Category Archives: Boys

On leaving home.

My boy is leaving home. My first. He is off to university 3,000 miles away and that has triggered all my sensory perceptions and electrified all my neurotransmitters. In other words, I have separation anxiety. I am very nervous.

Neurotic, some would say.

I have long argued that as mothers we are, essentially, animals and that we have a lot to learn from birds who leave their offspring to fend for themselves as soon as they can fly and think nothing of it. On the other hand, I also like to think that I have a brain slightly bigger than a bird’s, which translates into an ability to process thoughts and feelings, as loud and dizzying as they may be.

Naturally my fears and my agitation have translated into rants about very minor incidents and fights, with said boy, about everything and nothing. I have been saying all the wrong things and uttering all the wrong words.

I figured I would do us both, and all the other members of our household, a favour and articulate a little more clearly and maturely the myriad thoughts that have been swirling in my head over the last few months.

This is what I want to tell my son before I drop him off.

I want to tell him that education is a privilege.That not everyone has access to the joys and benefits of higher education. That he is lucky to be taking this time to invest in himself and advancing his knowledge in a discipline that he enjoys so much.

I want to tell him not to take this privilege for granted. That he should take full advantage of the new worlds and experiences that are opening up to him. That he should make full use of all that his university has to offer, whether in terms of facilities or people or activities. That he should not waste his time and assume that his time at university will last forever.

I want to tell him to be adventurous but not careless. That he should approach everything with an open mind, try everything, throw a bit of caution to the wind but that he should always make sure he has a way back home.

I want to tell him that I am a little envious.That I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to go through the same life-changing experience again, to feel like every single cell in my body is regenerating, to feel like my mind is growing, to feel like a world of opportunity awaits me. That I wouldn’t mind to still be counting up rather than counting down.

I want to tell him to take care of his finances.That now is the time to start investing in his future. That being lucky enough to have his education insured is not a reason to neglect learning how to save and invest and make an income of his own. That he should start building his own self-worth, to enrich and invest in himself.

I want to tell him that I will miss him. That I may cry. That after avoiding looking in the direction of his room and the piano for the first few weeks, I may find myself spending more time there. And that while I understand that he is only away to study, my primeval cells, my inner bird, cannot help but see his departure as a death of a sort. An end to a life that was, and the beginning of a new one. And that that is what scares, and excites me, the most.

And finally, I want to tell him that he cannot begin to understand how much he will change over the next few years and may not understand all that I am saying until he himself sends his first child off to university. And that, that too is a privilege.

Open letter to my son for his 18th birthday

Go. Fly. Don’t look down. Don’t look back. But if you do, I’ll be here.

You’re not ready. I understand. You’re scared. I understand.

And I’m glad.

Because you’re being called for the biggest adventure of your life: that of being on your own. And if you were ready, if you weren’t scared, then it wouldn’t be an adventure.

Go on, be scared. Embrace the fear, what’s the worst that can happen?

Over the past 18 years you have grown. You now stand over six foot tall. But now is when you need to start to grow on the inside. Now the learning starts. Now the adventure begins. Now you fly.

Go. Learn to dance. Learn to use your own voice. Learn to be independent, it’s the best thing in the world. Learn to play. Learn to cry. Learn to live.

Go. Fly. Go while we can still catch you. Go while we can still fix your wings.

Get uncomfortable, it’s where the growth starts.

You’re scared. I understand. Who knows what will happen? Who knows what’s at the end of the journey? No one. There’s the beauty of the adventure. You will come out of it transformed. You will be different. Your outlook will be different. The world as you know it may look stranger, or more familiar. Maybe it will look bigger, or maybe smaller. But it will change and so will you.

And that’s scary. I know.

So, go. Fly. Don’t look down. Don’t look back. But if you do, I’ll be here. I’ll be watching.

