I’m a girl whose raising a boy. He’s six now; I’m 34. How can I control the programming for a gender for which I hold no code?
I want to sculpt him into a good man. I want to make him tough enough to take the punches and emotional enough to cry when they hurt. I want him to be aware of his happiness first but also be aware of the interaction with the world. Don’t look down as you walk through life. Take the route through the park instead. Stop and watch the sunset. Pick up that rock and write the date on it.
I want him to know that anything is possible. I want him to think that he can make that anything happen. I want him never to doubt my unconditional love because I don’t doubt his. I want him to feel that love is life – it is the flavor and the spice.
It takes him longer to color than other kids. My son is a perfectionist and I take full blame. I know that he’ll be carrying that burden through his life.
He can read books 3 grades above him, but he beats himself up about the coloring. “Sometimes I get outside the lines,” he says.
“It’s OK to color outside the lines sometimes,”I reassure him.
“Isn’t that breaking the rules?” he asks.
“It’s creating your own rules. It’s being unique. You are the one that said it’s important to be unique,” I reminded him. “Unique over perfect.”
He taught me that. Of course it’s easy for him; he’s pretty unique and pretty perfect.
I tell him to let ladies first. I tell him to hold the doors. Am I growing a sexist creature? Or a polite one?
Sometimes I think I’m too grown up with him. It’s his fault; he made the first move. He was reciting the alphabet at 16 months. He knew the name of every single Thomas train from Thomas the Tank Engine. There are hundreds and they all look the same. What was I to think?
Last year I told him there was no Santa Claus. That’s probably mean, but I’m Jewish so I kind of felt entitled. His reaction was “Duh!”
This year he told me he believed in Santa Claus. But not one Santa Claus. “That’s impossible,” he said. “How could he get from New York to Africa in one night?”
“I don’t think Santa makes it to Africa,” I disappointed him.
“Well I think there are lots of different Santa Clauses that all look different. Like there’s an Indian one and an African one. There’s even women ones.”
“OK,” I gave in. Not sure why he’s hung up on an African Santa. I know he’s bullshitting me anyway.
One time he engaged me in a half hour lecture on the mysterious life that existed in his brain. There were 3 secret parts that comprised the secret life: Imagination, Invention and Creation. Each part had a unique function, of course. When I asked about the difference between Invention and Creation, he launched into a lecture about how being creative and implementing an idea mandated two different compartments of the mind. I couldn’t argue otherwise. He had me going for a while and then finally, as in letting me down easy, he said “You know this is all pretend, right?”
Yeah, sure, I thought.
After he told me he DID believe in Santa Claus, he told me that he DIDN’T believe in God. This didn’t surprise me. I’m an Agnostic [cynical] Jew who wasn’t raised with faith. I was raised to believe in Science. If you prove it, I will believe you. By choosing to not preach religion to my son, I also robbed him of belief in a greater power (other than Jedi’s). He is happy to collect Chanukah presents and Christmas presents and believe in an African Santa Claus.
These kind of huge child rearing screw ups are definitely ones I deserve to be blamed for later. I didn’t want to preach what I didn’t feel.
He recently told me that he doesn’t like music at school. I was surprised since he’s got a great sense of hearing and he loves listening to music, even if it’s Guitar Hero heavy metal.
“They’re baby songs,” he said. “I like rock.”
“You have good taste,” I told him. “You still behave in music class, right” I ask doubtfully.
“Yeah,” he resounds.
He’s compassionate. I’m not sure how I taught him that but I’m glad he got it. He’ll offer to help people carrying bags on the street. He holds the elevator door when others are hitting door close. He offers up his piggy bank funds for any national disaster. But then again, he is a boy who doesn’t live materialistically unfulfilled. He gets almost whatever he wants (within reason).
I’m divorced and I co-parent. Really co-parent. We split my son down the week. Sundays through Wednesdays with me, Wednesday nights through every other Saturday with the ex-husband. We both have maintained flexible working schedules so that our son essentially has two full-time parents. Aside from relatives, he’s never had a babysitter.
I was tucking him into bed on a Tuesday night. We just finished the goodnight song – John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy. He sings along to the “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” line. That’s my favorite quote. It’s so obvious, it’s like calling sugar sweet.
