This is written by a good Mama friend of mine, Kristin Tuttle-Tomaschke. I haven't changed any part of it and other than this small intro, I have not weighed in. Perhaps I will comment down below if others chime in. Feel free!
Why we have to stop calling our sons, “All-boy”
When I first found out I was pregnant, I was immediately sure I was having a girl. My daughter. I remember walking down the street to the grocery store, talking to her in my mind, imagining the afternoons that we would make this walk together. We picked out a name very early on, even before we knew we were pregnant, and I called her by name in those first few weeks.
Months later, I was 30 weeks and very, very pregnant. Everything had changed- we had told everyone, facebook included, our spare room was piled with baby clothes and gear, and our bed was a mountain of extra pillows. We were weeks away from moving and one afternoon I sat on the floor, sorting things into boxes and watching movies. In one movie, I watched two dads adopt a little boy and felt a lurch in my stomach. I think this was the first time it occurred to me that yes, I could actually be the mom of a boy. That it really could happen, and it might. In the coming weeks, I flirted with the idea of having a boy, a son. That I could be that type of mom, that sporty, no-fuss, smart, savvy, mom-of-boys was outlandish to me, and kind of intriguing. In the throes of labor, moments before he was born I asked everyone in the room what they thought the baby would be. Everyone there said girl, including my husband. I said boy.
On September 17th 2012, our son, Julian Rex was born. Two years and three weeks later, our second son Ambrose Aldan slipped quietly into the world to join him. I am the mother of sons. Whatever that means, whatever it says about me and my husband, who we are, who we should try to be- that’s us.
In college and even growing up, I had fantasized about what it would mean to raise a daughter, to teach her to be strong, loud, bold, large. To challenge the status quo, to learn how to sew, to repair things, to move furniture, cook dinner, speak up for herself, use jumper cables, read a manual before calling the plumber. I read hungrily all the articles on avoiding body shaming, silencing, bullying etc. But then I had boys. At first, I told myself, “Just reset.” Okay, so I don’t have to teach those lessons. That’s okay; there are other mountains to conquer. There must be something important I can teach them about being tender and emotional maybe? About being friendly, making eye contact?
If you know my oldest son, you know that it is not untrue to call the way he carries and moves himself through life “barreling.” He was born early, came out like a shot, immediately seemed cool and together in his new world. Even as a baby, I knew him. He made an impression. If he could physically do something, he did it about 100 miles per hour. As a 3 year old, he hasn’t changed. He jumps into things, talks to anyone. He is daring, he is bold, he speaks up. If you get too handsy, he’ll knock you down. If you look at him too hard, he'll walk toward you and not stop until your faces are millimeters apart. He is bossy, he is direct. He pursues what he wants until he gets your answer.
And so it began, even at a tiny age. At the park, walking through the grocery store, at a play gym. “Boys, right?” “Wow, he is just all boy, isn’t he?” “Well, boys will be boys!” I never was quite sure what it meant. If he was hitting/pushing/being bossy was it his birthright? It certainly wasn’t okay. Was this our future, undoubtedly? What of the other boys in the room or at the park or in the shopping carts who weren’t like him, weren’t swiping at the cereal boxes and singing at the top of their lungs? If they weren’t “all boy” were they just “partial boys” or “not boys”? Speaking to that, what of my second son? Born almost two weeks late still in his water bag, Ambrose was cautious from the first. He is also brave, and can be so quick and ornery that I’m truly shocked, but he doesn’t barrel through the day. He watches. When someone takes his toy and runs away, he follows them, moves around the front of them and bends down to look in their eyes. He mimics his brother, loves to run naked, sings from the back seat. He’s hilarious. His sense of humor- even at 16 months- has nuance. When they’re together, people just say it of both of them, “Goodness, they’re all boy, aren’t they?”