Open letter to my three boys

Notwithstanding that you are a miracle from heaven and that there is nothing in this world I care about more than your health and safety and happiness, notwithstanding that I would rather die than see any of you in misery, I feel it is nevertheless necessary that I share with you these few tips that should make for smoother relations in the years to come.

Tip #1

You will not ask the same question twice. Ever. Listen to the answer the first time.

Tip #2

“But why Mom?” is now officially banned lexicon.

Tip #3

You will not, ever, complain about the food on the table. You may choose to eat it or to leave it, but you will not complain about it. You will not play with it either.

Tip #4

You will finish your homework, it is a favor to yourselves, not to me.

Tip #5

“In a sec” will, from now on, be replaced by “yes sure.” Preferably “yes ma’am.”

Tip #6

I have a face and it can make expressions, so please address all talk to me and not to your screen. It doesn’t love you as much as I do.

Tip #7

Trips abroad are a luxury and not a given. So is eating out.

Tip #8

Yes you will have to work, save up, and buy your own car.

Tip #9

You will stop using my plugs, wires, pens and everything else that belongs to me. Should you need something urgently, you will ask me. More importantly, you will put it back.

Tip #10

You will learn to rely on yourselves and take care of your own affairs so you can become able, confident, young men.

For the night is dark and full of terrors.

Tip #11

I will tend to your issue as soon as I possibly can. I am ignoring you only because I am trying to focus on something else right now.

Tip #12

I am able to carry two conversations, talk and listen to two people at the same time, but I choose not to.

Tip #13

You will go after what you want, you will not wait for it to come to you.

Tip #14

The answer to “Why Mom?” is “Because.” The answer to “But why Mom?” is still “Because.” But anyway if you go back to tip no.2 you will see that “but why mom?” is banned anyway.

With love,

Mom.

P.S. No I will not be writing a similar letter to the dog because the dog cannot read!

On raising dogs…and boys

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like dogs and those who don’t. Some would claim that they are indifferent, or ambivalent, but that is not true. They just haven’t bothered to really sort through their feelings on the subject yet. I used to think that I was indifferent to dogs until I had my own—not too different from my boys actually–and then I realized that I liked them. I like them a lot.

Then there is a small splinter group: those who say they like dogs in general, just not my dog. My dog, apparently, is too boisterous, too big, too brown, too friendly, too intrusive, too jumpy and too talkative. They would rather, they claim, that my dog kept a safe distance from them, better yet, ignore them.

I had even had the occasional claim that I let my dog, a female chocolate Labrador, get away with things I would never let my kids get away with. That is true. Naturally, I would rather my boys not chew bones, eat dead rats, rub themselves against slugs or sniff other people’s butts in greeting.

My point is this: a person is a person and a dog is a dog. It would be better and easier for both species if hey were not equated. Yet if you were to read Karen Pryor’s excellent book Reaching the Animal Mind, you would understand that there are many similarities when it comes to communicating with animals and people.

And yet so many people still do not know how to communicate or interact with dogs. They either fear them, causing their heart rates to rise and the dog to run to them in aid, which further raises their heart rate, or they run away from them, prompting the dog into a much-loved game of tag. Or they keep looking at the dog and telling it to go away, engaging the dog in conversation—dogs, as you know, cannot talk. They bark.

One thing that people, in my environment at least, do not seem to understand is that you simply have to ignore the dog—not engage with it in any way. Keep going about your business and it will understand. Believe me.

Because when dogs are communicated to properly, they understand. They understand faster than people do. They certainly understand faster than my kids do! For over ten years now I have been trying to teach my boys to say please when they want something, to eat properly and to raise the toilet seat when they need to pee and lower it back down again of course. Ten years and they still have not learned these basic skills. My dog, on the other hand, who is only three, knew from the age of six months to sit for her food. She slurps her whole plate clean without making a mess and knows not to pee except in certain places!

But there is another secret to dogs. Dogs have no shame, no pride and no ego. That makes dealing with then a lot easier than dealing with people. And most of the time they are more fun.

