The Gentleness of Boys

When I arrive to pick Bear up from school, I am met with a sweet, shy smile as he heads toward the bench to pick up his lunch box. I don’t ever use the car pickup lane because that would spoil this special ritual. Lunchbox in hand, he will run/skip toward me and I’ll pick him up, kiss his fat little cheeks. He’ll tell me he loves me as I breath in his little boy smell, always sweet despite the sweat and the muck. Someone once observed that it is like a love affair. And I agree. It’s the best kind of love affair, the one between a mother and her baby.

Just a few weeks ago he burst through the back door, eyes wild, to exclaim that there was a baby on top of the shed! His big brother helped him rescue what turned out to be a long ago lost doll, covered with dirt, and with a weak middle. I saw in his face how dire her state was to him, so we took the doll, and ran her a bubble bath. He stood by, eyebrows knit, watching me scrub clean her face and arms, and when I swaddled her neatly in a hand towel his face began to relax. Bear’s motor skills are lacking, but he treats that doll as he does all of his people, with as much care and respect as he is able. And he tells her he loves her almost as often.

I write a lot here about Bear because, unlike his older brother, he is unconcerned with how I might portray him on social media. But the boy who carefully fished the babydoll from the shed roof for his little brother also has an remarkable capacity for empathy. Having recently endured what can only be described as intense, unrelenting bullying and ostracization, he asked me to stand down, and consider perhaps that the bully might be going through something of his own. Having moments prior been the one to make the suggestion that we stuff the culprit’s AC vents with deer shit I was left speechless, humbled and bewildered that I had raised this beautiful human.

I spend a good deal of my time trying to get ahead of their sweetness, swooping in to prevent the hurt that comes with naive vulnerability. Just weeks ago Huey won a prize at the grocery store. As we walked to the car with his little packet of coloring pages, stickers, and crayons, his sister skipped ahead of us with her dad. Huey announced quietly “I’ll give Cleo my Crayons. I’d just lose them.” I scrambled ahead in order to ensure that she received the gift well (this is something Cleo needs to work on), but, ultimately, I failed.

It’s the most difficult part of being a boy mom, to watch their sweetness go unnoticed, and their generosity taken for granted. It angers me when people make a fuss over my pretty girls, yet fail to acknowledge their beautiful brothers standing nearby. I am careful to match the special sparkles that adorn the girl’s clothing and shoes with something just as fun for Bear (Aidan no longer cares). I nearly lost my mind this summer when, at Target, I unearthed a boys t-shirt embellished with a gold sparkly heart.

These boys are not perfect, nor are they an aberration. In fact I love to notice in them traits of the men in their lives. I see in them my own dad’s limitless generosity, his need to always work for the benefit of others. I see my grandad’s goodness, his unwillingness to say an unkind word. And not least of all I see the quiet heart of the man who helps me raise them, who brick by brick works to make them into strong and gentle men, holding me back sometimes as I rush in to protect them because he knows, as do I, that the world will not.