I believe in equality. And though I have two sons (no daughters), it is no less essential that my children learn what feminism is and, perhaps even more importantly, how feminism and gender equality play out in the world around them.

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Women aren’t the only ones impacted by gender inequality — we all are — and it is up to my husband and me to do everything we can to combat the never-ending siege of stereotypes, biases, and inequality that society throws at children from even a very young age. It is up to us to ensure that the lessons of feminism and gender equality (and all kinds of equality, for that matter) are so deeply rooted in our family’s core that they leak out slowly and constantly — during play dates and in sports and, yes, in the kitchen while we put away the dinner dishes.

There is no shortage of lists on feminist lessons for our daughters, but, while many things on these kinds of lists are universally applicable, as a mom to boys, I wanted to find something that related more specifically to the issues that I am facing (or expect to face) with my sons. Coming up short, I did what any independent woman would do — I came up with my own list for raising feminist boys…

1. Feminism does not mean feminine. It means equality.

2. Being a boy doesn’t mean you can’t be a feminist. Neither does liking sports and burgers and action movies. Just like wearing jewelry and makeup, taking my husband’s last name and getting manicures don’t make me any less of a feminist.

3. It’s OK to cry. But as with all expressions of emotion, take care to do so in a responsible and respectful way.

4. Be friends with girls.

5. Girls can like trucks, superheroes and Stars Wars, just like boys can like princesses, tea parties and My Little Pony.

6. The phrases “like a man” and “like a girl” hold no real meaning. Ignore them.

7. Be strong AND sensitive; the two are not incompatible.

8. Your penis does not give you special privileges. It is simply part of your anatomy. It makes you human, with all of the pleasures and obligations that the human experience offers.

9. Hold doors open for women. And men, for that matter. Not because of any sexist traditions, but simply because holding the door is kind and polite. It is just good manners. For the same reason, push in your chair and put the toilet seat down.

10. A girl might look pretty, attractive, cute and sexy, but true BEAUTY comes from within.

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11. Pay for dinner and buy her flowers. Not because that will make her more likely to want sex or fall in love; do it just because it is the nice thing to do. (And if I had daughters, I would also tell them to offer to pay for dinner and to buy him flowers because, again, it is a nice thing to do.)

12. Have sex when you are both ready. Not because your friends are having sex. And not because your hormones are going all haywire inside of you. But because you are physically and emotionally ready to handle sex and its aftermath.

13. “No” means no. Silence also means no. And even “maybe” means no. Only “yes” means yes.

14. Surround yourself with people who invite you to be your best self. Be wary of people who want to change you.

15. Equal work deserves equal pay; equal pay requires equal work. It’s just that simple.

16. Your gender does not define you. Neither does your job or car or bank account. Be kind and brave, be a good friend and a hard worker and treat everyone with respect — those are the qualities that will define you.

17. If you get married one day, your spouse may or may not take your last name. Neither choice has anything to do with how much she (or he) loves you.

18. There are more ways to provide for your family than financially.

19. If you should one day have a family, make your child care decisions based on one thing only: What is best for the family. Consider the financial, professional, emotional, psychological and other factors involved, all of which might change over time. Maybe you share financial obligations associated with raising a family and you both work outside of the home, then share in the household and child care obligations as well. And if you decide that one parent will stay home with the children, don’t be afraid to step up to the plate. Being a stay-at-home parent is hard but good work, regardless of its lack of a paycheck.

20. Even though most commercials and just about every sitcom on television will send messages to the contrary, men are capable of making the bed, doing the laundry, changing diapers and tending to other household chores and child-rearing tasks.

21. Don’t be afraid to apologize. It is not a sign of weakness, but a brave act of courage and strength.

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22. Never take for granted the privileges you have — whether financial, educational, racial, cultural or otherwise — and continue to fight for the rights of those who do not enjoy the same privileges.

23. Be sensitive, empathetic and compassionate.

24. There may be differences between the sexes — just like there are differences between all people. This is a good. Do your best not to over-generalize. And don’t be afraid of the differences; celebrate them.

