Of boys and marriage

Living with boys is essentially, living with doubt. “Are you sure? Really? Why?” Everything comes with a question: every request, every remark, every opinion.

“Darling, can you pass me the lettuce from the fridge, please?”

“Lettuce?”

“Yes. Lettuce. Please.”

“Why do you want lettuce?”

“To make a salad.”

“Are you sure you want to make a salad?”

Men doubt and question everything that women do. And we women, naturally, retaliate. We retaliate with our biggest weapon: we become mean. And then we blame the men.

“Hon, can you pass me that apple from the tree?”

“Why?”

“I want to eat it.”

“Are you sure you should be eating it?”

Scrunch!

“Yup, pretty sure Adam baby, pretty sure.”

“Why did you eat that?!”

“It’s your fault! Why did you pass it to me?”

Boys’ doubting and constant questioning would have been half a problem if they could at least take care of themselves on their own. Or if they made sense.

On a recent trip to Berlin to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband, Big Boy No. 1 and I, encountered very sunny weather and it wasn’t long before my big boy’s eyes started tearing and bothering him through his glasses.

Over breakfast I asked him why he didn’t bring his prescription sunglasses with him. His answer was that he didn’t think it would be so sunny.

“In July?” I asked.

“Well yes, I didn’t expect it to be so sunny in Berlin in July.”

“But why didn’t you bring them anyway? Why didn’t you think you would need them in July?” I persisted.

“Because it’s not the sun that bothers me. I don’t normally need them. It’s the sun that reflects off all these metallic surfaces that kills me, the kind of Northern European sun.”

“Like the sun in Berlin in July?”

We were getting annoyed with each other by then, him with me making fun of him and me with his inability to plan and pack properly. After a few minutes, my anger gave way to empathy.

“Here,” I said passing him my sunglasses across the table, “try these on for a while. See if they help.”

He took them, examined the lenses and promptly took out his lens wipe, cleaned them and gave them back to me.

“Here, they should be more pleasant to wear now.”

And that is why we have been married for twenty years and will probably stay married for the next twenty. I thanked him and thanked God for creating boys with such a short attention span and no rancour. So what’s a few questions here and there?

 

 

On living with 10-year olds

If you have a 10-year old go hug him now. If you don’t know where he is, go find him and hug him. If he’s not at home wait for him by the door and when he walks in hug him. If he’s sleeping go wake him up and hug him.

Hug him like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

Your 10-year old will never show you his love like he does now, will never want to play Monopoly with you like he does now, will never seek your approval like he does now, will never ask for your attention like he does now, will never cry when you travel like he does now, will never ask to sleep with you when he’s scared like he does now.

Very soon your 10-year old will no longer be 10.

His voice will break and his hair will grow. His shoulders will widen and so will his feet. His laughter will soon lose its innocence and so will he. He will always love you, but he will never love you like he loves you today.

So if you have a 10-year old, go hug him now. Hug him like your life depends on it because it does.

Hug him tight because your 10-year old will never be 10 again.

And if you have a girl you can hug her too. Hug her and pray her feet don’t grow too wide!

 

On boys and sailboats…and jealousy

A great thing about living with boys is that, should you choose to be, you can be invisible. My husband and I spend most of our time communicating via WhatsApp and messaging. We love each other dearly, we send each other articles we’ve read and that we’ve liked, podcasts, images…we love each other through our screens.

My older boys, similarly, are on screens either conducting their own on-screen love affairs or playing games. Sometimes, conveniently, we forget that we are under the same roof, each enjoying our own on-screen time in our own chosen room.

I have to say the only one who still really loves me is my 10 year-old. He’s the only one who still looks at me and wants my attention and every now and again I have to give him a screen so he can lay off the questions and I can get my thoughts down. I know I’ll regret it one day, but I may not even live to one day so I’ll deal with it when I get there.

For now, we all live in a state of mutual love and disregard.

Which is probably how my husband, Big Boy number one, imagined the conversation would go one morning a few years back when he was telling me about a new acquaintance he had met on one of his recent trip abroad, while I was checking my e-mail, on-screen.

“He’s a great guy,” he said, “really bright, you’ll like him. I’ll arrange for you to meet him.”

“Uh-huh,” I replied, with little enthusiasm. I had enough boys in my life, I figured I could do without one more.

“He works for…I’ve got to reply to this e-mail now…very competent…did I arrange for boy number two to get picked up…a graduate of…”

“Uh-huh.” I’ve got to order my groceries.

“He’s planning a trip in the Mediterranean,” uh-huh, “on his sailboat.”

We are more like our dogs than we think.

My ears perked up.

