You know how people obsess over their first born? They take photos everyday of all the wonderful and cute things the first born does? They are extremely cautious and protective.
Have you seen those parents with more than two kids? That third child or in my case fourth child apparently didn’t exist until he was two. We had pictures from the day of birth and then nothing until his second birthday. It’s as though there was a moratorium on photographs during that time.
It all started when the kids and I were looking through old photographs. Remember when we took rolls film into the store to get them developed? As we looked and reminisced Shawn kept asking, “where are my baby pictures?” “Where are my baby shower pictures?” “Where are the pictures of you pregnant with me?”
How do you tell that baby you opted out of a shower? I had two baby showers or more with each baby, except for Shawn. There is only 15 months and a few a days between he and Josiah. How do you say, I was tired? I was too practical? It was a mistake? Friends and family offered to host a shower for me but I said no. The only thing I wanted and needed was a double stroller. I met with one friend and one family member at a restaurant where they presented me with the stroller. This definitely predates selfies. I’m not sure if we asked a waiter to take our picture.
Then one day a few years ago I put out an APB, I turned on the bat signal, I called, sent text messages asking friends and family to scour their photos to see if there were any pictures of Shawn. A few were located. I was relieved. I showed him the few that were sent to me. He have me that smile he gives when he’s excited but doesn’t want to show it.
I have lots of except for Shawn scenarios. All of the kids were vegetarian for the first 18 months except for Shawn. He was eating meat at six months. Everybody slept in their own beds as babies except for Shawn. I was exhausted so he slept with me to keep me from getting up in the middle of the night to feed him.
He’s not scarred for life over the exceptions. At least I don’t think he is. We have more than made up for the lack of pictures. Now it’s Josiah (third born) who I struggle to find photos of on my phone. He doesn’t seem care though.
I came home from working out yesterday and saw my two youngest sons standing in the kitchen. The baby of my bunch (he’s 11) was holding an egg slicer with an unpeeled cutie in it over a cup and squeezing with all his might. I asked them what they were doing and they responded, “Making fresh squeezed orange juice!” My response was, “Well that’s not going to work.” I did wonder why they were putting so much effort into that when there’s a juicer sitting on the counter. Is that innovation or wasted energy? It’s hard to tell. Nevertheless I’ll pick up orange juice on my way home today.
Remind me to tell you about the family meeting we had last night.
That’s the number of years it’s been since I first laid eyes on her. My daughter, my honeygirl, my image, my hope realized. I love her with all of me. I love all of my children but my relationship with her is different. She is my only daughter and we “get” each other. We talk with our eyes, slight head movements, half smiles and certain looks. We speak the same none language. We are not best friends. I’m her mom, her guidance, her boundaries, her gauge, her disciplinarian and her sounding board. I’m honored that she wants me in her life. She insists that I become friends with the moms of her friends. I’ve heard her tell friends she has the best or coolest mom ever.
I didn’t have a great relationship with my mom growing up. I would never have referred to her as the best mom ever. I was never sure I could get this mother daughter thing right. Right for me was better than what I grew up with. But I’m getting it right. We are getting it right. I cherish every moment I get to spend being her mom.
She was excited. He hadn’t asked her to go on a date in a while. Then, out of the blue, he asked her. Of course she said yes. It had been a long time since the two of them had spent time alone. They usually did everything as a family. He was big on family time. But he wanted to have dinner with her, alone. He was very casual in his approach. She tried not to show her surprise when he asked. He selected the restaurant. It didn’t matter that is was not her favorite place. He decided on the day. It didn’t matter that she would have had a long day at work. The only thing that mattered is they were spending time together. She was hoping they could talk and maybe laugh a little. They needed this time. It was important to her to build a solid relationship. After all, they were going to be in each other’s lives for a life time.
When they pulled up to the restaurant he got out of the car and opened her door. He was just that kind of guy. She never asked him too. He did it on his own. As they walked to the restaurant, she softly asked him, “is it okay if I hold your hand?” He’s not the affectionate type, at least not in public and rarely at home. He gave her the look. You know the one that says, “you are kidding me, right?” He asked her why he should hold her hand in public. She replied, because that’s what you do when you like someone and you’re on a date. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and started walking a little faster. She picked up her speed and grabbed hold to his arm. He didn’t pull away. She considered this a small victory. She silently prayed, “let my seven-year old find a wife who can look past his rough exterior to see his tender heart.”
On any given day I hear Stud Muffin (7) or Little Dude (8) say, “let me show you how a man does it!” They are usually saying this to each other since Honeygirl and I aren’t all that interested in how a man does something and the Teenager is usually somewhere being a teen. I do watch them when this is occurring because it’s funny and I’ve learned that a man will do lots of manly things if someone is watching and gives him praise.
