Taming the Lions

800px-Lion_cub_with_motherRaising four kids has been quite an adventure, but raising three sons was a bit like venturing into a completely uncharted territory. As a young girl, I figured one day I might get married, but it was never an overwhelming desire. If I married at all, it certainly wouldn’t be before I was at least thirty, because you know. . . I had things to do. I was going to write, maybe paint, and most certainly travel the world before I would even consider settling down and getting married. And when I had kids, it would be all girls, just daughters and maybe even five of them. No boys. No way.

I have no idea what this was based on other than the fact I wished I had a bunch of sisters (or at least one) growing up. I have one brother and couldn’t figure him out for the life of me, although he was my very best friend when I was little. I babysat for plenty of kids and had so much fun with the girls especially, creating tea parties, drawing, playing dress up with some of them, swimming, and just a ton of fun things. Then there were the adorable clothes, the hair ribbons, nail polish,  my favorite books that I couldn’t wait to share with them; the list was endless. I realize my activities and expectations were completely gender-centric to somewhat biased roles, but hell, it’s what I enjoyed doing and I wasn’t a fair damsel in distress back then nor did I grow up to be. 

Seanny:MomSo much for the best-laid plans, however. Instead, I married young and had 3 sons and one daughter. Yet, when son number one came along–there was no disappointment in the least. I simply fell completely in love with this little guy and suddenly, having a baby boy was the greatest thing in the universe to me.  I had a son and I loved every single minute I had with him. I couldn’t imagine that I ever thought I wanted only daughters. Surely, someone else said that – it couldn’t have been me. This little guy went everywhere with me. He was serious as can be and a comical little monkey with a vivid imagination at the same time. He’s still kind of like that, except the word ‘little’ doesn’t really enter the equation these days–he’s grown up to be a great ape instead. 

A little over three years later, the long-awaited daughter came and I was completely delighted, of course. She was a funny little girl, in turn feisty and as sweet as can be (as she still is), and life with her certainly has fulfilled every daughter dream I could have ever had. The bonus is that unlike many of the mother/daughter horror stories that come down the pike, we never had those awful exchanges so prevalent during teen years. She just remained a really good kid throughout and for that, I’m thankful. Her older brother adored her, and she thought he was the best thing going.

MikeRissAnother three years later came son number two, a smiley fella from the minute he emerged from my womb, a cross between an old soul and a mischievous sprite. His big brother was busy with a life of his own, out on his bike, playing ball with friends, so he spent a lot of time following his adored older sister around, who gladly let him be her pet dog on a leash, or get involved in whatever hi-jinks she was up to. While the household now had more males than females, it didn’t seem like the testosterone count was changing the dynamic in any way, but still. . .they were young.

Drew dooragTwo miscarriages later, I figured our family might be complete although we still longed for another child. We were grateful and blessed with three kids, but I kept thinking our family just wasn’t complete yet. Finally, number four came along and yep, it was a boy, which I slightly dreaded announcing to my daughter who was fervently clinging to the hope that this new baby might be a sister for her. I felt her pain but she quickly fell in love with her littlest brother and he, of course, thought she was pretty amazing from the get-go. While the boys spent a lot of time with their baby brother over the years and no doubt influenced him in many ways, having a sister introduced my youngest to things he never would have done otherwise and pretty much rounded out his early years in many positive ways. As the youngest, he had a captive audience and made full use of that advantage. Boisterous and funny from the start, this son was unlike anyone else in the family and we never knew what he was going to do next. That hasn’t changed much.

Bubbles kidsThe kids had a devoted father, who did everything with them and basically got through his workday just to get home to them. Regardless of the hour, he read books, listened to homework problems, watched sports on TV with them (from baseball to cheerleading competitions), played catch in the yard, volunteered as a soccer coach, a base coach, worked out in the yard with them, brought them to the bus stop, to Red Sox games, and did all the usual stuff a good dad likes to do with his kids. He and my oldest son would have endless conversations about space, the constellations, weather patterns and so many other things that were special really to just them, and my daughter and I would give each other a look when they started those conversations. BORING!

My daughter also had lots of things that were essentially daughter-dad activities that they looked forward to and did together regularly. The same held true for my middle son, who was read to sleep each night by his father, regardless of what time it was while I attended to everyone else. I remember a neighbor who lived behind me revealing that they thought it was really nice that my husband did that, and was so patient reading every night. They knew this because their baby monitor was picking up ours many nights. Horrified, I wondered if she could also hear me in the background, most nights like a banshee herding everyone else into bed.

Mike and DrewBy the time my youngest son came along, his father had started to develop symptoms of an illness that would soon change his life. Fast forward a few years later, and much of the child-raising responsibilities began to fall solely to me.  By then, my kids were at ages when I knew that the loss of the attention and care they had been so used to receiving from their father could be critical and I tried my best to not only play mom and dad but also figure out what a dad might do in certain situations. Not being a man, however, it was a tough call, particularly when dealing with my boys.