The problem my dog seems to have is that she is too friendly. She believes that everyone she meets either wants to be her friend or they need rescuing because they are in distress. Her only fault, it seems, is that she is being herself. An ideal that, according, to Caroline McHugh, founder and CEO of IDology, a movement dedicated to helping individuals and organizations be fully deployed, original versions of themselves, we should all be striving for. You can watch Caroline’s excellent TED talk here.

My dog, it seems, is not as well trained as my kids. Therefore she has not yet learned to think, and judge, and be critical and cynical. She is still primitive, asking for, and giving in return, love, companionship and comfort. My dog lets me be (except when I’m on my home trainer, in which case she runs to help!), accepts me for who I am and I, indeed, plan on returning the favor.

Although I will concede that her habit of snatching scarves and jackets is very annoying. We are working on that.

Of boys and falling down

The mother of boys has to be very fit. She needs to be fast and have quick reflexes, with enough mental stamina and explosive power in her arms and legs to get to the uncovered plugs before her crawling dumpling does. Or to skid fast enough to cushion the fall of a miscalculated jump, catch a vase that has just been shot off the shelf, or to simply pick her little boy up every time he falls. Because boys fall a lot. Physically and mentally.

And so it was, that at the tender young age of 45, I took up triathlon training. I had always been relatively fit, I had already trained for and run a marathon, worked out in the gym, dabbled with yoga and pilates and spinning, but this was serious s**t, with a coach and a training program that covered most of the hours of the day, most days of the week. There was no room for excuses, exceptions, justifications or pretenses. Here’s the program, shut up and do it.

And so it was that with a runny nose and a blocked ear (from the previous day’s swimming workout) I picked myself up early from bed and went running. Naturally, I was feeling very sorry for myself, I wanted to be in bed with my books and my box of soft tissues, not out here battling it on the streets of Beirut. I cursed myself, I cursed my coach, I cursed my boys and was thinking how perhaps this Christmas, as a way of getting back at them, I should teach them about the art of giving instead of receiving by donating some of their gif…

Then I fell.

Or more like thudded. Thumped. Clunked.

Crashed. Smacked. Clomped.

It wasn’t very elegant.

But whatever I did, I seem to have tripped over a piece of badly paved road and I found myself kissing the ground with a bloody nose, scraped knees and hands, a lot of pain and naturally, a bruised ego.

I think it was providence’s way for punishing me for feeling sorry for myself. But it went the extra step because I was still a mile away from home. With no money and no phone.

And that’s when the mental stamina needs to kick in.

I must have looked bad after my trudge home because it took my youngest only 20 seconds to realize something was wrong with me.

“I fell,” I whimpered.

He gave ma a quick reassurance hug before running around in a few circles and shooting off to grab cotton, disinfectant, ice and a towel, all neatly displayed on a tray. My middle one had by then got wind that I was hurt and, very un-teenage-like, also started fussing and looking for any sleeves we had for sprained knees, ankles and wrists. They fussed and swarmed around me with such tenderness and love and affection that I started making my Christmas list again.

After my shower and unending enquiries as to how I was feeling from all the boys in my household, I started tidying up the mess they had made while looking after me and thanking providence for allowing me to salute the street so intimately and being at the receiving end of so much tenderheartedness, compassion and care.

Tomorrow I may just fall off my bicycle.

Of boys and noise

When I was a young girl, I used to be partially deaf in one ear. I didn’t know that of course, but everyone else did.

My siblings knew because they would whisper to me when I wasn’t looking and see how long it took to get my attention. Finally, my mother, having given up on my siblings’ rudimentary way of testing, confirmed the diagnosis in a dim and humid doctor’s clinic. I was ten years old.

My mother at the time, bless her, had no idea that I would eventually end up living with four boys and that being partially deaf in one ear may actually be a good thing.