The Teenager is the person in charge of bug and critter disposal. The younger boys scream like a girl if they see a gecko or even a beetle. Now mind you even the girl doesn’t scream like a girl when she sees a bug but that’s neither here nor there. One morning Stud and Dude were in the kitchen, the other two were still asleep, when I heard a scream. I ran to the kitchen to see Stud pointing at a bug. Little Dude said, “let me show you how a man does it.” He grabbed a paper towel, picked up the bug and put it in the trash. After which his chest was stuck out, his head was held high and he looked at his brother and said, “that’s how a man does it!” I smiled and walked back to my room. I hear that phrase at various time during the day. I always smile at them when they show how a man does something.
Yesterday, Stud Muffin was sitting at the table drinking a cup of hot apple cider. He said, “mom, look at me I’m being a maaaan.” I turned my head to look at him and asked if he wanted to show me his cider mustache, he replied no. I asked him if he had just done something. He replied, no, I’m just sitting here being a man. I nodded and smiled at him.
I don’t pretend to know what it takes to be a man but I have learned what it takes to encourage and speak life into a man. Sometimes it doesn’t require any action on my part. I am honored to have the privilege to watch them transform from boys to men.
The other day I was driving on home on the highway and looked over at the person next to me. It was man driving a minivan. I had a funny thought. When he was a little boy and pretending to drive on two wheels around a curve or when he asked for a remote control car, or when he looked at cars on the road and dreamed of sitting behind one of those cars, did he pretend it was a minivan?
When I was married, we had a minivan. I understand the logic. We had four children and two of them are only 15 months a part. It makes sense when you are taking road trips or need to walk to the back of the car to get to a crying baby. We carried double strollers, baseball bags, soccer balls and lots of groceries to feed the Fantastic 4. We needed the space and the convenience.
What that gentleman represented to me was family, sacrifice, love and selflessness.
If you currently drive a minivan, drove a minivan in the past or are contemplating driving one in the future. I salute you. It takes a real man to lay aside his dream car for a practical car in order to make sure his family is safe and comfortable.
I was a psychology major in school. I have to say at the time I believed everything I was taught. I believed that society created aggression in boys. I believed that we could gender neutralize our boys and take some of the fight out of them. I was against toy guns and had decided my boys would play with dolls if they wanted. I was not going to contribute to the violence that is already prevalent in society. I had also decided my daughter would not get sucked into gender roles. I would ensure she had the opportunity to be and become. She would get a toy push mower and have plastic tools. I would try to make her gender neutral as well. After all, if we reached this state of neutrality as a society and as a world, this would end violence and wars and we would all get along.
When I wrote my graduation invitations out to my married family members, I put the woman’s name first. I was taught by my professor to do the opposite of what society expected. Why couldn’t the woman’s name appear first on the invitation? Mrs. Aunt and Mr. Uncle. I was liberated, informed and educated. I was time to take on the world. Woman Power!
Then about 8 years after graduating from college, I had my first child. The teenager was born. He always wanted to be in my arms or siting next to me. He was cautious about going far from me. A couple of years after that, my Honeygirl was born. I would watch them play with toys and he was always more aggressive than she was. He wasn’t tear the head off the doll aggressive but he was more launch the doll into the air and make it fly aggressive. She always cuddled and coddled her dolls. She didn’t want to launch them into the air like her brother. She wanted to dress them and feed them and love them like they were her babies. She has always loved to color, draw and paint. She is an artist in the making. I have a picture of her when she was a year and a half. She is gripping a handful of crayons. Her dad sent me a picture recently. In the picture, she is gripping a hand full of crayons.
Then, the other two were born. Little dude came into the world and within minutes, opened his eyes and began looking around. He was trying to take it all in from the very start. He is still observant, sensitive and inquisitive. Then Stud Muffin was born. If I still had any doubts about babies being born with a defined personality, he brought the final clarity I needed. He as always been um, well, how can I put this? He came with a strong cry and a way of demanding what he wanted. As soon as he could hit, or throw something he would. As soon as he could stand and hold a ball he was bouncing the ball. As soon as he could stand up and hold a bat, he was swinging. He has always been opinionated and independent.
What I learned from watching them grow from infancy to now is we come here with certain personality traits. I can cultivate them and nurture them but they are who they are. I understand that as parents, we have the responsibility to nurture our kids and teach them to be productive citizens. I could have turned my head as the Stud threw his brother down and sat on his back but I stepped in and helped him learn how to express his frustrations with his words instead of his actions. I could have listened to the Honeygirl cry from exasperation and joined her pity party but instead I empower her to stand up for herself and speak out.
I bought her Hot Wheels every time I bought the boys one. I bought the boys stuffed animals every time I bought her one. But they did not gender neutralize. They had a toy kitchen that everyone cooked in. She had a baby stroller that the boys used as an excuse and run and race through the house.
I am no longer trying to create a generation of gender neutral children. I am trying to embrace their personalities and give them tools to help them navigate the world we live in. Each of them needs a different set of tools. One might need courage, another better communication, one definitely needs less carbs to help remain calm, and another hugs and kisses to make it through the day. What they get from me is the encouragement to be the best them. I love and accept them the way they were wonderfully created.