Rachel Balducci is a “mom blogger“ and the author of How Do You Tuck In a Superhero?: And Other Delightful Mysteries of Raising Boys, which she talks about here.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: So how do you tuck in a superhero?
RACHEL BALDUCCI: Very carefully! Tucking in a superhero takes a lot of work, but it’s always the most surprising time of day for me. When they are nestled in their beds, superheroes just want to chat for a few minutes and kiss their mama. That’s nice — the weapons are stashed away, the superhero capes are hanging on the bedpost. And suddenly you can catch your breath and see this amazing creature that is your son and you fall in love with him all over again.
LOPEZ: Do superheroes’ moms have superpowers?
BALDUCCI: Yes, many superpowers! I think the most important powers they must have are a strong dose of humility and a lavish sense of humor. If you have a son and you can’t laugh at yourself, life will seem very challenging indeed.
LOPEZ: Why did you write this book? So teachers would realize not to mess with superheroes?
BALDUCCI: You know, I kinda did! Really, I wrote the book for women (but men enjoy it too!) who are in the same boat as I — living in a home filled with boys and wondering, “How in the world did I get here?” It’s such a challenge for moms with boys — we weren’t boys when we were little! These creatures are so crazy and foreign. And it hit me one day that looking at my sons through my female lens, well it was driving me batty. I had to figure out how to really enjoy their amazing, God-given nature, without allowing them to burn down the house. It’s always a delicate balance.
LOPEZ: Can you have a bunch of boys and a nice lawn? And why does that matter?
BALDUCCI: Taking care of our things is important. We need to be good stewards of what God has given us. But at the same time, we need to have a realistic view of our life and family. I realized a few years ago that my lawn is not going to look right now in this season the way it might ten or 15 years from now. And instead of fretting about the patches of dirt (or actually, the patches of grass) I need to just enjoy this time with my boys in my home, sharing life with me. The grass will grow eventually, right? I’m not going to put the kibosh on a soccer game for the sake of my grass not getting torn up. That’s just sad.
LOPEZ: How long did it take for you to decipher between hurt crying and mad crying?
BALDUCCI: After several near heart attacks, I finally realized this: The word “mom” or “mommy” (in extreme cases) is always accompanied with true injury. That is the only difference.
LOPEZ: How long does it take to see the personality in each one, to determine his temperament, to see him as a little individual making his way in the world?
BALDUCCI: It’s quite amazing to me how quickly personality emerges. But I think as a younger mom I didn’t pick up on that. When we had our second and third sons, I figured I was on easy street. As crazy as it sounds, I thought that having the same gender child (over and over again) meant you had it all figured out. Not so! Each of our boys is so unique that it sometimes blows my mind. Of course there are generalities about boys, but dealing with them individually shows that we are all wonderfully made.
LOPEZ: Since writing your book, you’ve had a daughter. How has the breaking up of male-child monopoly changed things? Or is it too soon?
BALDUCCI: My daughter was born the week after my book was released, and my goodness the joy and sweetness she has brought in our lives! It’s so fun to hear her brothers walk in from basketball practice and remark on how pretty she looks. “You are the prettiest girl in the universe,” I heard my 15-year-old say to her the other day. That has been one of the best parts of having a daughter — the sweetness she elicits from her big brothers.
LOPEZ: “I have started to notice a trend,” you write. “On the days when I’ve grocery shopped and the boys come home to a stocked pantry and fridge, there is something in the air. It’s an excitement, a glee, that I don’t see on any other occasion. Christmas comes close, but it’s hard to compete with a ten-pound bucket of chocolate milk mix.” Does Michelle Obama’s anti-junk-food campaigning constitute the first lady who stole Christmas? Or just make you feel guilty?
BALDUCCI: I don’t feel guilty at all. She is free to have her opinions! But I know, as a mother of five boys, that “everything within reason” is the way to go. I have a plan for food distribution, when people get to eat what junk food. And sure when we’ve had our daily allotment I have to hide that ten-pound bucket of chocolate milk mix (last week, I tucked it in the reusable grocery bags), but I’d rather have a balance that includes some bright spots for my boys than an unnecessarily totalitarian approach. There’s no need for all or nothing here. My boys are outside and running around so much that they burn it off within minutes of eating it anyway.
LOPEZ: You add, “This is how my boys feel loved. The way to a man’s heart is indeed through his stomach.” Are you trafficking in stereotypes here?
BALDUCCI: You know, I would have thought so before I had all these boys. But I’m watching this unfold before my eyes and it really is the truth — it’s all about the food. One day it might be all about other things (my husband didn’t marry me for my amazing cooking talents), but I see how my boys feel when we have the food they love in our home. It really makes them feel cared for by me.
LOPEZ: “I will make my boys hygienic, despite their efforts to thwart me.” Is there a secret to it?
BALDUCCI: Threats and bribes.
LOPEZ: What’s so special about Calvin and Chuck Norris?
BALDUCCI: They are the Wild West, in human form. These guys appeal to a boy’s sense of adventure and truth and justice. With Calvin, there is the added bonus of girls having cooties. With Chuck, it’s the round house kick to the face.