Except that they aren’t. To hear my mom tell it, Julian as a toddler is just like me. Youngest of three girls, I recall growing up my two older sisters’ ability to grace a room, to wait, to be shy and interesting. They were both very thin, and very curly haired- a kind of delicacy that could be utilized, and one that I never had. And though we spent countless rowdy, playful imaginative days together, they had a kind of reserved nature that I could never quite get a hold of. They were loud, and funny and full of energy to be sure, but they could turn it off, if and when they wanted. Restraint, a kind of brilliant, sparkling poise. Whereas I was noise, and elbows and round edges, big feet, and LOUD. Ceaseless in conversation and movement. I was Julian, or rather, he is just like me. For a while, when folks would exclaim, “he is all boy!” I might retort, “Actually, I think he’s all Mama!”
The other day we were at the park together, Julian, Ambrose and myself. We found a magical little hut there in the forested area of the park, intricately woven of fallen limbs and Julian immediately climbed inside. He played Star Wars (though he doesn’t really know what that is). He had me come inside, then kicked me out again. He wanted Ambrose to come in, beckoned him, wanted him out. He found a stick, it was a sword, he hit his brother; it turned into a wand, and I turned into a unicorn. “Now DING, Ambrose is a unicorn, and DING, I am a unicorn, and DING you are a unicorn. Mama, we’re all UNICORNS!” As he spoke he leaped from a stump onto the ground, his hand-me-down pink sparkly high tops glinting in the sun.
What do we mean when we say, “all-boy”? I don’t know for sure (and perhaps this is the most worrisome part), but I have some suspicions of what the average person means, and I don’t think I’m wrong: Loud. Aggressive. Bold. Dauntless. Confident. Risk-taking. Messy. Energetic. Self-reliant.
When I look at my son, I can understand why you might say that about him. He is, in moments, all of those things. But, you see, I don’t want to miss him, and of all my mom fears, this is, perhaps, the greatest one. The more I tell myself who my son is or even who I want him to be, the more I fear I will miss the reality, the more complicated, more messy, more beautiful truth. His favorite colors are pink and purple. He loves fairies, ponies, mermaids, ballerinas, princesses. He uses a stick more often as a magic wand than as a gun. His favorite animals are the babies. He loves his toy trucks- and one day I caught him cuddling one in bed, and telling it, it’s birth story. Sometimes things scare him. When the train fell over the edge in Inside Out, he sobbed. If we have to leave a beloved toy behind, usually some kind of car/train/truck, he says he doesn’t want to because, “He’s my best friend!” A few weeks ago he pretended he had a baby. He carried it in his belly, it was born, it was a girl, named Frisbee, and it went to bed with him every night to nurse.
As I watch my second son, still a baby, grow, I don’t want to miss him, either. He is cautious, but watch out, that kid can go from clingy to 3 blocks away in a half second. He is reserved and watchful, but he can be breath-takingly loud when he wants. And sometimes, he does. And here’s the real danger, and the reality that came crashing down on me that day in the park watching Julian go from storm trooper to purple unicorn faster than you can say “Twilight Sparkle”:
I don’t really get to teach my sons what it means to be a girl. They don’t have a sister, their niece is thousands of miles away. They play with plenty of girls, but I’m not those girls’ parents. The closest I come to teaching them what a girl is, and the best I can do at shaping the way they interact with women in the future, is by teaching them about themselves. If being a boy means being loud, aggressive, bold, dauntless, confident, risk-taking, messy, energetic, and self-reliant than what am I teaching them about girls? That girls are quiet, passive, meek, shy, insecure, risk-averse, tidy, reserved, needy.
I LOVE the number of articles I’ve seen passed around lately about how to teach your daughter, and to support all the young girls you know. About how to talk loudly and assertively in meetings as an adult woman. About how to carefully examine the way we hear our female leaders. But I keep waiting for the article that says that how we talk to and about our boys matters just as much, and for the same reason. I haven’t seen it yet, so I thought I would write it myself: Parents, grand-parents, friends: we *have* to stop telling our sons that they are “all-boy” unless we radically clarify and redefine the term. At best, we miss out on the complexity of what it does mean to be a boy; at worst, on what it means to be a human.
If you know my son, you know he doesn’t hesitate to tell you what he’s thinking. As I watch him fly around the room- he’s a bat, he’s Stella Luna, he’s hunting, now he’s sleeping- I know and I love this about him: He is, without a doubt, all-Julian. This is the most I could ever want for him. This is the most I could ever hope for our children.