I’ve always had an aversion to the phrase “boys will be boys.” As a woman, the double standard seems entirely unfair; certain behaviors that are laughed off as being characteristic of boys are deemed immature or unladylike as soon as a girl participates in them. When I hear that particular phrase, I can just imagine my inner child with her hands on her hips declaring the injustice of being told that burping loudly in a restaurant is crass rather than impressive.
As a mother of two boys, however, I sort of get it. Boys will be boys. Despite the fact that I (mostly) didn’t cave to the pressure of buying stereotypical boy paraphernalia, (our playroom boasts a large dollhouse, impressive play kitchen and all manner of dolls and stuffed animals that my older son pushes around in a purple and pink striped stroller) my sons naturally gravitate toward trucks, dirt and loud noises. They love to smash and dig and tackle and kick. They’re fascinated by their respective penises. Both under three years old, they already think farts are hysterical. To my knowledge, I didn’t actively foster any of it—they were just hardwired to think and act that way.
In all honesty, it doesn’t bother me. I’m of the opinion that, while actions speak louder than words, certain actions speak much louder than others. And it’s not my sons’ habit of laughing at their own farts that has me worried about their future status as upstanding citizens.
So, to my sons, here’s what I have to say on the matter:
Go ahead and throw those rocks in the street; brandish that big stick like a pirate sword; crash those toy cars together with great enthusiasm while making explosion noises with your mouths. It’s OK to fascinated by those things. You have lots of energy you need to get out somehow, which is typical of boys. Violence is not. There is a difference between hitting, kicking and tackling inanimate objects and doing the same to other people; your body is a weapon if you let it be and you should never use it to hurt others unless you are in danger with the need to defend yourself. Never, under any circumstances lay your hands on a woman with the intent to cause her pain. I don’t care if she spits in your eye or lands a kick right between your legs; there is no excuse for laying a finger on a woman. But if you want to hurl acorns over the fence or tackle the couch at full speed, be my guest.
I know you will soon come to the age at which your entire lexicon is made up of fart noises and bathroom talk. You’ll sneak the word “poop” into every single sentence you utter and you’ll yell “PENIS!” at the top of your lungs in Target while I duck behind the clothing racks and pretend you’re someone else’s foul-mouthed children. Someday, you might even swear as much as I do (or “enhance your vocabulary,” as I like to call it). I’m giving you a free pass on all of that, provided you choose your words wisely. Language is arguably the most powerful tool we own; use it for good, not evil. Instead of belittling, threatening or tearing others down, use your words to spread kindness, humor and love to the people around you. Your ability to communicate can be a force for good, if you allow it to be. And someday when you get hauled into the principal’s office because you’ll only answer to the name “Poopy McFartFace” in class, I promise to let you off easy.
Right now, you’re pretty enamored with that thing dangling between your legs and, if I’m being honest, I sort of get the fascination. You were essentially born with a built-in toy that you can flick, fondle and employ as a fire hose when all other manners of distraction are exhausted. Right now, it seems fun and entertaining; nothing more than an amusing pastime. But I’m here to tell you that, eventually, it will come with a lot more responsibility than it does right now. Somewhere down the road, you will derive pleasure from it that has nothing to do with idly flicking it while watching TV—and that’s where things can get dicey. With that appendage, comes great responsibility; once you decide to use it for its intended purpose, you have the power to change not only your own life but the lives of many others as well. Your brain resides in your head, not your pants, and you’d be wise to remember that. But if you want to rub it on the dryer, by all means, help yourself.
Chances are, like so many boys before you, one or both of you will develop an affinity for superheroes. You’ll be drawn in by their swishing capes and masked faces and captivated by their invincibility in the face of enemies, tall buildings and the basic laws of physics. I foresee an ER trip or two resulting from the realization that you cannot, in fact, fly from the top of the swingset and, while it will terrify me and I’ll probably lose my cool, I will understand you’re just trying to emulate those caped crusaders you adore so much. Be sure you don’t confuse those fictitious heroes for the real thing, however. The people who keep us safe in this world do not throw webs from their fingertips or wear shiny spandex suits; they wield fire hoses, and wear combat boots and carry badges. They are the people who truly deserve our respect and admiration. When you see someone in fatigues, thank them for their service, makes sure to remove your hat during the National Anthem, and don’t even think about mouthing off to the police officer who pulls you over for speeding. But, that Iron Man poster you’ll want to hang on your wall? It’s just fine with me.
So yes, my boys, you will be boys. Wholeheartedly, unabashedly, disgustingly so. But, so help me God, you will also be gentlemen.