I think God laughs when he makes a woman the mom of all boys. He takes a Barbie-loving, bow-wearing, pink-bedroom dwelling, sensitive-hearted girl, and grows her up to a woman who gives birth to testosterone.
My friend John used to say our house had so much testosterone it must flow out of the faucets. I’ll confess, as much as I thought I wanted a little girl, and had to mourn the many things I would never do (read: buy baby dolls, plan manicure dates, and shop for prom dresses), I am delighted God gave me four boys.
Oh believe me, when they were younger I would call my friend Heidi and say, “Talk Girl to me! I can’t take another armpit fart or soda generated burp so loud it rocks the foundation of our home.” Heidi has three boys and she knows how stinky and loud and gross they can be. She also knows what I know: Most boys have an insatiable desire for adventure. (Ask her about her son Jack, sometime.)
So yesterday when my boys asked to go to the lakehouse, I was much obliged – mainly because as much as they love adventure, I love spontaneity. I was eager to ditch the laundry, put off the taxes and leave the house cleaning to another day. We packed some food, grabbed a change of clothes, and loaded the car and a couple of bikes so two of the boys could ride in the morning.
When we arrived, one son quickly unloaded his camera gear and staged his tripod at the end of the dock so he could do long exposures of the clear, star-filled winter sky.
The other three ran to the basement playroom to bounce on the stack of mattresses and kick the soccer ball
to at one another. After a late dinner, the three older ones competed in a friendly game of Poker while the youngest watched a bit of the Kentucky versus Florida basketball game.
Poker didn’t last long because the oldest had to check on his camera. The two middles thought it would be fun to take out the kayaks and sneak up on him from the water. As they told me of their plan, I went through a common struggle of all mothers. Do I let them? Or do I not? Is it too dangerous, or just another great adventure?
I let them go — after I laid out the parameters: you must wear a lifevest, not just have it on the kayak. You must stay right next to one another in case one of you gets in trouble. You must be within earshot of the lakehouse. They agreed and bounded outside – on the mild February night – to retrieve the kayaks.
Since their oldest brother saw them launch the kayaks from our small, sandy beach, their sneak attack was foiled. They maneuvered the kayaks around the bubbler which keeps ice from forming around, and therefore damaging, our docks and headed out into the partially frozen lake, guided by the moonlight.
The oldest aimed a second camera toward them and captured them kayaking in the moon’s reflection on the water. After a few minutes, as I walked downstairs to check on the kayakers, my oldest son met me at the bottom of the steps to show me the extraordinary shots he had taken. Seeing that they were safe, I retreated back upstairs to my blanket and cushy chair in the great room to start another episode of Parenthood. Just as Crosby runs into Jasmine on her date with the pediatrician, the kayakers burst into the room to tell me I “have to come down and kayak.”
“It’s amazing. We kayaked through ice,” one said with stardust in his eyes.
“It sounded like the Titanic,” the other described.
As much as I loved their excitement, not one bone in my body wanted to move from that oversized, luscious chair to put my feet in freezing water and get inside a one-woman boat in the middle of winter.
So why did I find myself kicking off my shoes and peeling off my wool socks to step into that icy water and get inside that bright yellow vessel only a few minutes later? When I posted to Facebook that my boys were kayaking on February 7 by moonlight in Indiana, one friend said, “You’re the coolest mom around.” While it was a sweet comment, I didn’t let them go to be the coolest mom around. And I wasn’t joining them to prove it either.
I went kayaking with my sons because they asked me. And when an opportunity arises to live into a unique experience, especially when it’s an adventure to share with my sons, I seize that moment. I grab on, hold tight, and see where the ride takes us. Tonight it took us through the dark waters of Grandview Lake, illuminated by the (almost) full moon, into a layer of thin ice which, just like my third son said, sounded exactly how I imagine the Titanic sounded as it entered the frigid areas of the Atlantic.
It was an eery sound at first, the scraping of the kayaks against the thin ice. But eventually we stopped paddling and sat under the star-laden sky where the pieces of broken ice clanged together, sounding like wind chimes powered by a gentle breeze. It was beautiful, and – quite frankly – beyond words.
Fear can cripple us all, and when I think of the potentially dangerous things my sons do, the things I allow my boys to do, I could become paralyzed. I could wring my hands and shout “NO!” at them when they want to ride bikes in downtown Indianapolis traffic and down rugged mountain paths. I could insist they ski and snowboard on the marked trails and avoid going in and out of the trees. I could ground them when they find ways onto rooftops to capture the urban landscape. But I don’t. And sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for allowing it all.
But I know it’s in their blood. They were created for exploration and adventure. In the book Boys Should be Boys, by Meg Meeker, M.D., she says:
Too many of us parents obsess about healthy diversions that active boys like to do, while not recognizing what is truly dangerous for our boys – like popular music, television and video games that deaden their sensibilities, shut them off from real human interaction, impede the process of maturation, prevent them from burning up energy in useful outdoor exercise, divorce them from their parents and lower their expectations of life.
All of my boys have listened to questionable music and become engaged in video games. They enjoy shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Criminal Minds.” They are not immune to pop-culture, but thankfully they are not consumed by it either. They live lives engaged and passionate for things they love: photography for the eldest, cycling for the second, woodworking for the third, and anything sports related for the youngest.
I have no magic parenting skills and I certainly fall short in my call to parent well. It is by the grace of God, and I believe through the meager prayers I utter and those of my dear boyfriend, who nightly prays specifically for each one, that they have invited me into their adventures, if not physically at least in the recounting of their exciting endeavors.
Through these adventures, they are discovering more of who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their limits and abilities, and perhaps even birthing new dreams. The lessons from obstacles they face and the pleasure they seek carry over to their daily living and their relationships. I learn so much from each of them, and even though some of these activities cause my heart to stop now and then, I am grateful that they allow me in, that they continue to invite me to play – even if it doesn’t involve Barbies or painting our nails.