My husband and I are house hunting. We are not in complete agreement about what we want to buy, or even where, and the search is in its early stages which means we often find ourselves in rather unexpected places, all in the name of “checking things out.”
Today we found ourselves in a new eco co-housing community, mostly because, like all good progressives, we like the idea of a strong sense of community combined with sustainability. So we traveled a mile out of town to see what was cooking at the proposed eco village.
It took me about 30 seconds to realize this was never going to be a welcoming place for our youngest sons. This place was crawling with senior citizens in Birkenstocks and hemp clothing. These folks are slow and steady, calm to the point of inertia, unless they are gardening or composting their healthy and pesticide free leftovers, or forming singing groups called “The Green Grannies” who sing about saving the earth and dress in wildly flamboyant green clothing.
Everything moved at a relaxed and deliberate pace, and inside voices were used outside because, like all worthy people, shouting, along with picking one’s nose, is seen as vulgar in the extreme. There is plenty of energy, but it is for things like potlucks and community gardens, not games of capture the flag or sword fights (always plastic or wood swords, just in case you were worried).
My boys ran at top speed from the parking lot to the play area barely missing the perambulating seniors and toddlers who had arrived earlier in the day, made heart-shaped mud pies with the sand toys, and climbed everything not surrounded by an electric fence. They whacked low hanging tree branches with the aforementioned plastic sword, as well as probed ground holes with its tip, and ran and tripped and leaped across the uneven ground, skidding in the mud, all with voices in a decibel range only a NASCAR enthusiast could appreciate.
They stood out like a couple of hyper, dirty and noisy sore thumbs.
Outside the community building where a lecture on the proposed design plans for the community was being held, signs were posted asking latecomers to remove all shoes, not just the muddy ones. That strategy would hardly last through breakfast in our house. Mud is our middle name. So the boys, who have an inherent knack for slamming doors and filling a studious quiet with shouts of, “I need to poo, RIGHT NOW!” were invited to stay outside.
We missed the lecture, but I didn’t really need it to know we didn’t fit in at this place.
In fact, we don’t fit in many places any more. Even in places where there are other children. Our boys are notorious for their high energy and imaginative games. These games often revolve around nature exploration, but they could equally involve super heroes and Power Rangers. They always involve climbing, running, water, mud, and a high degree of unintended destruction. If it can be thrown, jumped on, pounded, pulled apart, flung, stacked, soaked, dug up, pulverized, or propped up, it will be.
We deal in a constant whirl of negative impulse control and bad outcomes. I have had to teach my boys about mens rea – the legal concept that a crime requires intent – and that having a reckless disregard for the outcome of one’s actions makes one just as guilty as if one had intended the outcome right from the start.
Raising boys is a study in living life on the edge with a reckless disregard for the consequences.
And the more boys you have, and the closer they are in age, the more accute this experience becomes. Mothers of twins and “annuals” (my word for those of us whose kids will be just one year apart in school) know exactly what I mean. The phrase “partners in crime” was developed to describe our kids. Together, they are far greater at causing chaos than a simple sum of their individual parts would indicate.
My Aunt Carol had 6 boys. The first 5, thanks to a set of twins, were very close in age. At one point, she had 5 under five. I shudder at the very thought. Like imaging the death of a loved one, I just can’t go there.
Some say I am following in her footsteps, but the truth is, she is a bloody miracle of Motherhood because she SURVIVED. And I admire her for how she did it – with grace, humor, and a move to a ranch where her boys could run wild and free and indulge in all things boy, in a way that suburban living will never tolerate.
And this is where I will follow my Aunt’s lead. If I have learned one thing during my initial house search it is that my boys need space, with mud that isn’t in a flower bed or covering the squash and bean crop, trees that aren’t the fragile but attractive Crepe Myrtle at the front of the drive, space to fling rocks and hurl sticks, and enough distance between them and everyone else so that their imaginations can run wild and free without causing property damage or personal injury.
The truth is, society today no longer appreciates boys or boy-like behavior. We like to see kids playing imagination games so long as those games don’t involve competition, or God forbid, fighting, wrestling, or any other physical, risky challenge. Earlier in the day, in fact, we were hounded out of the outdoor restaurant where we were enjoying lunch because our youngest, Jacob, was open carrying his plastic sword, and was running with two other boys. The other dads took offense and hollered at Jacob, then told my husband about the transgression. All Jacob was doing was running with a sword. It kept falling out of its “sheath” (his belt loop on his trousers), so in order to keep up with the kids, he had to hold it. And that was enough to condemn him in the eyes of the other parents.
As we drove away I noted that the other boys were now armed with larger, rapier-like sticks. My boys are leaders of future men, if nothing else.
Boys need time to be boys. They need space, and patience, love, and lots of understanding laughter. It is a hard, messy, job to parent a boy. And in those moments when I am not tired, trying to clean, or it is early in the day and the list of transgressions is still short, I can appreciate them in all their filthy, fun and physical glory.
For the other times?
Wine. And a Bible. And a padded cell. But hopefully the wine and Bible are enough.
I sometimes see my boys in the future. They are strong, fearless, and full of adventure and high spirits. They make me laugh and keep me young.
All will be well, I tell myself, if only I can survive these Wild Years. And of course I will. For who wouldn’t want to see what becomes of all this energy and what order will be brought to this chaos?
I used to think I was supposed to be a mother of many daughters. I have a degree in Women’s Studies, after all. But now I see the wisdom in God’s mysterious ways. She knew what She was doing when She sent me these last two boys, my change-of-life sons, Brothers in Arms, worst of enemies, and fiercest of friends.
And I am grateful.