People always say raising a boy is easier than a girl. I’ve never been sure why.
From the moment I realized I had grown a male infant inside my decidedly female body, I was impressed to the point of being intimidated.
Fortunately my son was sweet and gentle and uncomplicated. His early years were a cakewalk – in marked contrast to the way my head spun from his sisters, one of whom, pre-language skills, once bit me on my right butt cheek in lieu of asking me to move, and then a few months later toilet-trained herself.
But my son is 15 now. I always had a hard time understanding teenage boys. Even when I was a teenager myself.
I get teenage girls, despite their complexities. I speak their language. Teaching them how to do their hair, to handle girl drama, to evaluate the pros of tampons vs. pads – it’s like slipping on a favorite old t-shirt.
Boy issues baffle me. I try to stay close to him, to help him navigate the weirdness of adolescence, to talk football as much as I’m able. Yet I fail more than I succeed.
I’ve had a few memorable victories recently.
For years now, I’ve been trying to teach my son to cook a few essentials. Just so he could survive in the wilderness of college on his own, or simply make his own lunch when I’m away on a business trip. I set the bar low. Frozen pizza, hot dogs, lemon poppyseed muffins from a mix.
It was excruciating. His questions went like this: “Where is the butter? Why do I need that kind of pan? It tastes fine frozen. Will you intercom me when it’s done?”
Finally I realized that he was not scared, in the slightest, by my prediction that one day he would starve to death if he didn’t learn to boil water for spaghetti or wash the dirt off strawberries.
It took months to figure out how to get his attention. The trick surprised even me.
“You know, one day…”
He turned to walk out of the kitchen, already tuning out. He thought he’d heard my speech one million times before. I kept talking to his backside.
“One day, you are going to be a dad yourself. And you are going to want to cook meals for you own kids. You need to practice now.”
He spun around and made eye contact for almost five seconds, which has not happened since his 13th birthday. Then he proceeded to carefully prepare hot dogs wrapped in Pillsbury crescent rolls – requiring use of tin foil, the microwave defrost setting, and the oven — without another word. The next day I caught him using the blender to whip up an ice cream shake for his younger sister. He makes a meal a day for himself now.
In our house, this ranks as a miracle.
In the loss column, we have to list his laundry skills. Two years ago, I taught him another life skill: to shop by himself at T.J. Maxx. He loves the clothes, the prices, the whole shopping experience. Last week, with his Christmas money, he bought himself a gorgeous baby blue v-neck merino wool sweater guaranteed to charm the ladies.
He wore it once. Then washed it in hot water and put it in the dryer on high heat. It came out looking like it might fit an American Girl doll. His dismay knew no bounds.
I guess part of the challenge of raising a boy is that I want him to be the best of his gender. I’m looking to raise a boy who is sensitive, articulate, in touch with his feelings, along with possession of passable cooking, shopping and laundry skills. I want him to be a catch one day, to attract exactly the type of woman who values this mix of qualities in a man.
These skills come naturally to my two daughters and are reinforced mightily by our culture. But with my son , I feel like I’m pissing on a campfire. That same culture seems determined to convince him to drink beer, plaster his room with pictures of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and stare stonily into space when I ask him if he had fun at the dance last Saturday night.
He tells me I’m the sexist one when I talk about discrimination against women.
He says wet towels on the floor don’t bother him at all.
He laughs when I ask if he walked his girlfriend to the front door when he dropped her off at 11 pm.
He says I have no legal right to refuse to drive him to his physical therapy appointment six blocks from our house – because it is my job, as his mother, until he is 18, to drive him any place he needs to go.
It is almost as if he doesn’t want to be close to me – but he also doesn’t want to be independent of me. Perhaps some mothers would love this kind of ambivalent dependence in a teenaged boy (and an adult husband). But just as I looked for an independent man to marry, I want to raise an independent son. It’s just a whole lot harder than I ever imagined it would be – like so much of parenthood.