Boys Soldier On
I’ve spent the last year focused on preparing my daughter (and myself) for her leaving the family nest and starting college. My son, on the other hand, spent the last year quietly growing up. I think he thinks no one noticed. Maybe he wishes no one noticed. But I did. We did.
Not that long ago, he was still sneaking in (occasionally) for a reassuring snuggle around 4 am one or two nights a week. We never chased him out because we knew the day would soon come when our boy-man would no longer galumph into bed with us. Sure enough, that day came.
Not that long ago, his little boy voice would crack as his young man voice began to assert itself. Now, the little boy voice is gone. Family and friends mistake him for my husband when he answers the phone.
Not that long ago, he would chatter away endlessly. Now, I get one-syllable answers mixed in with eye-rolls and grunts.
I recently read a post about creative ways to get your child to talk to you about their day. Instead of “How Was Your Day?” try “What’s the funniest thing that happened today?” Yeah right, I tried that years ago and just got “M-o-m!” accompanied by an eye roll. It didn’t help that as a working mom, his school day was over eons ago by the time I got home, hindering spontaneous sharing sessions.
Now, he is shaving the scrubble from his face, at least once a month. (“Scrubble” is a combination of scruffy stubble, appropriately descriptive.) And learning about styptic pencils, while I grimace as I imagine the razor slicing his still-quite-smooth face.
The signs appeared on his door over the summer, around his 15th birthday. We had gotten into a bad dynamic where I nagged him to clean his room and he passively-aggressively didn’t. Keep Out! No Coming In! Fair enough. I don’t really like nagging him anyway. Clearly, he was ready for some privacy and some ownership of his space, of his self.
My son is sweet, empathetic, and sensitive. When he was a little boy, I worried that he would get teased. I balanced my desire to keep him sweet and naïve forever with the knowledge that at some point protective layers would envelop him. And so they have. Part of growing up, especially for boys figuring out how to be a man in our culture today, is to adopt some outward characteristics of being cool, which usually means acting like you don’t care, even if you do care. Deeply. And I know he cares. Deeply.
As John Mayer sings in Daughters:
Boys, you can break
You’ll find out how much they can take
Boys will be strong
And boys soldier on
But boys would be gone without warmth from
A woman’s good, good heart
I listened to Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech at the UN. Intently and gratefully. The one where she mourns the fact that her male friends stopped expressing their feelings by the age of 18. The one where she invites men to support feminism and to recognize that men are damaged by gender inequality. The one where she hopes for a world where men can be sensitive and vulnerable and valued as fathers. Because when men don’t feel they have to be aggressive and controlling, then women won’t feel they have to be submissive and controlled. I encouraged my son (who has had a long-standing crush on Emma Watson, though I’m sure I’m supposed to not know that and I’m sure I’m not current on his current crushes) to listen to her speech. Just as I hope my attempt to expose him to lots of nutritious food will someday pay off with him opting for a broader range of food choices beyond macaroni and cheese, so I hope my offerings about life and love and the search for meaning will serve him well as he learns to be true to himself and not be overly bound by social conventions.
Right now, he is eager to fit in and to become a man. Right now, that means appearing to be too cool to care too much. Right now, that means spending more time with friends, identifying with Dad, and carving out some personal space where Mom is not welcome. At 15, that is as it should be.
Mothers (and Fathers), let’s be good to our sons. They will learn how to love from us. While he sorts out who he is and what kind of man he is becoming, I will follow his lead. I’ll listen when he’s ready to talk. I’ll help when asked. I’ll cherish our hugs and Mother-Son movie nights. I’ll imprint those last boyish expressions before they are gone forever, so proud of my young man, who feels so deeply.