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Small talk: The joys of raising boys

The inspiration for this column was a loud ringing in my ears, prompted by an afternoon with my 3-year-old son and his best 3-year-old buddy.

Ah … (sigh) … little boys. This phrase is always said with eyes rolled up, a large sigh, a half-smile and a small shake of the head.

It means you love them desperately, but please Lord, help me find a way to see that he reaches his next birthday.

  • Without maiming or being maimed,
  • With just one T-shirt front that stays unstained past 9 a.m. of the first day he wears it ,
  • Without leaping to his possible death from the highest piece of furniture within a 100-yard radius,
  • With at least one pair of shoes not left behind at the park,
  • With at least one clock in the house he has not disassembled,
  • Without his figuring out where I have most recently hidden the matches, knives, sharp scissors, my sewing kit or his sister’s best Barbie doll
  • And without his somehow managing to trim off one of his sister’s braids with those dull, won’t-cut-anything-but-paper scissors.

We know behavior can be somewhat modified. He is potty trained after all … mostly.

All the books say you can civilize them, but parents of (sigh) little boys tends to lose faith when he still picks up the fork before each meal and sort of turns it over and over as if this was truly the first time he had ever laid eyes on it. 

The same despair creeps up when he calmly pulls the carefully purchased no-spill lid off of his grape juice (what on earth possessed you to buy grape juice?) and tips the cup to see if the juice will still only dribble out. (Refer back to the remarks about unstained T-shirts.).

It surfaces again when he insists on dressing himself, refusing to wear shoes at all and turns up in the same “favorite” shirt, fresh from the dirty-clothes basket, to be worn backward and inside out. You would think that I would have been somewhat prepared for all this, having been through these stages with my first child.

Silly you — my first was a demure girl. A cautious and fastidious little creature who never in her finest fits reached the decibel level of her brother. Who never in her most furious or high-spirited moments ever dented furniture — or tried to. And who never, upon spotting something longer that it was wide, immediately assumed it to be some sort of weapon.

I am a progressive mom. My son would be refined. My son would have no need of guns. I would make him understand that guns and knives only hurt people. I would steer him away from excessive violence. Having just passed his third birthday, he has still rarely seen any television except “Sesame Street.” After watching for about 15 minutes, he generally wanders off to find something to do that involves throwing, jumping or banging things together.

Still, the no-gun plan succeeded pretty well until he went out to play with someone besides his sister. Twenty-four hours at preschool and my two years of conscientious objections were for naught. Each time his best pal (the proud owner of a 7-year-old brother and every weapon of destruction known to toydom) arrived at our house, the toy screwdriver, sand shovels, even the attachments to my vacuum cleaner became a weapon. I stopped them mid-mayhem and announced firmly, “No — no guns allowed in my house. You can be firefighters, lumberjacks, race car drivers, doctors, dentists, tree trimmers, pipe fitters, lifeguards, mountain climbers, space explorers, ballet dancers, mailmen, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers (well, not butchers maybe), but NO GUNS. Use your imaginations!

So they did, until somehow the firefighters, lumberjacks, race car drivers, or space explorers, were suddenly attacked by evil, hairy, giant, horrible bad-guy monsters, and it was on their shoulders to drive said same from the premises — with whatever weapon was handy.

Was I daunted? Oh no. My new litany became, “We never shoot people. We only shoot targets.” That worked find for about an hour, until my son announced that his sister and that bird out the window were both targets. And what the heck was a target anyway?

My only solace now is to remind myself that every man I know played shoot-em-up when they were (sigh) little boys. Most of them, to the best of my knowledge, somehow turned out civilized. I’m convinced now that the primal drive to go out and hunt something for supper is just too deeply imbedded in the male DNA.

So, OK, OK, I’ll buy him a toy sword. Maybe even some cap pistols.

But he is still going to learn to put the seat down.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer remembering when. Contact her at [email protected]