25. Remember these lessons, not necessarily because any person or group of people needs protection or special treatment, but simply because they are essential for fairness, equality and respect. They can, I hope, change the world — one small step at a time.

Related post: 10 Things Moms of Boys Must Do

The Four Letter Words I’m Teaching My Son

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His name was Michael, and I knew he had a crush on me.

It was my junior year of college, in 1991, and I was living with 16 rowers in a former sorority house. The season was over, and it was time to let go; we hosted a big party with plenty of alcohol. I drank too much of it, over-imbibing Purple Passion until the room started to spin.

I threw my arm around Michael and leaned against the door, and my teammate Jen grabbed his arm and told him, “Make sure she gets to her room safely.” I got into bed, and he wrapped a blanket around me and grabbed another one to sleep on the floor beside me. He didn’t make a move on me, in my compromised state; the next morning, I woke up with a pounding headache and Michael was there, making sure that I was going to live to see the next day.

His name was Jason. He went to high school with my roommate, and I met him early in the school year at a party. He seemed likeable and was built like a linebacker with a growing beer belly.

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I was a freshman when I went to a party at a fraternity house where Jason was rushing and hoping to pledge. I had been to the house before for parties, but only to the big party room downstairs, and I trusted Jason when he offered me a tour of the house. We walked up the stairs and he kept the banter lighthearted, albeit slurred, as he had taken in quite a few drinks by that time.

He led me into a darkened room and as I followed, he pushed me down on the bed and tried to unbutton my shirt. I struggled underneath the weight of him, telling him to knock it off. I shifted, pushed with all of my might, and he lost his balance and fell to the floor. I raced downstairs by myself and got out of the house as quickly as I could.

His name was Glenn, and he was the senior backup quarterback on the football team. At least, that’s what he told me at Uncle Woody’s tavern. At closing time, he offered me a ride back to my dorm in his fancy red sports car, and I accepted. How naïve I was. I invited him upstairs, and pulled out a chair for him. I faced him sitting on another chair, and nervously talked and talked. After a short while, he realized that this wasn’t going where he thought it was going, and left politely but with no intention of coming back.

His name is not important to repeat; I’ll call him Charles. He was the boyfriend of a friend, and he called me to ask me to come to his dorm room under the guise that he needed advice. “Please,” he pleaded.

We were friends. I went over.

He offered me a Coke, and then a backrub.

You’re so tense. Let me help you.

Before I realized what was going on, I was pinned on my stomach and crying and telling him to stop.

STOP. STOP. STOP.

He didn’t stop.

Now I have a little boy, and I am teaching him about that word: the most important four-letter word I can think of. STOP.

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If we are wrestling and I am smothering him with kisses or tickling him and he says, Stop, I stop right away. He knows that it is safe to play because I respect his boundaries. He has been taught that no one is allowed to touch him anywhere a bathing suit covers. He has been taught that his body is his own, and others have ownership over their own bodies.

You asked me to stop, and I stopped. This is important for you to understand, I tell him. And I fully expect that this lesson, side by side with lessons on kindness to all and respect for women, will result in a man who would never dream of pushing anyone past his or her physical comfort zone.

I will not raise a Charles. I will raise a Michael.

As the mother of a son, and as a woman who has seen the good and bad sides of men, I have a responsibility to teach my son what it means to be a good man. And I am fortunate that I have a husband who sets an excellent example, as well.

I don’t buy into the “Boys Will Be Boys” mentality. Boys must be taught to be kind and loving and helpful. We don’t have to assume that boys have impulses they can’t control, or that boys will fight and hit each other, or that boys are going to run wild. If we expect better, they will be better.

I’m teaching my son to respect his body and others right from the start. I will teach him that it doesn’t matter what color, religion, or fashion sense a person has; they deserve respect. I will teach him that he is not entitled to anything or anyone. I will teach him patience and kindness. And I will pray that he’ll remember what I teach him, always.