LOPEZ: “Like mothers everywhere, I’m training my children to get the job done.” Incentives are actually important, at whatever age, aren’t they?
BALDUCCI: I am amazed at the things my boys will do for the right prize. It’s all about having a carrot dangling in front of them. Now that doesn’t mean spoiling a child — it’s all relative to the task. We have a weekly chore chart (one that includes personal hygiene!), and there is a little treat for that, maybe a Coca-Cola from the gas station or extra time on the computer. We don’t call it a reward, it’s a celebration — we’re celebrating a job well done (but one that is expected of you!).
LOPEZ: Does your determination to have success with standards in your house give you Tiger Mom envy? What did you make of that whole debate?
BALDUCCI: I was intrigued by the Tiger Mom debate. On the one hand she sounded totally over the top and as a mom with five boys, I found myself rolling my eyes, just a bit. Except, I totally agree with her as well! There is an unfortunate tendency in this day and age to coddle our children. And it’s not how we need to be raising tomorrow’s men. It’s all about balance in our home (that’s our goal anyway). My children aren’t all enrolled in Suzuki violin, and we aren’t on traveling sports teams. But I do have standards for how my boys keep their room, for how they do in school, and for how they talk and act. When it comes to kindness and respect, yes I’m a Tiger Mom.
LOPEZ: This comes through in stories in the book but has having so many boys in the house made you appreciate how a dad really is important in a child’s life in a whole new way?
BALDUCCI: My love and respect for my husband has grown exponentially as our boys have gotten older. Watching him relate to them, how patient but firm he is with them, it really amazes me. I trust him implicitly because he was once this strange little creature who I now don’t always understand. Instead of thrusting my own agenda on how boys will be, I often ask Paul “is this normal behavior” and trust his answer. I want my boys to turn out exactly like their dad.
LOPEZ: Do boys help you keep from overcomplicating things?
BALDUCCI: Women have a tendency to over-think things, and I’m definitely someone who struggles with that. With boys, what you see is what you get. It’s not that they’re neanderthals, and there is definitely a lot going on beneath the exterior. But once I stopped trying to read into every little crazy thing they did (“Why would they want to jump off the roof of our garage? What is wrong with them?!”) I became a much saner and happier woman.
LOPEZ: “There are those days when life feels like enough of a whirlwind without fixating on this one day with this one meal (and its abject lack of nutritional value). Some days I simply cannot stop long enough to nitpick about having enough purple or green or orange on the plate because I’m busy stopping the wrestling match in the front room or protecting my china cabinet from an errant soccer ball.” Did you write this so a corndog maker might sponsor your blog?
BALDUCCI: That would be so awesome. Do you know anyone at State Fair, makers of the best corn dogs in all the land!?
LOPEZ: You’re a Catholic mom who watches ESPN with the kids. Was that ever an issue — having a TV in the house?
BALDUCCI: Yes, and I tend to be a little extreme when it comes to the TV. We have a nice, big, flat screen so my sister sewed a nice little cover for it so I can “put it away.” There is so much junk on television, even (or especially) on the so-called “family channels” that I’ll want to just get rid of TV altogether. But we have cable because sports is a big part of our world. So we work hard to have a balance, no TV during the school week and then really guarding what the boys watch when it’s on. Most times the commercials seem worse than anything else!
LOPEZ: You write about your time before your daughter, being asked randomly if you wanted a girl. About this, you write, “It is not simply about being a mother who has sons or daughters, or even some of each. The journey of motherhood centers on being the person God has chosen out of all humanity and space and time to care for these souls, these beings who exist for all eternity.” Why was that important enough for you to write?
BALDUCCI: I have heard from so many moms of boys who have such an ache for a daughter. I can understand that, but it made me sad just the same. Because there are lots of families with only boys (and that was us for so long!). We have to realize that a child is indeed a gift from God, but that whatever emptiness we feel can’t be truly filled by anything other than God. We need to make sure we aren’t so focused on something we don’t have that we miss the gifts that are right in front of us.
LOPEZ: What made you turn to blogging and book writing? And tweeting! And now a TV show? Goodness knows you’re busy enough without them.
BALDUCCI: I started my blog when our fourth son was around three. My boys were driving me nuts and I realized I needed to figure out how to see the joy and humor in my life instead of always wanting to cry in my beer. I had been a newspaper reporter in a former life and have a master’s in Journalism, so writing is therapy. It saved me in some ways, because every time something outrageously crazy would happen, I’d start to process the event, “report it” to my readers, and in the end find the humor. That’s not to say we laugh at inappropriate behavior. but it helped me not get too crazy about everything either.
LOPEZ: What’s the unexpected best part of being a mom to this clubhouse of yours? (Which you occasionally worry is a frat house!)
BALDUCCI: Boys are awesome. I love being a part of this world. The best part is just watching them enjoy the world around them, watching them grow and develop into who they are going to be. It’s such a gift to have sons. But I also enjoy being a part of the process, of helping guide them in the way they should go. I think about the men they are going to be, and I’m humbled that I’m a part of that journey, of guiding them with my female perspective.