Boy enough

Last night my kindergartener summed up for me the language of his sex, providing me a bright preview into the smelly 4-letter word- and beer-filled world of his future locker room society: “Pee, poop, toilet, and FAT. That’s what boys like to talk about, Mommy!” And he ended that revelation with a full and self-satisfied laugh that sounded nearly as sweet as his first “I love you.”

The forebodingness and significance of that little quote were not lost on me. I quickly made a point of letting his father know just what came out of his offspring’s little mouth. “Did you hear that, Max? Fred said that boys like to talk about pee, poop, fart, and fat.”

“NO! I did not say fart! I said toilet! Pee, poop, toilet, and FAT.”

I stood corrected. Maybe “fart” will come later this spring when surely a first-grader will introduce to Fred’s posse the coolness of the word (and concept).

What do I do in such cases? My responses are typically, “No, we do not talk like that.” “No, no bathroom language. It’s rude.” “No, let’s not talk like that at the dinner table.” I’m fairly…slightly…sort of firm and I admit I do not say it until I’m blue in the face. “No bathroom jokes” ranks a notch or two below “I’m sorry” and “thank you” and expressing feelings using words. In terms of cutting it out with the bathroom talk, I must say also that Max is neither a consistent nor staunch ally.

As someone who is teaching Fred to knit and encouraging him to be verbal with his feelings, I believe that boys will not have to be boys. I remember what my college friend M. said to me when I told her we were having a boy: “Well, we’ll know that there will be at least one sensitive male on this earth.” (She was going through a bad break-up at the time, I think.) Yes, I’m trying to pass on all my gender-neutral and human “rules” of living to Fred: that it’s wonderful to be creative (whether it’s through Legos or yarn); important to communicate (it’s okay to cry and show pain and weakness); and critical to be yourself (don’t be afraid to admit you like pink or still need mama). But try as I do, Fred still gravitates toward race cars and dirt and bugs and bathroom jokes. I see him at school with the other “guys”, see how they slap him on the back or give him high-fives with as deep of a grunt as a 5 year-old boy can emit, and I can’t help but feel a twinge of…pride…and massive relief. Relief that my boy is “one of the guys”: accepted, liked, respected…which in Motherese translates into some peace of mind that her son can hold his own in a world that will only become too harsh and hardened, a world from which Mom will one day feel too powerless to protect her baby.

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