It’s beginning. The point in time when my boys are no longer my babies--they’re my boys. And they’re orangutans. Total apes. Creatures I am closely related to, but due to the mysteries of evolution, I cannot communicate with.
Often lately, I find I am torn between bursting into hysterical, gut-busting laughter and bursting into angry, frustrated tears. They exhaust me and they fill me up. All at the same time.
A few weeks ago, they got a hold of a silver Sharpie and colored the vanilla couch with large, long, highly visible strokes of gray. We flipped the cushions to the “clean” side. A few days later, Finny barfed all over them. I washed them. Twice. But there’s still no clean side. Despite my best efforts to keep food out of the family room, I found chocolate fingerprints on them last night. Clean is an illusion. It’s a mirage in the desert. I keep reaching for it, only to be disappointed that it disappears as soon as I get there. I might as well just bury the vacuum and the dust cloths deep in the closet, and lay down in the sand to work on my suntan.
This week, for the third time this month, Finny broke Charlie out of his locked room at nap time and decorated it with baby powder. This time, I was up there fast. The second time though, I did not have enough imagination to conceive what could possibly be occurring when I heard vague rumblings upstairs. When I reached the top of the stairs, I saw Charlie’s door open to the left, and to the right, I saw Charlie and Finny both huddled in his bed. Charlie was covered in white from head to toe. Finny had one word for me: “Sorry.”
An entire, full bottle of baby powder was all over the room—the rug, the blinds, the shelves, the walls the bed, the air. My black pants turned white just from walking into the room.
The part of me that knew this was hysterical, took a picture and smiled at a deep place on the inside. The part of me who had just a couple hours earlier vacuumed and mopped this very room as I prepared for company to come, was seething, taking deep, calming breaths as I re-vacuumed in a heated rage, trying hard to decide what punishment fit the crime. Finny lost privileges for the day, and I told him we’d have to lock his door for a while at nap time until we could trust him again. I was fuming at the time, trying to get him to understand that he destroyed my hard work, but today, I smile when I pick Charlie up and occasionally odd spots like his hair or an elbow smell vaguely of baby powder.
It’s not just the mess they make though—pee on the bathroom floor, toilet paper off the roll, torn up tape and paper strewn about, dirt, sand, dirt, sand, toys dumped out of every toy basket they can find, pages of books torn up and spread around the room—it’s also they’re general state of being.
They’re like rockets, filled and bursting. Tornadoes, swirling and destructive. Cave men, perpetually longing to be naked with endlessly dirty fingernails. They jump and climb and tear each other limb from limb. They undress themselves and then put hats and socks on. They pee…everywhere. Charlie’s sheets are changed daily and Finny, just last Wednesday pulled down his pants and peed in the sand right in the middle of a crowded park. The other parents laughed, thank God. I shook my head and smiled at the orange hair I saw sprouting out of his back. My little orangutan.
I love them. But I have to learn to live with them without seeing Red most of the time. So I did what I usually do, I decided I needed to study this subject that I know little about, and I checked out a handful of books from the library: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Raising Boys—Why Boys are Different and How to Help them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men, and Wild Things: the art of nurturing boys.
I’ve learned a lot from these books. I’ve earmarked pages and had aha moments. I’m starting to embrace they’re wild ways and understand the important role I’ll play as they’re mother. Here are just a few of the things I’ve gleaned from these pages:
1. Ages 2-4, boys are Explorers. When they are unscrewing the lid on the peanut butter jar on the rug, they are not being malicious. They’re being curious.
2. At age 4, boys experience a surge in testosterone causing them to become aggressive and energetic, creating an interest in superheroes and guns and all manners of fighting and destruction (I double underlined this one).
3. At age 5, their testosterone cuts in half, allowing them to calm down in time for school (I got out my pen and started marking the days on the calendar until September 30, when I expect to find that Finny has suddenly stopped thinking it’s funny to growl at strangers, put his feet on the dinner table, and tell me he’s going to punch me in my poopy penisface.)
4. From birth to age 6, Mom is the most important person in a little boy’s life—she teaches him how to love. Boys at this age, even the naughty ones need to be showered with kisses and affection all the time (Check and Double Check.)
5. At age 6, boys will start to identify more with their dads and become interested in learning from dad about how to be a boy. (I started marking the days on the calendar until September 30, 2014 and planning my solo trip to Santorini.)
6. Boys need to know the rules and they need to know who’s in charge. They crave discipline. Without it, they’ll set the forest on fire and drop the boulder on the poor, sweet kid with the glasses. The conch is more than just a shell. It’s their salvation. (I made a note to use this as my next thesis statement on a Lord of the Flies essay.)
7. From ages 5-8, boys are Lovers. They do eventually learn right from wrong. They do eventually want to please their parents. They will feel guilt and shame when they do something wrong. A loving parent will need to remember this and teach them what’s right, without filling them with shame. (Since Finny’s not yet 5, I still feel like I have about a month and a half window to make him feel pretty bad about himself without doing any real, lasting damage. And Charlie, well that field’s wide open.)
They are still orangutans—after writing this yesterday morning, Finny peed not once, but three times on the family room rug, just for his own amusement—but they’re my orangutans and it’s my job to teach them love, unconditional love, that is sometimes so visible, it vaguely resembles steam coming out of my ears.