The problem with “boys will be boys” is that it lets them off the hook. And we are all on the hook for our own behavior; accepting that boys can get away with certain behaviors because that’s how it has always been is not acceptable.

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I have some other ideas for four-letter words I want my son to learn, and are just as important as the first one:

Boys will be Kind.

Boys can show Love.

Boys can exhibit and inspire Hope.

Boys can Help.

And if he picks up the other four-letter words along the way, they won’t be nearly as important or as big of a deal as the first ones I taught him.

Related post: 10 Things Moms of Boys Must Do

The 15 Phases Every Boy Goes Through

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1. The  Sesame Street/Thomas phase. This one is cute. Your kid falls in love with Thomas. You buy him all things Thomas. DVD’s. Train tracks. Sippy cups. Toothburshes. Pajamas.

2. The Superhero Phase. Same thing. Still cute. You buy new superhero sheets. You get 4000 costumes. Your kid comes downstairs dressed as Spiderman and you just. Have. To. Take. A. Picture. And put it on Facebook.

3. The Big Lego phase. Your kid loves Lego’s. And so do you. You feel good about yourself because he is playing with something “imaginative” and “old school.” Plus, once he gets past the I-can’t-stick-these-fucking-things-together-by-myself-so-I’m-going-to-lose-it-every-5-seconds phase, he will often play with those things for hours, so you can get something done.

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4. The Dinosaur and/or Pirate phase. You buy every plastic dinosaur or every item of pirate paraphernalia you see. You buy every dinosaur or pirate-themed book ever published in the history of the world. You read dinosaur or pirate books every night for 6 months straight.

5. The Power Ranger Phase. No matter what you do, no matter how many times you say “I will never buy my kid a pretend weapon of any kind,” you end up watching your kid pretend stab someone while wearing an extremely overpriced, piece of crap Power Ranger costume.

6. The I-Just-Farted Phase. Your kid farts. He must tell you every time he does it. He thinks it’s funny. Some poor boys never leave this phase.

7. The Tiny Lego Phase. Big Lego’s are no longer acceptable. You must by the Lego kits, with the tiny Lego’s, that contain 987 pieces. And cost just as many dollars. If your kid cannot assemble these mothereffers by himself, you will only buy one of these things in your lifetime. Then you will try to get him to the next phase as quickly as possible.

8. The Junk Phase. Your son learns that there are many terms to use for his boy parts that are much more fun than penis. Therefor, he says balls and sac and weiner and dick and junk. ALL THE TIME.

9. The Wet Hair Phase. He must completely soak his hair every morning. And comb it forward. Every mother of a boy has at least one first day-of-school picture where her son closely resembles Lloyd Christmas.

10. The One Acceptable Item Of Clothing Phase. Your son will only wear one kind of pants. Or shorts. Or shirt. He must wear basketball shoes every day. But he doesn’t play basketball. If it’s not a soccer jersey, it’s not acceptable. Socks used to have to be not visible above the sneakers. Now they must be black, and pulled almost up to his knees. You thought girls were the ones who had clothing issues. But you were wrong.

11. The Facial Hair Phase. Your son looks like Pedro Sanchez from Napoleon Dynamite. You need to have the shaving talk with him, but you can’t stop picturing him as that little baby. You can’t believe your little man is now almost a big man. And he needs a razor.

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12. The Cologne Phase. The only good thing about this phase is that you know where your son is at all times. Just follow the Axe trail.

13. The Shower Phase. You know exactly what happens in this phase.

14. The Earbud Phase. If your son is at home, he must have these in his ears at all times. You fear they are actually fusing into his ear canal.

15. The Everybody-In-This-House-Is-Totally-Uncool Phase. We have one in this phase right now. He’ll come around. Until then, he’s got his earbuds to keep him company.

Related post: Your Penis Won’t Fall Off And Other Things Boys Should Know

10 Things I Never Thought I’d Have To Say…Until I Had Boys

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I have three boys. They are pretty mellow, on the boy-energy scale, and they are pretty well-behaved, on the boy-behavior scale. They are, however, creative. And sometimes I have to wonder what is going through those little blond heads of theirs.

