Thursday, May 15, 2008

Boys to Men

This is an entry about Jay, about whom I threatened to write each day until he visits my blog, and about Duncan, who is a regular feature. I have taught Jay that a decent writer does not begin a piece of writing by stating outright "This essay is about..." But guess what? I have also taught him that one must not begin sentences with conjunctions. The beautiful thing about creative writing is that the author can break any conventions he or she chooses. I also believe that I have sufficient writing experience and knowledge of the English language to know when I can break rules for effect. So there.

I've learned a lot from spending two years with Jay. Most of it is his own business that I will not share (at least not without permission), but some of it is my business. I began teaching Jay six months after Duncan was born. I was constantly tired, and the perfectionist in me struggled already to balance my job and my family. I'm not sure how that balance has tipped, but that's a story for another day. I was an experienced teacher and an experienced administrator facing a huge learning curve in the mother arena. One of the facts I needed to come to grips with was the basic male-ness of my child. I didn't find out my baby's gender before he was born. He was a long time coming, and I was happy with whatever baby fought his/her way out of there, but I TRULY DOWN DEEP IN MY HEART believed the baby was a GIRL. In reality, I had 0.5 seconds to adjust my focus before falling deeply in love with Duncan, but he did continue stubbornly to be a boy.

Everyone told me, pre Duncan, that I didn't want a girl. I have been an adolescent girl. I have been the sister of an adolescent girl. I have been the dorm parent of adolescent girls. I have tutored adolescent girls. On the whole, I am not fond of adolescent girls. I knew that eventually adolescence would come to that girl I believed I was nurturing inside me, but I also knew that I safely had (maybe) 12 years of pony tails, pink dresses, black patent leather shoes, and ballet before the trouble hit. I had that long to forge a strong enough bond with the mystery girl that adolescence would be...blissfully...okay. I could not envision any way in which I could relate to an adolescent boy. End of discussion. When he came out, stubbornly male, I felt the time during which I could relate to Duncan would be very short. I was sure the moment we moved from roll around blocks to trucks, I was sunk.

The interesting thing is (well, if you know me, it's not interesting, it's actually banal) that I'm handling the trucks just fine. I'm enjoying the trucks, the mud, the throwing of sticks into puddles, and the ride-on John Deere tractor. Thomas the Tank Engine is okay. I almost know the difference between a front loader and a...well, I only know front loaders. Clothing manufacturers actually DO make cute clothes for boys, though the choices are more limited. My potential window for "relating" to my son grows each day. There's time. In short, I'm doing fine as a mom of a boy.

And then there's Jay, on the cusp of 18, heading to college in 4 months. He is so blissfully not anything I fear my child will become. My standards for adolescent boys were pretty low in 2006: swearing; spitting on the floor; drinking; smoking; being rude to young women; being rude to older women; being rude in general; refusing to comply with authority; setting dry fields on fire; wearing pants around their knees; wrapping buildings in caution tape, but I digress. Am I being sexist, or am I biased by the population I teach? Jay may not like this about himself all the time, but I have found an adolescent boy (who is really a man now technically, but that's just weird) with whom I can have a reasonable conversation, whose company I enjoy, and who I would trust to take care of my own child (though I would fear finding them both perched on the tallest piece of furniture in the house or climbing up a high rope...whatever). He has helped me believe that someday I can be a reasonable, likable parent of an 18 year old male type person.

I am developing self-efficacy in the area of parenting boys. If Duncan at 18 is anything like Jay, I'll be a pretty happy mother. In the meantime, I need to glue back Thomas' face and start learning my trucks.
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