Friends of mine recently announced they were expecting a baby boy. Immediately, my mind flew to the moment my own son was born. As the doctor pulled him out of my belly, everyone in the room crowed at once, “It’s a BIG boy!”
Before I had a son, I thought little boys and little girls were pretty much alike. Aside from the obvious differences, it seemed to me that boys had the same needs to be fed, clothed and nurtured as girls. It seemed simple.
Then I had Gabriel.
From the time he was an infant, he looked at life differently from his sisters. He had a different intuition, a different sensitivity and a different way of approaching life. He tried things that his sisters would not. He responded to me in a way that was different from my girl babies.
For one thing, there was the play/work confusion. Boys mix play with work much differently from girls. When my daughters were told to clean their room, they played “mother” and neatly put away their toys, books, and clothing. When Gabe was told to clean his room, he played “basketball star.” He carefully hung a plastic bag from his basketball hoop. He rolled his clothes into a ball, ran across his room, stuffed the ball into the bag and hid it under the bed.
When I sent my girls upstairs to brush their teeth, they climbed the stairs, turned on the water, spread Colgate on their toothbrushes and scrubbed until their teeth shone. Not so, Gabe. He turned on the water, put toothpaste on his toothbrush and brushed the mirror. He filled the sink with water, plunged his face into the basin, spit water onto the mirror and drove a toy car through it. Twenty minutes later, he emerged, leaving the bathroom soaked and his teeth untouched.
He managed to break six bones in his foot by falling out of a tree. The cast was not even dry before I caught him playing street hockey with the neighbors. That same summer he fell off his bike, cracked his helmet and got such a concussion he could not find our house. A couple of months later, he fell from playground equipment and fractured his coccyx. He infected the entire kindergarten with chicken pox. He wore through the soles of his sneakers from playing street hockey, basketball, and football on the pavement outside our front door. He hid half eaten sandwiches in his sock drawer. He got into fist fights with his friend Matthew, and then an hour later asked if Matthew could stay for dinner.
On his bed, Gabe always kept five stuffed animals he called The Boys. The Boys were his posse. Their job was to ride shotgun through the perils that beset him in his dreams, play guard under the Nerf basketball hoop on his closet door and to lend an open ear when he was in trouble and sent to his room. They made life for a little boy sandwiched between two sisters bearable. The summer he went to overnight camp, I sat on his bed and stared at The Boys, aching at the emptiness of his too-clean room.
Now grown, Gabe is still different from his sisters. When I need affirmation, I talk to my girls. They will tell me what I want to hear. They are part of the sisterhood that encourages, identifies, soothes.
But when I need truth, no matter how brutal, my son will tell me what I need to hear. He is not unkind, but he is straightforward, direct, and honest. How many times has he been the voice of reason amid the chaos of estrogen-laced emotionalism? How many times has he given up his own plans to help me out when I have taken on a project too big to handle alone? How many times have I confided in him, knowing he would help me separate the facts from the feelings? I marvel at the size of his shoulders, the strength of his hands, the way in which he assumes charge during a crisis. This boy child has become a man.