“I hate Wednesdays,” I pouted. “I’ll miss you.”
“I hate them too,” he chimes in; more empathetic than truthful.
“No you won’t,” I remind him. “You’re going to your dad’s. You love it there.”
It’s been four years since we’ve been co-parenting. People comment on our technique consistently. Teachers, other parents, riders on the bus – curious and opinionated.
But since I consider myself a virtual part-time parent, I feel like I have to be an extra good parent. Like doing extra credit. Like going to office hours. Going the extra mile to get the A.
But I worry. For all parts political and kind, all loving and considerate of him, he has in him this not-so-mysterious love of guns, battles, explosions and all things with good guys and bad guys. Like it’s that simple. Good guy – live, bad guy – die. Very black and white; very 6 years old. “They” tell me it’s normal for boys to be this way. But still, I worry.
What does my brilliant son want to be when he grows up? I genuinely don’t care as long as he’s happy. I will never guilt him because of his potential. If I see him happy, I feel proud. But still, the worrying bomb is ticking inside.
When his father took him to the Auto Show, the only thing he was interested in was the Marines Infomercial and the tanks. Last year he wanted to be a Ninja when he grew up. This year in a project where they had to create a superhero animal, he created an Army Crab.
He builds Lego models for 15 year olds. Why not an architect? He imagines it and then he creates it – so logically. He uses both sides of his brain. An architect seems like the perfect career; can’t he Ninja on the side? Kind of like Batman. He can dream up some underground Ninja Galaxy with lightsabers and then he can build it and conduct his Ninja business as a hobby – for shits and giggles rather than for the paycheck. I guess he doesn’t think about the paycheck yet. I hope he holds onto that.
Children have their brains set on intake mode; that’s what they’re programmed to do at this point. The rest of their life is about the output.
Over time our brains morph in consistency from silly putty to a porous rock. It can still absorb information, but it’s a lot harder going in; a lot less malleable. There’s a reason for the old dog, new tricks saying. But children have a gift for imagination. They let their brains expand and stretch. They are not bound by grown up limitations.
He can stare at a single page from a Lego catalog for hours. Entire battles emerge off the page with shooting cannons, skeletons and robotic flying creatures. There’s dialog, there’s conflict, there’s resolution. Maybe he’s a filmmaker. Filmmaker is good. Let him make war movies. Let him work with George Lucas and make Stars Wars Episodes 34 – 89.
So yes I worry. It comes part and parcel of the motherhood thing; a buy one, get the other for free. But every day I try to worry less. Every day he amazes me. I spent my life trying to be as good as he is now. He has integrity, values, connection to emotion, confidence.
You’re born with the same eyes you have all your life. They don’t grow. He had these huge eyes when he was a baby. They enormous brown eyes with eyelashes like a giraffe. I could stare at him blink – and he always stared back. He saw directly through my heart as only he could. I’ve often thought he was born an old soul; he was so serious as a baby. I would do a whole circus routine to get a smile out of him. It was like he was born above it all. Like he had lived through it all already and known that the good part was coming.
From the time he was old enough to talk, he has been teaching me how good it really is. Early one gray morning, the coldest day so far of the year, I walked like a grump, while he, chipper as ever, walked with a skip in his step. Literally, skipping every other step. “I love this weather,” he says. I know he does. He loves the cold. I hate it.
We walk to the bus stop and it’s freezing on the corner. He wants to sit on the fence so I let him. We’re across the street from Central Park, it’s late fall and the trees are half bare and half late fall colors. The vibrancy has now moved from the treetops to create an autumnal carpet of leaves on the cold, hard dirt.
My son looks up at the tree directly across the street. “Mommy, the leaves on the tree across the street are so yellow it looks like the sunshine is pouring out from them.” I smile and take a deep delicious breath. I look at him and am reminded – he is life’s good part coming.
(Note: I wrote this piece over two years ago but never published it until now. He is now 8-and-three-quarters years old and incrementally more mature and amazing. I thank my lucky stars I get to call him my son.)
For 5 years after I got divorced and before we moved in with my boyfriend (and had a baby), Jake and I lived on 97th Street. These “Me & Jake on 97” years began – these best years of my life.
Here are some photos from the “Me & Jake on 97” Years: