Betty Duffy

Saturday, January 31, 2009

BOYS boys boys

From the time I was about eleven years old, it was my dream to have a collection of boys surrounding me, and giving me attention. Attempts to turn heads of the gents in high school and college met with varying degrees of success and failure. It was motherhood that made my dream come true.

Here on my third snow day with my four male children, and my one haughty girl, I'm finding that the boys are giving me an unprecedented amount of attention, and like all dreams come true, it's not exactly what I'd hoped for. The detritus of the week surrounds us on the floor of every room in the house. The crayons are broken. The model magic has dried out and rolls around under the kitchen table like a spilled bag of rubber balls. For reasons that I will not elaborate upon here, we have a hole in our kitchen floor that gives the kids easy access to our crawlspace, and I have given up trying to keep them, and their flashlights, and toys and shoes out of it.

Usually we are together all day like this in the summer months when I can open the door and dismiss them with a wave of my hand. Winter, in a three bedroom house, with boys who are now big enough to polish off a substantial box of cereal in one sitting, is a different story.

To begin, we are out of food. Two weeks ago, I spent three hundred dollars at the grocery. It was our all time high, and I was convinced that I would not need to set foot into the grocery again for a month, at least. Nevertheless, I was back in four days, then again two days later. Now it’s been five days since I’ve been to the store. And my refrigerator looks like this:

Anyone hungry for some condiments?

I am remembering my latchkey days of coming home from school and stirring up bowls of whatever I could find in the cabinets. I would sometimes eat a bowl of mixed up butter and sugar while I watched Oprah. As I currently have no butter or sugar, I just made cookies with canola oil, corn syrup, oats and past their prime mixed nuts—really more of a granola bar.

Any mother of more than a couple boys has heard someone make the comment: “God must think there’s going to be a war in eighteen years.” Or maybe they haven’t heard that comment. Maybe that comment is dated, and it’s just what I thought to myself after watching “The Fighting Sullivans” this afternoon. It is the classic tale of five fiery Irish Catholic brothers who all went down together on a WWII navy ship.

After watching the brothers Sullivan grow up for an hour and a half, I fell in love with each one of them, and felt cheated when they all died in the last five minutes of the movie. Mrs. Sullivan put on a brave face, Christening another warship in their honor, but what I felt watching the show was that her life was as over as theirs.

Yet literary evidence abounds of tough as nails mothers who encourage their sons to give their lives for the good of the cause--think Maccabees, think Jesus.

Naturally, I do not like the idea of my four boys going down in a war, but I also do not relish the alternative: mama's boys who can't or won't fight when called upon to do so. I want my boys to be masculine, courageous and strong.

In the politics and battles of our little hermitage, things play out like this: My six year old has no “fight” at all. He’s gigantic, bigger than his older brother, strong as an ox, but if his shrimpy big brother socks him, he just lays on the floor and takes it. On the contrary, my oldest son needs to get his rear end kicked because he can dish it out to all of his siblings, but he cannot take it. I find myself discouraging my eldest from fighting, and encouraging my second to fight. This is a quandry for any peace-loving woman.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I find that raising boys requires some relaxation of my innate mothering strictures. It was in fact, “The Fighting Sullivans” that helped me to see that some of the issues we deal with are ancient boyhood struggles rather than long worn discipline failures. Boys do battle. Boys break things. Boys climb. Boys have loving ideas that are sometimes ill-conceived. And sometimes, it takes another male mind to sort these things out--which is why I am grateful that my husband has forced me at times to take a step back from mothering them too much. (Mr. Sullivan does this in the movie saying, "Get back to your work, Woman. I'll take care of this.")

As my husband has illustrated for me again and again, boys have different standards for safety and hygeine, and I’m getting used to it. If at times it seems like the boys are tottering on the edge of the abyss, playing with a screw driver and a saw, shooting each other up with wooden guns, maybe it's just the vocation of mothering boys that is terrifying me--the thought that eventually this is all going to end with them laying down their lives. It happens to the best of men.


Sharon Kieffer Steele said...

I was looking at the shot of your refridgerator and I immediately thought, the mayo, egg beaters, and velveeta would make a fab quiche. This thought could only come from the mind of a fellow latch-key kid. My brother and I would do the same thing with the butter and the sugar (every day, mind you) and then we got inventive and realized that butter, sugar, cinnamon, and wonder bread make something that tastes very much like a Cinnabon.

Ahhh, the good old days. We should trade stories some day.

jenx67 said...

possibly my favorite post yet. and, my fridge looks exactly the same. i do angel food. not necessarily the boxed specials but the meat specials - the grill boxes. do you konw what I'm talking about? google it. I love it!

Sharon Kieffer Steele said...

... and I would be remiss if I didn't say that this is a fabulous post on mothering boys. I actually commented before I read past the fridge.

So true about the boys. Got me all choked up thinking of my own.

Emily said...

Because my 3rd boy is turning 9 today, we also have Velveeta cheese in the house to make his special request: mac n cheez and Rotel chip dip. Add to the list of boy characteristics (bad hygiene, rough and tumble play,) a love of artificial foods, bathroom humor, and nose picking.

Betty Duffy said...

UPdate: I have been to the grocery store. No more yellow or frozen food (except for dinner tonight: grilled velveeta since we now have butter and bread and Joe wanted to cook). What is it with guys and velveeta? Even Dad dips into the velveeta when he stops by--swallows big chunks while complaining about all the artificial ingredients. Reminds me of Grandma watching the Dukes of Hazzard while saying over and over, "Isn't this awful?"