I was lucky in the respect that we hadn’t raised the boys thus far with a “boys will be boys” attitude. While they were as rough and tumble as any young pups might be, my daughter really was no different. There were times that I would be at friends’ homes or a playgroup and some wrestling, punching or other antics that ended in tears or injuries might occur or complete rudeness and disrespect and parents would either laugh it off or roll their eyes and say, “Boys will be boys. What are you going to do?”—- “Uh, tell them to knock it off?” was what I was thinking.  Why would you allow behavior any different for the boys in the family than the girls? Yeah, I know, most likely spoken like a woman but my husband felt the same way. Acceptable was acceptable regardless of who was doing something, sons or daughters. So we basically had the same rules in the house for everyone. You don’t treat your siblings badly, you never hit them and if you have a problem with someone, you figure it out or we all have a discussion about it and your discussion with me might not end favorably for anyone. For the most part, it did work out.

256px-Young_male_lions_AfricaI started to notice that raising boys, particularly as they got into their teen years, was fraught with behaviors that I likened to raising a pride of lions. There was a certain amount of snarling at times, although most often the behavior was playful. All it took was one deliberate swipe of a big old paw, however, in an unguarded moment, perhaps a bit too hard, or a remark a little too close to home and all hell could easily break loose. I remember feeling, about the time my oldest was in college, like a lion tamer. It was my job to keep everyone up on their respective posts, no one too close to a sharp claw, with my chair in hand ready to push people back when things got heated.

Although I had always been more of the disciplinarian in the household than my husband had been, I now had to be the only disciplinarian and at times, that just pissed me off. I wanted to have a turn at being the soft shoulder to turn to when someone else laid down the law, the one that commiserated and said things like, “I know he’s mad at you, and I know you didn’t necessarily mean to do that, but you did and it’s time to apologize and make sure you don’t do it again.” Instead, I was the enforcer, the one who said things like, “Hey, look – I don’t care if you are bigger than me. I can still take you.” Yeah, right. Or “Democracy ends at the front door, buddy. This is a dictatorship and you’re looking at the big dick right here.” Painfully ridiculous, yes, but I did utter those words more than a few times.

Fortunately, there weren’t huge problems or at least not very often. I made it clear early on that the rules were the rules and if you paid attention and did what you were supposed to, life would be pretty easy. If you didn’t, it not only got me mad that you didn’t but it got me even angrier to know that I was being put in a position to have to change things up, deliver lectures, create punishments, and deal with additional stress that none of us really needed.

When my daughter began dating, it was me figuring out when she’d actually be allowed to go out in a car with someone and what her curfew would be. It was also me telling the first boy she drove with that I had a hunting knife I kept by my bed, and that I wouldn’t hesitate to use it if she came to any harm in that car. I thought it was the sort of thing a dad might say, or actually, it turns out it’s exactly the sort of thing I might have said anyway. Go figure.

The boysWith my youngest son, I tried to think about what sort of things his dad might have done with him. I felt like he, most of all, had been gypped by not having his father in his life really, although it was certainly true for them all. The others got a decent chunk of time with him, although obviously less and less as the ages went down. He was fortunate to have three devoted older siblings to help steer the way, too. 

I tried to do things like go out and kick the soccer ball around with him, but that’s about as far as my sports abilities would carry me. So I focused on movies that I thought his dad would certainly have shared with him and introduced him to buddy-cop movies like the “Lethal Weapon” series, “Beverly Hills Cop,” and the “Die Hard” movies. His father was a huge fan of “The Godfather” and movies with Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro, so I was sure he also knew those as well. Then there was “The Deer Hunter,” a movie that his father absolutely loved. As time went by, he and I went to the movies together a lot, and it usually involved action movies that I normally wouldn’t have chosen and ended up really liking a lot. I learned to like “Star Wars” all over again and this time around I actually got to know every character pretty well, spending a lot of time debating about plots and characters and also got to know who the various comic book superheroes were, too, something I really knew nothing about prior.

Michael and RissaMostly, I’ve tried to raise all of my kids to be good people; people that have respect for themselves and others as well. I want them to be strong in the face of what life hands them and appreciative of the blessings they now have and will continue to receive. I want them to understand that love should add value to their lives, not pain; that good relationships are worth fighting for, not constantly fighting in; and that the care they have for themselves and others will determine the quality of life they live.

While it’s easy sometimes to focus on the loss in our lives, I realize how much I’ve gained throughout the past ten years or so. Being a parent, single or otherwise, plunges us all into circumstances and situations we never might have imagined. The direct benefit of doing a lot of this on my own is that I got to experience it. It wasn’t always pretty, but seriously, what is? I might be the one getting the 2 a.m. phone calls, dealing with the totaled car, or the catastrophic break-up, but in the end, I’m the one being turned to, the one being asked for advice, the one who gets to be here and be a part of it all. Like any adventure, it can sometimes be exhausting as well as exhilarating and I’m sure there’s plenty more excitement still to come. And I still have my chair handy, just in case.  

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