Because living with boys as anyone will tell you, is noisy. Doors don’t close, they bang. They don’t unlock, they’re wrenched open. Conversations are not had, they’re shouted across rooms and corridors. My boys are teenagers now, so they’re quite hormonal and so there’s a lot of shouting and screaming going on.

Then there are the musical instruments of course. The piano, played only with the foot constantly to the pedal, and the bass. And the drums. The drums played without the silencing pads.

And the music that stays on long after the premises have been vacated. Music is always in the background.

Boys also like to watch noisy things: a football match with all the cacophony of the stadium, action movies with long car chases and noisy exhausts, war movies. All with the volume pitched high.

And then there’s Big Boy Number One, of course. My husband loves to watch replays of football matches he’s already seen a couple of times already. If his favored team had actually won, I get treated to replays and commentary on television, tablet, phone…Location doesn’t matter either: bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room…it all works. This doesn’t bother me, I have to admit, except when I’m trying to read or I’m concentrating on something else, happily and quietly in my bed, in which case the commentary becomes quite a distraction.

Especially if it’s in German.

(Neither my husband nor I speak or understand German.)

And here’s an observation I made the other day. Boys don’t notice when a sound is too high, only when it’s too low. My eldest son recently joined the school choir and we were, naturally, invited to watch his first concert. It was really great to go and watch his lips move.

“How did you like it?” he asked me hopefully at the end.

“I liked it a lot though I would have liked it even more if I had heard you,” I replied, “your father was complaining that he couldn’t hear you at all! You sing louder than that when you sing alone at home,” I tried, wanting to offer one positive-sounding comment at least.

“Yes well, we were asked to keep it soft and melodious,” he explained.

“Well maybe that’s the problem,” I said. “Next time keep it loud…and try singing in German.”

Of Boys and Temporospatial Difficulties

When it comes to any kind of time or space assessment, boys suck. The passage of time and distance between two places is totally arbitrary and changes according to the movement of the earth and the moon, circumstances, hormones, weather…who knows?
Two of the most blatant examples of temporospatial difficulty that boys exhibit are when they shout “Mooooooooommmmmmm” across three rooms, or when they decide to have an important conversation with you, from behind the shower door, even though you have explained, on numerous prior occasions that you cannot hear anything above the noise of the water (this might signal a comprehension problem that we will deal with later, alternatively you can refer to my post on hearing and listening.

Recently, I attended an exercise class where the trainer, a very sweet big boy, had particular difficulties with space and time assessment. He had arranged a circuit where we are supposed to spend a minute at each station and complete two circuits before we got to rest for two minutes and then doing the same thing again with another circuit. As we were 6, that would mean a total of 12 minutes for the first circuit, 12 minutes for the second and a 2-minute break, so a total of 26 minutes of intense exercise that would be accompanied by a 5-minute warm-up and a 5-minute cool down. A total 36 minutes to fit within a 1-hour session.

He didn’t manage. The whole session was an awkward 63 minutes long. Most of us participants completed 1.3 to 1.7 of the first circuit and 2.2 to 2.5 of the second circuit, spending 38 seconds at one station, 75 seconds on another…the whole thing was a total mishmash of time and space interwoven with shouts of “Go!”, “Stop!”, “Rest”, “Again”, intermittently. We came out sweaty, but we were not exactly sure what we did. Or why.
Another example of a space/time problem that I know my boys struggle with is messaging. My husband and I sent our boys to camp recently and had set up a family chat for that purpose. I don’t think I need to say much more than what is below.

Home, 9:36 PM: “How’s everybody doing?”
Home, 9:55 PM: “Hello?”

Camp, 11:06 PM: “Hello””We were not free”

Home, 11:06 PM: “OK, everything going well?”

Silence…s…s…s…s…s…s…s

But the best illustration has to be:
11:03 PM, 4,823km away: “Mom, can you tell Nik [his brother] and his friends to stop bothering me?”

Boys, you’ve got to love them. Because if you don’t, no one else will.