Sitting in a salon chair getting a haircut last week, I struck up a conversation with a woman who told me, somewhat ruefully, that the baby she was expecting would be her third boy. She’s a lucky woman.
Oh, without question they will run her ragged when they’re very young. My brother used to say that our household needed the logistics support of the 82nd Airborne. This would have been true even if one of mine had not been hyperactive (but boy, was he). Hard to tell now that he’s a relatively sedate 15-year-old, but Jon as a youngster was like a pinball — only less well-controlled. Having lived it, I can spot a hyperactive kid at 500 paces, and can only roll my eyes at those skeptics who believe ADHD is a myth.
Jon also had a variety of developmental difficulties, some of which contributed to a terrible bike accident when he was ten. He rode his bike out of our driveway into the street (without checking for traffic) and crashed straight into a passing car. Thank God we had a strict helmet rule. His head was hit by the car’s side-view mirror, and we found him unconscious in the street. Three days later, he emerged from a coma and slowly began to regain the capacity for speech and movement. A month later he was dashing up and down the stairs.
Dashing? No, flying! I once came upon Jon at the top of the stairs seated on a toboggan. He had the ropes in his hands and was ready to go — probably planning to take his little brothers on the second ride. He couldn’t understand my intransigence.
Jon’s brothers are far more inclined to verbal gymnastics. When David (13) is provoked by Ben (11), he puts on his best mock English accent and declares, “Sir, if you do not cease, I shall be forced to challenge you to a bout of fisticuffs.” They do sometimes get into physical tussles (though far less than in the past), but they now have a sense of humor about themselves. Recently, they were wrestling in the family room, and I called out for David to do something (probably practice one of his instruments). Ben called out, “I’m sorry, David is being pummeled right now. Please leave a message after the beep. BEEP!” Ben has also been known to put on a false whining tone and say, “Mom, David’s face hit my hand. Can you punish him?”
Girls are different. They seem inherently more organized, less sloppy, and certainly less rambunctious. You can, I’ve heard, take a girl shopping. And I’m not certain about this, but I suspect that table manners come more naturally to them. I have repeated instructions about napkins in laps, elbows off the table, and not talking while chewing so many times that I’ve sometimes mangled it. The boys were infinitely amused when I declared in stentorian tones, “No chewing with your mouth full!”
They say girls can be very picky about food, but I don’t think they have anything on David there. He’s better now, but for years he regarded any new food — strawberries, bread pudding, and cherries included — as lurking poison. When he was about nine, we were out for a day trip and searching for a lunch spot. We pulled into the parking lot of a fairly promising-looking restaurant. David looked terribly dubious. We tried to reassure him, but he narrowed his eyes. “What if all they have is slushy bean casserole surprise?” His father didn’t skip a beat. “Then we’ll eat it and drive home with the windows open.”
Boys and boyishness were out of fashion for a couple of decades, but that is changing. The Dangerous Book for Boys — a celebration of all things mechanical, natural, and adventurous — is flying off the shelves. (I reviewed it in the last issue of National Review.) And as my little balls of energy have matured into rangy adolescents with deepening voices and facial hair, who play the trumpet and the bass clarinet, who can do a knife dive into the pool, who amuse each other and their father, and who continue to surprise and delight their mother, I must say, I don’t really like to shop anyway.
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