Boy Crazy

As the bearer of the first breasts he loved, the womb he outgrew, the ovary
that harbored the idea of him, I am my son’s first course in the opposite
sex. I am his nurse-maid, personal chef, therapist, hands-on tutor, coach,
and laundry slave. And, sometimes when we head out for a night of skating
and burgers, I am also his date. Of course, I would play all these roles if
he were a girl, but the fact that I am Woman and he is Man-To-Be changes
things in a subtle but pervasive way.

As I fluff his pillow and rub his feverish forehead, I wonder if he’ll
expect women to intuit his needs. Maybe I ought to wait for him to tell me
what he wants. If I teeter on my skates—or decide to read a book on the
bench while he zooms by—do I risk teaching him that girls are wimps? I
tighten the laces and leave my reading for later. If I ask him what he
thinks about my outfit because his father isn’t home yet, am I letting him
know I value his opinion or teaching him to objectify women? Do I dye my
graying hair to show him women’s looks and abilities defy age, or let it
grow in naturally to model reality? I know it’s too much to expect that
every action I take now will direct him to the girls he’ll befriend, have a
crush on, ask to the school dance, and eventually exchange kisses with in a
dark back seat. But as his line drawing of Woman, I am being studied.

He’s being studied, too. I was a girl raised by a single mother and before
my son I learned everything I knew about boys by dating them. They were a
strange species—some failed to call when they said they would, others smiled
at me sleepily like I was the best drug they’d ever had. For a while, I
swore off of men entirely and focused on decoding the mysteries of myself.
But finally I succeeded in taming one of them—or, more likely, he tamed
me—and we moved in together. Jim left his hippie-long locks matted in the
hair brush, watched way too much TV, and cooked the best spaghetti sauce I’d
ever eaten. Of me, he would say I left the ironing board up all the time,
talked on the phone way too much, and took him to the best restaurants he’d
ever eaten at. Throwing gender roles out the window, we got married and
later got pregnant.

Like most women, I assumed the wee one inside was a girl. Honestly, how
could my body with its flowery curves and secret folds harbor a thing as
gregarious as a penis? Of course the real question should have been:
Honestly, how could my body with its expectations of food and sleep actually
love a thing as demanding as my new baby boy?

But I did. I especially loved his boy-ness, his tiny barrel-chested body,
his thick legs ringed with fat, the incredible heft of him—how he doubled
his mass in eight weeks! I remembered a friend’s boys—she had two of them
when I knew her, about eight and ten, who traveled with a pack of their
friends, like a band of puppies when they’re old enough to venture from the
basket. They dressed alike in loose-fitting clothes and were always
wrestling, leaning on or playfully kicking one another. They had a power
about them, something admirable and scary. I loved watching them look out
from under their too-long bangs, carry their heavy hands in their pockets,
or nudge a skateboard with their toes while they talked.

Now I live with one. Just last night, Cope had his best friend over and
their wrestling was interrupted by Cope yelling, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean
to!” I ran in and found Grayson suffering a bump on the head that he got
from the bookcase by the bed. One ice pack and lecture later, I heard them
going at it again. Storming in, I said: “Didn’t you boys learn ANYthing?”
before I could see that they’d padded the sharp edges with half a dozen
pillows. They smiled at me and went back at it, giggling.

“Girls don’t wrestle,” I told my husband. “We used to fight, pull hair, and
scratch, but we never wrestled.”

“Have you ever seen stallions prancing at each other?” he replied.

I thought of the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom shows I used to love to
watch—the male antelopes tangling their antlers together or the lions
out-growling each other. I could never understand the violence of
nature—especially when it occurred outside the food chain.
“It’s not safe for the males of a species to actually fight,” my husband
explained, an armchair naturalist. “But they have to have the skills to
protect their family so they practice by play fighting.”

I nod but, frankly, I don’t understand.

I’m not alone. Despite early feminism’s shrill plea that “girls are just as
good as boys,” the brains of girls and boys differ markedly. In his book The
Wonder of Boys
, Michael Gurian explains that while boys’ brains are on
average 10% larger than girls’, girls have more connections between the two
hemispheres. Thus we women multi-task, tend to read well, and understand
complex emotional states. On the other hand, boys focus on spatial
relationships and activity, growing up to love sports (moving objects around
a playing field), mechanics, and data. Of course, such broad notions of
gender are tendency, not destiny.

Gurian explains that for boys competing is a form of nurturing. Perhaps this
is why a bedtime backrub can so easily become a tickle-fest. And why
wrestling is the language that Cope and his best friend speak so often. This
fall, Cope began playing his first organized sport—inline hockey. He has
worked hard to learn to skate backwards and dribble the puck. One thing I
secretly love about it is that girls play, too. Their long hair streams
behind them as they chase down the skittish disk. Cope is oblivious, all his
concentration set on his own game. Watching him deflect a speeding puck from
the goal, I cheer that he is living out his natural boyish desire to move
something through space—and also for the girls who are now part of the game.

For more on what makes mothers of boys crazy, check out: It’s a Boy: Women
Writers on Raising Sons
(Seal Press) which includes a lot of my fave writers
and my own essay “Becoming a Boy.”
Robin Bradford, an award-winning short story writer and essayist, has published in Brain, Child, Glimmer Train, and many other places. You can find her in two new anthologies -- Mother Knows: 24 Tales of Motherhood and Three-Ring-Circus: How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work and Family. Bradford works as a communications and development director for a nonprofit affordable housing provider in Austin. She lives with her husband and son, three cats and a dog in a tiny fifties house. Being the mother—of a child over the age of three!—is the best thing that ever happened to her. Contact her at motherload @ austinmama.com  And visit her site at www.robinbradford.net