Every son quotes his father, in words and in deeds.
Growing up, when I pictured the family I would go on to have, I never, ever pictured myself surrounded by men.
When I really stop to think about this, I am not sure why. Girls have always been scarce in my life. But, for whatever reason, I just always knew I would have a daughter.
Until I was 8, our closest family friends had a set of 3 boys. I specifically remember wondering how their mama could stand not having a girl around the house. I loved those boys with all my heart (and was pretty convinced I had to pick one to marry) but they also made me cry a lot. I have this really specific memory of the middle son hop-skipping down the hallway after his older brother. His leg was in a cast, having been broken in some trampoline accident or other high-energy antic, but it was only slowing him down a tad as he was intent on killing his older brother over some quarrel they were having. I ran away as they landed in a dog-pile on the floor, yelling and shoving, absolutely sure blood was about to be spilled. It was too much for my sensitive heart to handle. Their mama must be scared all the time, I thought… and also lonely.
(Those boys and Me– 1991)
When Ryan and I got married, I teased that he was contractually obligated to provide me with a daughter. I was only half-joking. When we discovered our first-born would be a boy, I reminded him of his obligation and when we discovered another boy would be joining our family 3 years later (even though I had genuinely hoped Dexter would be a boy) … I simply gave him a knowing look. He knew what it meant.
Now, we are unexpectedly expecting yet again and we have been informed that more snips and snails will be entering our lives.
The truth is, it is exciting! At the same time, however, it is suddenly dawning on me, as I find myself waddling through life once more, that it may take more pregnancies than I am willing to endure to add a daughter to our family. For the first time, I am entertaining the idea that I may, in fact, be a mother of sons. Even stranger for me is that I am also entertaining the fact that this may end up being our last baby entirely. I want a large family and so that never seemed an option before, but I also want to be the best mama I can be to the children I have and, for practical reasons, that may mean stopping before I am ready.
I have been asked how I feel about another boy and I always give a pretty generic answer. “Oh, it would have been fun to have a girl to dress up, but boys are so awesome!” However, as I really attempt to process my feelings, only one word genuinely seems to describe my true feelings on the matter: bittersweet.
There is a part of me that is always very aware that every day my children are moving away from me. My job as a mother is to hold them close- nurture and love them- while simultaneously easing them toward the day they will be pushed from the nest and told to fly on their own. While I think this is a universal truth for mothers of both boys and girls… there is just something so final to me about that inevitable separation when raising my sons. I am teaching them not to need me.
A son is a son till he takes him a wife, a daughter is a daughter all of her life.
Or so they say.
Being the mother of a son means preparing my child to belong to another. Being the mother of a son means perfectly the art of letting go.This has never been a strong quality of mine and so I have a lot to learn.
Please know that I am not making any assumptions about what it is or is not like to raise a daughter; I am, in fact, simply acknowledging that I may never know what it means. I only know what I know about these boys of mine.
It is sometimes hard for me to watch my boys’ eyes light up as they watch their Papa. They soak up everything he does like a sponge. They want to be just like him.
Liam will often run into the room to show me the outfit he has chosen to look “just like Papa.” He asks me when he will be big enough to go work at the office where his Papa is. “That is what my Papa says,” he declares a million times a day, to anyone who will listen.
When Ryan walks in the door at the end of the day, Dexter face explodes in happiness and devotion. He crawls as fast as he can to his Papa’s feet, sits up on his knees and reaches his hands in the air to be picked up by his big, strong Papa.
And, I know enough by now to know, this third little one will be just the same.
It is beautiful and I love it, of course…but it can also sting. There is no little one to want to be just like me, no one trailing me all day or begging me to play the games I remember from my own childhood.
It is disappointing to accept that I may never buy a dress for my little girl or help to plan a wedding. I might never get into a screaming match with my daughter or listen to her gush about a new boyfriend. I might never share make-up tips…and have them ignored, or create fairy-princess tea parties, or have mama/daughter dates. I can admit this.
I think that to be completely honest with myself, I have to admit this. If I do not have a daughter, there is a lot I may miss out on… and that if I do, I will feel that loss.
But… of course, there is a but…
There is also something so incredibly beautiful about being the mother of a little boy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade these boys of mine for the entire world.
As a woman, men are really quite a mystery to me. Yet, here I am, privileged to witness the tender beginnings of three of them. I rock Dexter to sleep and his little body melts into a puddle against my chest. I hold Liam as he cries over a skinned knee. They throw themselves into my arms with reckless abandon. They open-mouth kiss me right on the lips. They lose themselves in laughter. They scream in fright. They dissolve in tears. There are not many other women in these boys’ lives that will witness these moments of vulnerability as I have. And I will always be the first.
I am the first girl that will ever love these boys.
And, oh, how I love them! (Shut up… you knew it was coming.)
They are so sweet and curious and full of adventure. We are always fighting bad guys, digging for insects, and going to the moon. Liam knows endless interesting facts about almost any living creature. Dexter has taught me that anything is edible if you only put your mind to it. They never, ever stop exploring. They smell like sweat and earth and somehow the two mix into what has to be the most amazing smell on the planet. They test my patience and challenge me daily…but they are endlessly forgiving of all my short-comings. My life is so full of laughter and joy and fun and it all bubbles directly from their little hearts. They love me completely. I am the luckiest.
I feel so much responsibility to protect their hearts, these tiny men of mine. I want to shield them from a world. I want to preserve their tender spirits. I don’t want them to be “toughened up” or have anyone tell them not to cry or squeal in delight. It breaks my heart… but I also know that in some ways, in spite of my best efforts, it is inevitable. One day, my soft-hearted boys will probably bite their lips and hold back the tears, so even as I do my best to protect them, to teach them to be true to themselves… I also wipe those tears that stream down their faces so easily now with purpose, knowing that one day, I may never do it again. I listen intently to every giggle, savor every freely given, slobbery kiss on the mouth. I hold them in my laps while I can, folding their legs and arms up in mine, trying my best to remember what their little hearts feel like beating against me.
They change so completely, don’t they? Their voices crack and deepen, their arms and legs grow long and their jaw gets wide. They will tower over me one day. When I look at baby pictures of the men in my life, I can barely see the resemblance and so I am careful to soak in all of who my little boys are at every moment; everything from their button noses and chipmunk voices to their tender, exposed emotions and open expressions of affections.
We don’t get to keep them.
And it is all very precious because it is all very fleeting.
As I feel this new little life inside of me flutter around, I am happy… and also a little bit sad. He is going to be the perfect addition to our family, but perhaps the final one.
My children really are my greatest teachers. I am learning that even when things do not turn out the way that they expect, they might still be pretty great. I am learning to expand my vision for my life and even the definition of “daughter.” Perhaps I will never give birth to a little girl…but that relationship may be filled in other ways. And in the meantime… I have a lot to be thankful for.
I have also learned over the last few years that a mother to boys honestly does not have any time to feel sad or lonely. She is way too busy making mud pies, fighting dragons and flying to save the day. Yes, perhaps she is a little bit frightened from time to time…but honestly, aren’t we all?