At that time, probably after reading one self-help book or another, I had decided that I will try everything that remotely interested me and promptly took up sailing. I loved it, bought the requisite books and fancied myself a sailor despite my having only sailed a Laser 4, slowly. A mildly competent windsurfer would have beaten me at any race. Still, I had a certificate and I sailed boats, albeit small ones. Anyone with a sailboat was my friend.

I think it was my sudden enthusiasm that threw him off-guard.

“Oh wow!” I exclaimed. “This guy sounds amazing! I’ve got to meet him! You’ve got to introduce me!

Mike, I continued, this guy has to become our friend!”

Somehow I wasn’t so invisible anymore.

“Well,” said my husband, “he’s not that great.”

“What do you mean he’s not that great? Just a second ago he was a brilliant, interesting,  bright guy, a sailor no less, and now that he’s caught my interest he’s not that great?”

“Well, he’s a bit of a geek.”

I reminded him that our eldest son was a bit of a geek and yet we still loved him.

“He’s not that kind of geek.”

“Well what kind of geek is he? Is there more than one kind?”

The answer was not forthcoming. The subject was promptly closed and I was never introduced to my would-be best friend. His subject would never come up again.

I asked my husband about him a couple of times since that conversation, but it was too late, I had become invisible again.

 

On living with boys…and a dog

Farts, fights, burps, hours in the toilet and clothes on the floor, what’s not to like?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the mother or the resident dog but my husband says he wants that role. So I am the head culinary director, chief transportation manager, headmistress, chief hygiene officer, personal shopper and party planner. In my spare time I work.

I think my husband’s right, better to be the dog.

This is now of course. ‘Tis was not always thus. I remember once having a fight with my husband when our kids were still babies and toddlers, during which he expressed his displeasure at feeling as if he were not a husband and a father but “sometimes I feel like I’m just the dog in this house.”

That was before we got the dog.

In February 2014, Molly Gru (as in Despicable Me-best movie ever made) landed in our midst. Well, more like arrived in a box. I was immediately smitten. Here was the girl I never had! so what if she stood on four legs? MG was cute, small, furry and adored me. And I adored her back, much to everyone’s consternation. Plus she barked at anyone who upset me. What more could a girl ask for? Finally the attention I craved in a house of navel-gazers.

Two and a half years post Molly Gru entering our lives and still in mutual adoration, I reminded my husband of that conversation some years back.

“Now that you see how I treat the dog,” I said, “don’t you wish you had actually been the dog?” He was quiet. He was sad. With a wistful smile I saw him turn around and grab a tissue. I’m pretty sure he was shedding a tear or two.

Of hearing and listening

I always knew that there was, in theory, a difference between “hearing” and “listening” but it was only after I started living with boys that I understood that difference. To be precise, it was after I took my eldest son, who was three at the time, to the otolaryngologist worried about his lack of response to my requests, that the doctor assured me that he could hear just fine, maybe he just wasn’t listening. The doctor, a boy himself, had a big grin on his face.

And in that moment my thoughts spiralled back ten years to when my husband used me as a human alarm clock, which he would snooze every five minutes until the day he snoozed me once too often and I had to leave and he had to be late for work. (From that day on he moved to a much more compliant electrical alarm clock that wasn’t as nasty as his wife was.)

The thing is, I never really understood. I knew that he could hear me, so why wasn’t he acting upon it? Fast-forward sixteen years and my boys have the same affliction. I, on the other hand, am expected to have eight ears and four brains to process what they are saying to me, all at the same time.

But the epitomising, ah-ha moment, had to be when, getting very cross with my son (the same one with the non-non-hearing problem) that he wasn’t going to the shower, I was interrupted with “Okay okay! Why are you shouting? You only told me three times!”

So I decided to do some research.

“Do boys hear less than girls?” I asked Dr.Google and I stumbled upon this brilliant study by William McBride, Ph.D. about brain-based gender differences. If you cannot be bothered to read the study, which you can link to here, I will summarise a few points for you.

It turns out that in girls

“Stronger neural connectors create better listening skills, more detailed memory storage, and better discrimination among the tones of voice.”

It also turn out that

“The more words a teacher uses, the greater chance a boy will quit listening.”

Personally I don’t agree with that one, I think he wasn’t planning on listening in the first place.  

“For many tasks, brain imaging studies show that women use the most advanced areas of the brain…whereas men doing the same task use the more primitive areas.” 

Advanced, primitive, his words, not mine.

Boys have less blood flow to the brain.”

 You only need a rudimentary knowledge of science to understand the implications of that one.

“The male brain is designed to go into rest states in which it renews, recharges, and reorients itself. Girls do this without going to sleep.” 

