Tag Archives: boys

Outnumbered

SAM_4125

We were driving out to the woods on Saturday evening, and Tim switched on the radio. Cyndi Lauper came on, because this is Heart Radio, and they like their Saturday nights to start with a cheese board.

Tim whipped up the volume, and I yelled out of the window, picturing myself in sleeves as big as my head.

Whoooa GIRLS just wanna have fu-un

Whoooa GIRLS just wanna haaaaave fuuuuun!

Then I yelled, equally loudly, ‘I AM NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO DANCE TO THIS IN OUR HOUSE’.

Because, of course, I have boys.

Sometimes I think the girl-ache will eat me alive. Genetically speaking, we’re likely to have boys until we decide to stop having anyone. I have lingered in frilly-dress aisles and directed mournful glances at baby headbands and flowered vests. My well-thumbed, twenty-year-old copies of The Little White Horse and A Little Princess sit hopefully on my shelf, but are likely to be ignored in favour of Artemis Fowl and Lemony Snicket (just to be clear, I know boys can love A Little Princess too, and I think Lemony Snicket is a wordy genius. But, you know, statistics). And there are things that a mother can only have with a daughter. The vulnerability and prickly magnificence of being a woman is something that is precious to me. I would like to share it with someone who has my heart.

We arrived at the woods and wandered in. The sun was going down, with the kind of light that clarifies. Henry was poking in a muddy puddle with a stick, flat cap pulled down low over his eyes. He passed me another stick without looking at me. ‘This one yours, Mummy’, he said.

I settled down to poking. It’s underrated, I think.

As the sun set, I took over Teddy’s back carrier so Henry could sit on Tim’s shoulders. The darkness came in behind and around us while Henry listened for owls, and I listened to Teds sigh and coo behind my head. He is so beautiful, this one, that some days all I can do is squeeze him.

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep’, I said to Henry. ‘What’s the next line?’ He looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

Oh yes, that was it. I raised my voice and my arms, because in the dark, with your wordy boy who understands you completely, and your tiny boy who adores you too much to care, you can do that sort of thing.

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep -

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep’.

I looked over and he’d raised his skinny arms too. Teddy huffed again behind my head. I felt like I was made for this.

‘I heard an owl’, Henry said.

‘Me too’, I said.

We went home.

SAM_4104

 

16 Comments

Filed under baby diaries, family

My children are more than a high school movie

Buffy, season 1. Where miniskirts ruled the world.

Buffy, season 1. Where miniskirts ruled the world, and the vice-presidents were sass and eye shadow.

I thought the other day that Henry and Teds had the potential to be superstars in the high school movie genre. If there’s a higher pinnacle of ambition for your children, I’d like to hear about it. And why? They’d be dead easy to cast.

Henry, loveable nerd.

SAM_3620

Long, stringy frame in a button-down shirt and jersey. Slightly highly-strung, with a headful of obscure details gleaned from the books he reads obsessively. He likes to perch. He prefers to explain things in twenty words when two-and-a-half would do.

Teddy, easy-going slacker.

SAM_3500

Blonde-haired, blue eyed, wrestler’s physique. When he blows, he really blows – but most of the time you’ll find him eating large meals, laughing at someone else’s jokes, accidentally standing on people, keeping his heart of gold resolutely on display.

I’ve spent a lot of time, since the boys were born, making note of their characters. I love their differences: Henry has always been fierce and funny, Teddy sweet and observant. It’s amazing how much personality babies cram into their tiny bodies, isn’t it? They come out bellowing with it.

And it’s fine to notice, because I believe we don’t make or mould our babies, but discover them, and help them to discover themselves: gently amplifying their strengths, taking compassionate stock of their weaknesses. Who knows them better than me, after all? I’ve hovered over their cribs, supervised their mealtimes, gathered them up into my lap after a fall. We go way back to the clammy-soft skin and desperate heaving of tiny ribs as they were passed to me for the first time: bawling, enraged, blazing with life. Everything I know about them is logged away, and I am desperately organising it into some magnificent mental database that will tell me exactly what to do at all times.

The problem is that no sooner do I triumphantly find and label a characteristic, they change it. It gets me into trouble. ‘Oh, Henry is great with people’, I say. ‘He’s not shy’. Except sometimes he is. He’ll stick his head under the sofa rather than look directly at someone new – if he hasn’t seen them before, or for a while, or if he feels like it. So basically, he’s shy except when he’s not, and he’s brave except when he’s not, and Teddy is quiet except when he’s shouting his head off, which is, hello, a lot of the time.

