I read this extraordinary list of 25 Rules for Moms With Sons on The Good Men Project. And I cried, and then I read it again. There’s such a turbulent sea of feeling under the surface when it comes to my children. It doesn’t take much to pierce me at my core, to bring tears, to unleash floods of nostalgia and emotion and regret and longing.
It’s no secret that I was shocked, when Whit was born, that he was boy. Well, at first I imagined I would have only boys. I imagined the universe would refuse me that relationship (that between mother and daughter) I’d studied so closely and cherished so dearly. Why I imagined that is surely fodder for another post. But then I delivered Grace, and after that I assumed I’d have all girls. After all I was one of two girls, and most of my dearest friends were one of two girls, and well, I just figured that was the plan.
Though we did not find out the gender of our baby either time, when I was pregnant with Grace, I just knew she was a girl. This despite the firm conviction of every pharmacist, cab driver, and little old lady I encountered that I “looked like” I was having a boy. With Whit, I had no idea at all. I joked “I’m just hoping we don’t have to make a call in the delivery room, you know, hermaphrodite style” so many times that Matt finally told me to cut it out. But then Whit was born, and he was certainly not the Phoebe I’d imagined, and the rest is history. His blond hair and vivid blue eyes shocked me almost as much as the fact of his boy-ness. Only his cleft chin, so much like mine and Grace’s, was familiar. Everything else was foreign, and has been ever since.
My boy. It shocks me, to this day, to note that I have a son.
How he beguiles me. While Grace is so much like me the identification sometimes gives me vertigo, Whit is so absolutely other I often wonder where he came from (and when I ask him he always says, immediately, and deadpan, “Texas. I come from Texas.“) It is not just gender, of course. But that is some of it.
He amazes me every day, and he also infuriates me most of them. When I think about my son becoming a young man in this world, I am overcome with an intense sense of responsibility. I want to contribute, in whatever way I can, to my son being a good man. I want him to be a man who is not afraid: not of his feelings, not of his strength, not of the moments that feel like startling weakness. I want him to respect women and men alike, for all the ways they are similar and also for all the ways that they differ. I want him to know how to express the emotions of his heart, no matter how strong or ugly or passionate. I want him to know that his mind and his soul and his body all have important claims to this life, and that he must respect the needs and calls of each.
My father has always held that children are 95% nature. I didn’t believe him until I had two, so that I could compare. And of course I cannot disaggregate gender, birth order, and basic personality when I parse the ways that Grace and Whit are different. But how can I not ascribe some of their more bald distinctions to gender?
Whit has an indestructible sense of wonder and indefatigable hunger to understand how things work. He crouches under the sink and puts his hand on the pipes, he unscrews the bolts on his lamp, he builds a 900 piece Lego in two hours. He is an engineer at heart and I know just where he gets that from. He is funny beyond all description but this humor can mask a deep seam of sensitivity that often startles me when it glints through. I hope that I help him cultivate these parts of himself, but I also hope I can help him live in a world that I know may well shame him for them. He is affectionate and loving, and I dearly hope that these instincts don’t fall prey to the world’s insistence that “real men” ought not hug their mothers. In a recent “choose a biography” unit in 1st grade he chose Amelia Earhart and was mystified when I cried, openly, when he presented me with a book about her. I have taught him to write thank you notes and to look adults in the eye, but I also wait patiently while he is rowdy and noisy, while he works through his fascination with guns, while he fake boxes me and says, “Bring it, Goldilocks” and I dissolve into laughter, asking him where the hell he learned that.
Read these 25 Rules for Mothers With Sons. They will make you weep. They remind me of the kind of mother I want to be to Whit
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