When I imagined motherhood, I obviously didn’t have a clue about what it would be like to raise only boys. I had no brothers and I think I imagined that the things that would come out of my mouth would mostly be wise and after-school-special-ish. Maybe we will get there, but I suspect not any time soon. For now, these are some of the things that have come out of my mouth. Each time, I have found myself thinking, “did I really just have to say that?” And so, I started keeping a running list. Here are some of my favorites:

1. It is NEVER okay to pee into the bed of your toy truck. Self explanatory, right? Not to my then 3-year-old. I remember it vividly. It was the front-loader WOW garbage truck. I guess I have to compliment his aim. The little bucket-part isn’t very big.

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2. Take your brother’s underwear off your head RIGHT NOW. You’d think the thought of wearing another person’s (ahem) “used” undies would be a natural turn-off, right? Not to that same 3-year-old.  Being goofy totally trumps hygiene.

3. Do not stick your finger anywhere near your brother’s eye ball. Ever. I honestly don’t remember which kid did this. Probably that same 3-year-old.

4. Do not eat your ear wax. That had to have been the other one. He seems Kleenex-averse. I keep wondering when that whole eating-boogers thing is going to go away. No matter how insistent I am on a) how gross it is, b) how unhealthy it is, c) the actual make-up of boogers, it just persists. I truly think it is done out of convenience. This does not give me comfort.

5. Do not throw banana peels on the ground and then attempt to slip on them. This one was actually witnessed by my husband.  I think it was an attempt by our 4-year-old (the aforementioned former-3-year-old) to recreate a Mythbusters episode. I should also mention that due to Mythbusters, my 7-year-old categorically refuses to wear jeans. Ever. Why? Because there was an episode about jeans spontaneously combusting (or something).He is quite seriously afraid if he wears jeans, he will catch on fire. No amount of discussion will convince him otherwise. Thank you, Discovery Channel, and thank you fashion-designers for all of a sudden making sweat pants hip and cool.

6. Do not leave your toothbrush on the floor next to the toilet where you might pee on it. That firehose is a dangerous thing. So much of what I thought I would never have to say relates to it. Not much that relates to pee or penises surprises me anymore. Well, okay, maybe #9.

7. Do not put boogers in your ear. Seriously. Did I just have to say that?

8. A pretend helmet can’t actually protect your head. That’s wise, right? You gotta love the imagination of a 4-year-old. Even if it might give me a near-heart-attack from time to time. This kid goes to the beach during 90-degree weather in full fireman-costume. And wears it the whole time.

9. Do not leave cups of pee in the bathtub. Okay, so my boys apparently needed to go mid-bath and didn’t want to get out of the tub.  So, they concocted a plan. They seriously thought they were doing some sort of science experiment to see what would happen if they left it there for a few days. This occurred during our 7-months-o’-colic-with-our-third, if you are wondering why there was not more supervision. I took out the trash. I scrubbed the floor around the toilet. I cleaned the toilet. I washed the rug. I could NOT figure out why I could not eradicate the smell. Then I found the offending cups. And we had to have a talk.

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10. Don’t put blackberries in your pockets. Blackberry bushes grow as weeds here in the Pacific Northwest. My oldest LOVES blackberries. He recently discovered these curious things built into his (non-denim) pants called pockets. Now he fills them with things. Like blackberries. Side-anecdote: somewhere around a month into Kindergarten last year, he decided he wanted to buy lunch for the first time. He was so enthusiastic about all the choices that when lunch was over, he stuffed his pocket with all the left-over stuff he didn’t have time to eat.  He came home with a pocket full of cherry tomatoes, snap peas, and peanuts. He was so excited to *show* us what he got for lunch.

I’m sure the list will continue for many years, and judging by the way the third boy-child is developing, he will add his own creative twist to mischief, but this is the stuff mommy-memories are made of, right?  No seriously, right?

Related post: Your Penis Won’t Fall Off And Other Things Boys Should Know