My instinct is to pin them down, and theirs is to reinvent. They are shy and loud and headstrong and watchful and fearless and terrified and thoughtfully kind and thoughtlessly mean. What do I know about them? Only what’s true in this minute.

One more thing. I come from a family where we knew, and often talked about, what our defining quality was. Four siblings, respectively The Brains, The Sporting Genius, The Funny One and The Looker. We mostly decided this for ourselves, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pinpointing what you’re good at. But over time it became set in stone. The fear of being Not Clever Enough is still the ugly root of a lot of my anxieties.

I don’t want that for them. There’s a lot of good to be done in this world, and I’d like them to get on with it without worrying about whether they’re allowed. I am breathless with possibility for them. Their horizon is just about anything they can imagine for themselves, and I am ready – and hoping – to be surprised.

In short, dear boys: sometimes you’re the nerd, and sometimes you’re the vampire slayer. But most of the time – brilliantly, heartbreakingly, and all at once – you’re every marvellous thing in between.

SAM_3757 - Copy

Leave a comment

Filed under baby diaries, thoughts

To my sons: if I catch you treating a girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps

My friend Megan Conley was in a library the other week, and overheard a horrific conversation between a couple on a first date. Well. We’ve all had our share of cringe-worthy first dates, of course (unless you’re me, in which case you’ve had your share of no dates at all). But this one, oh, this one got under my skin.

Meg wrote a beautiful response for the girl she wanted to take aside, which I hope you’ll read. But I am raising boys. With Meg’s kind permission, I’ve written this for them. 

My dear, lovely boys,

I don’t know when you’ll be reading this. Perhaps you already keep to your room most of the time and roll your eyes when you talk to me, because I’m the most uncool person you know. (Just as an aside, right now you think I’m the best thing since chips and ketchup, so there. (Extra aside: am I better at being an adult, now? I hope so.))

I’m willing to bet, though, that you’re already interested in girls. And that’s good. Because girls are what I want to talk to you about. You hear a lot about dating at the moment, I’m sure. A lot of it is good, sound advice. We’ll have talked about all this already, in person, so I don’t need to say anything here.

Here’s what I do want to say: if I catch you treating that girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps.

I am so tired of all this girl-as-a-princess talk. Do you know what princesses do, in stories? They are kidnapped. They sit in towers guarded by fire-breathing dragons. They are the prizes in competitions of strength and manliness. They are the victims of spell-casters twirling their moustaches, and lie in enchanted sleep or as sad little swans on the river until they are rescued. And rescued they have to be, almost always, by the handsome prince on his white horse.

Oh, that prince. He is dashing. He is determined. He chops down the forest of thorns and defeats the evil witch even when all hope is lost. He works out the problem to be solved and doesn’t stop searching and trying and thinking until the princess has been found and there’s a happily ever after. Oh, I know there are princesses who think for themselves. There are exceptions to every rule. But for every Mulan there is an Aurora, and for every Belle with her library book there’s a Cinderella waiting for the ball, in fact twelve Cinderellas, a hundred Cinderellas – a princess at the top of every tower you can think of, and all of them waiting for you.

My dear boys, this is utter, utter pigswill. The girls you meet are not sitting in suspended animation, waiting for your manly shoulder to cry on, your voice to explain everything and make it alright. The girl you fall in love with has opinions, loves, passions, tragedies, strengths and weaknesses all of her own. She was born an endlessly complex, endlessly marvellous creature, and has spent her life thus far remembering and discovering who she is. She has spent her life in a world where too many stories told her that she had to stay put and look pretty, that all her value lay in what a man thought of her, wanted from her, was willing to do for her. I hope she is fighting against it. I hope she has come out spitting.

It’s not much fun for you either, this handsome prince lark. Of course it’s nice to be needed, but the pressure to always be the strong one, always chopping down that damned forest to get to her, can be suffocating. At best, you feel an added pressure to always be in control of yourself, to never show weakness or emotion, and to carry the weight of you both even when you’re sinking. At worst, you begin to assume that only you know the answers to the questions that bother you both. You make the decisions, you tell her what to think, you explain things, endlessly. It’s disrespectful to both of you, that sort of thing. It leads nowhere good.

This is what I want you to say, when you find a girl that makes you feel like the best version of yourself: to hell with the stories. Do you hear me? To hell with them. Neither of you have to be anything you’re not. Both of you are endlessly complex, endlessly marvellous creatures, and you’ll spend a lifetime learning each others’ strengths and bolstering your weaknesses. Sometimes you’ll be on the horse, and sometimes you’ll be in the tower. Sometimes you’ll be back-to-back, chopping down the thorns with a sword in each hand. Let her be, in all her wonderful imperfection. Let yourself be, too. It’s alright. Together you’ll leap every obstacle and storm every castle and make something so fine we’ll hardly be able to look at it straight.

