So you've faced nature's most destructive forces? Try raising a boy 

I knew my son would be trouble even before he was born.

By the time I was seven months pregnant, he seemed desperate to get out of my body, constantly stretching, pummeling, jostling and sometimes kicking me so hard I gasped. When I went into labor two weeks early, I felt only relief. I was tired of the 24-7 beatdown and wanted my body back to myself, ASAP."Watch out, people, he's got shoulders!" I remember my obstetrician calling out to the nurses with a frown of intense concentration on her face. Moments later, they handed him over to me, a barrel-chested 10-pounder whose ear-splitting screams would provide a jarring melody for the new soundtrack of my life.

In fact, his screams are pretty much all I remember from his first year. In the beginning, they were caused by reflux. Once we got that taken care of, he began howling because he couldn't sit up, or because he couldn't reach a toy, or because he was hungry, or because he was cutting a tooth, or because he was tired, or because he was...alive.

Eventually, Bruiser's increased mobility put a stop to the screaming. But that's when the destruction began. At 1, my son managed to break two lamps, a $100 power cord, countless Xbox games, DVDs and CDs, cups, plates and most memorably, my Macbook. At the time, I wrote a column admitting that I sometimes called my little annihilator a...Monkey Butt. That admission garnered some horrified responses from readers, who were certain such a nickname would scar my son for life.

Those readers obviously have never raised boys.

Parents of sons form a survivors' network of shared experience that bridges all ethnic and socioeconomic gaps. I've never counseled and commiserated with more strangers than I have as the mother to a boy.

"Was yours like this?" an acquaintance asked me in horror the other day, as her 1-year-old son ran around the elementary school cafeteria screaming and flailing his arms while she attempted to have lunch with her daughter.

"Oh yes." I said. "And then some.""I keep wondering if he's normal," she said, shuddering. "My girls weren't like this all."

"He's not normal, Julie," I told her. "He's a boy."

Just last week, I sat in sympathy as a mom friend broke down in tears, recounting the anger and humiliation she'd felt that morning when her 3-year-old son had an unexpected screaming fit in Walmart. The stares! The whispers! The judgment!

And yesterday, I found myself in a 30-minute heart-to-heart with a salon receptionist, who'd had to bring her 2-year-old boy into work with her.

"My mama keeps saying I need to just pop him," she said, as he defiantly pulled hair products from the shelves. "I tell her I can't do that, because he makes me so angry, I don't know that I could stop myself once I started."

Those were pretty intense words from a stranger, yet they didn't surprise me. At 2, Bruiser uses up every last bit of my patience most days, starting with the moment he wakes up shouting at 5 a.m. He bellows and sobs when he doesn't get his way. He goes limp and howls if he doesn't want to do something, which generally occurs in the most inconvenient places, like a crowded parking lot or busy street. He puts everything he finds in his mouth. He hits his sister and steals her toys. He rips pages from his books. He throws things.

"Be nice," I tell him over and over again.

"No!" he answers stoutly. "No, you be nice! YOU BE NICE!" Often, he punctuates the whole thing with a raspberry, which is sort of funny when we're at home alone, but not so much at Kroger on Senior Discount Day. I could do without the assvice, my elderly friends, thankyouverymuch.

I realize as I write these words that he sounds like a little monster. And sometimes he is. Yet he has moments of sweetness that make all of his antics melt away in my mind. When I'm too tired to do anything with him at 5 a.m. except put him in bed beside me, he lies there quietly until the sun comes up, clutching my hand tightly to his chest and murmuring to himself about cars and planes and trains. He gives me a thousand kisses a day and tells me he loves me at least once every five minutes. He snuggles like none of our children who've come before him.

He holds my face in his hands sometimes and says, "You're byoo-full, Mommy." And in these moments, I can't believe how lucky I am to have a son. To have my son, my dirty faced, sticky-handed, screeching, blustering, completely infuriating son.

And I know all the tearful and exhausted mothers to boys out there feel exactly the same way. Quietly, we will continue collecting our shrieking sons from off the floors of public places. We will clean up their spills. We will kiss their scrapes. We will make a thousand apologies to the people around us. We will love our sons like no one else ever can. And we will earn for our troubles a gleaming badge of honor visible only to those around us who have boys of their own.

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