No comment. 

And for enhancing teaching and parenting for boys, Dr. McBride recommends:

“Keep verbal instructions short. Don’t layer instructions. Write layered instructions as numbered steps on the board or worksheet.”

In other words, keep it simple and speak very slowly.

“Surround boys with reading material they will enjoy, such as real life nonfiction, adventure, sports, or how-to books.”

Or porn.

“Boys in groups do stupid things. Begin any new physical activity with lessons from a trained teacher.”  

In groups?

 

Of life with boys

I love living with boys really I do. Boys make you feel so important. They give meaning to your life. And the reason boys make you feel so important is because they are just so needy. You realize that the reason you were born and the reason you are living is actually to

  1. a) give them birth,
  2. b) cater to their every whim after you give them birth.

Sometimes you don’t even give birth to them but you still have to cater to their whims and needs.

Somehow, once a boy is with a woman, he loses all sense of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. They do fine when you’re not there but somehow, once you materialize, they turn into helpless beings, incapable of any action without your approval. Better yet, you do it!

When I first started living with my husband (I am going to get into so much trouble for this) he suddenly, after four years of living on his own, lost the cognitive skills necessary to operate a washing machine. Suddenly all these images and numbers became way too complicated for him to deal with.

“But I don’t know what they mean!”

“They mean the same thing they meant on your other washing machine, the one you were using before we lived together.”

“No they don’t.”

(Another great skill that boys have. More on that later.)

As for the fridge and the cooker, he started bumping into them because he had no idea what they were.

I blamed his mother of course, to whom I now owe a deep apology because, having had three of my own, I realize that the simple cue of remove your (replace with anything) usually needs repetition. Every. Single. Time.

It’s not that boys are dumb, quite the contrary, they are very intelligent human beings. It’s just that when you’re around, there’s no need for them to be. No need for them to do anything. I try to convince my boys that I would happily do their homework and revise for their tests myself but what would they do in the classroom when they have their exams and I’m not there?

They look at me with their puppy eyes saying nothing. They are waiting for me to answer. Of course! What was I thinking?!

 

On beauty in simplicity

 

The great thing about boys is that they are so simple. No over thinking things, no thinking between the lines…hardly any thinking at all in fact. That’s fantastic and it makes living with boys – in that sense at least – much easier.

Things are taken at face value. For example, if you give them food, they eat, if you give them juice, they drink, if you give them a ball, they kick it. No answering back, no asking whys and hows, no questioning really. It’s there, it’s good, take it. All is well, all is easy.

They are also great deflectors, that’s also an asset that they have. They never feel targeted, their feelings don’t get hurt. But that’s mostly, I think, because they just don’t get it. They don’t get the under meaning of the understatement of the hint that we women, of course, only know how to speak in. Hence most of our discussions at home tend to move in parallel lines rather than intersect at any point. That is if they’re actually listening.

All these musings to bring me to the point of my husband, whom upon reading my “about the author” page, wondered why I was writing all these things about myself and asked, very simply: “who farts?”

You’ve got to love them.

(Because if you don’t, nobody will.)

Of cars and balls

In summer 2010, during the world cup, my kids discovered football.

And since boys can usually only deal with one thing at a time, football became the primary activity in our home. This was much to the pleasure of my husband, a football freak himself, who had started to wonder, upon perusing our kids’ aversion to football prior to summer 2010, whether our boys were actually girls.

From this point onward, it became very difficult to apply the rule of no balls in the house as this rule was mostly broken by Football Freak no.1, my husband and the father of my children. So happy to have found each other through a spherical, leather-bound object, Football Freak no. 1 and Football Freaks nos. 2, 3 and 4, engaged in this activity whenever – and wherever – they could.

That is when I started putting out the vases I didn’t particularly care for and now luckily I am rid of them.

However, none of my kids caught the football bug quite like the middle one, who was seven at the time. By the end of the World Cup, he knew every player, their height, their weight, their club and how many goals they had scored in their career.

Now this, in and of itself, would not have been a problem except that he wanted to share that information with me. For a very long time, it seemed as if I was talking football every waking moment: whilst driving, cooking, walking around the house…even going to the toilet, I was listening to football data. And I was getting asked questions. Questions to which, of course, being a woman and not a football freak myself, I had no answer to.

So that’s when I had to come out with the awful truth that no mother ever wants to admit and no child wants to hear. “My love,” I said, “I don’t know EVERY thing!” (But I still know a lot so you better keep listening!)

My middle son is now almost ten years old and his football trivia has grown with him. Still passionate about football but no longer content to know every single factoid about the football world, he has found space in his little but oh-ever-so-growing heart…

…for cars.