Oh, I love you to your bones, my darling boys. So will she. Be worthy of it. Or I really will break your kneecaps.

Your mother.

169565_10100304792091369_62414576_o

9 Comments

Filed under baby diaries, family, thoughts

How to be ten feet tall: a note on Father’s Day

SAM_8176

One day last month Tim worked from home. It was one of those days where Henry was still gallivanting downstairs in his vest and socks at 10am, yelling something or other about diggers.

‘Henry’, I heard Tim say, ‘want to come help me work?’

Everything went quiet. I looked over the balcony to check he wasn’t balancing on anything taller than himself. But he was sat next to Daddy on the armchair, sharing a blanket, looking at Tim’s server configurations with intense concentration. I wanted to cry at the look on his face: pride, and self-importance, and glee beyond reckoning. Even the hair on the top of his head was standing up in excitement (or lack of brushing, I forget which).

He wears the same expression when he sails off on the back of Tim’s bike, or fiddles with screwdrivers while they put up a shelf, or sits on his knee to steer the car. He hears Tim’s key in the door and his everything lights up like a beacon. They go back, these two, to dark hours of brand-new nights, when going to sleep on Daddy’s chest was the best thing a tiny boy could imagine. You can get Henry to repeat pretty much anything these days, but ask him who he loves and he’ll give it to you straight.

‘Hey, can you say: I love Mummy?’

‘Luss Daddy’.

‘No! I love Mummy’.

‘Luss Daddy‘.

(I tried bribery. He won’t be moved.)

It slays me. Because Timothy completes me too, so I understand. I watch him fill up parts of this boy I can’t touch, and it’s a particular sort of happiness I never anticipated.

I might be the one Henry comes to for kisses and quiet. But at heart he is a voyager, and his co-pilot of choice is Daddy. Bros for life, with their matching feet and hairlines. It feels like that’s how it should be. I’m so glad I get to see it.

Happy Father’s Day, favourite.

???????????????????????????????

3 Comments

Filed under baby diaries, family, thoughts

Boys in boxes

Before I had a baby I thought I was a girl’s girl. Here are some things I do not like: climbing trees, wearing trainers, kicking balls, throwing or catching balls, having to hit balls with a bat and missing, pretty much anything to do with balls, let’s leave it at that. And so when I thought about having babies, I imagined myself with a girl’s girl: covered in glitter glue, playing dolls’ houses, brushing hair, watching Cinderella.

Then I had a boy. He happens to be the most boyish boy you can imagine. No one would look at that face and think otherwise. It’s always covered in biro, for a start. And I can’t get enough of it. His bustly fearlessness, and the way he sprints everywhere with his arms in the air, and the gap-toothed beam that takes over his whole face, and the fact that no puddle goes unsplashed, no pile of mud unstirred, no high and sharp-cornered piece of furniture unclimbed-upon. His first word – apart from ‘Daddy’ – was ‘car’. He likes dogs and lions and electronics. He wears chunky jumpers like no one I’ve ever seen. It slays me. And somehow, it wasn’t an adjustment at all.

He’s a boy’s boy, my boy, but now I know he didn’t need to be. I watched him today, running around and doing dangerous things with his cousin, and thought about how we box up our expectations for our children, and hand it to them over a lifetime. But I might have a girl who hates Cinderella. Or a boy who loves to bake. Or has any one of a hundred surprising dreams and loves, none of which may be in my plans for him.

But it’s ok. What I’m realising, the further I get into this mothering lark, is that babies come as their own selves, and it’s only my job to teach them how to use it well. My loves, you must be compassionate, do right and try hard, but the rest is yours. I can’t stop myself constructing boxes for you, but I’ll make them whatever shape you come in.

Oh, but you must get a decent education, or there is a SMACKDOWN COMING. (Some things are non-negotiable.)

Photo 07-12-2012 11 19 52 AM Photo 07-12-2012 05 25 57 PM Photo 07-12-2012 05 49 26 PM Photo 07-12-2012 05 50 15 PM

P to the S: I’ll be doing the Year in Instagram round-up on Monday. If you want to do it but haven’t yet, do it quick! And for those who’ve done it: I LOVED it. Thanks for being as blurry-photo-obsessed as I am! (Though I have to say, your photos were a good bit better than mine.)

1 Comment

Filed under baby diaries, family, thoughts