Thursday, January 27, 2011


This past weekend, Craig and I attended the funeral of his much-loved grandmother. We reconnected with members of his family we haven't seen in ages, and spent a particularly touching evening with all of the extended family, reminiscing about Grandma: her many idiosyncrasies, her intelligence and ingenuity, but most off all, her powerful influence -- an influence that, no doubt, will send ripples through the generations in both directions.

She raised five sons. Those five boys are all, I'm happy to report, extremely civilized and happy in their adulthood. This surprises me not because I know them now, but because I have inherited Grandma's life's work: raising sons.

I don't always love this job. In fact, there are times that I downright detest it. Don't get me started about dirty bathrooms and the tendency to turn everything into a weapon. They've even taught their little sister so much about defending herself that they call her our "Tackle Baby" -- a weapon, indeed. I could go on and on about potty mouth, fascination with gross noises, and the hearing aids I'm pretty sure I already need as a result of the perpetual escalation of indiscriminate noise-making.

Over Christmas break, I was talking to my sister on the phone one day while doing the dishes. my childrens' noise level became so unbearably loud that I could no longer hear what she was saying. It sounded like howler monkeys had invaded my living room, and were entertaining themselves by swinging back and forth between the Christmas tree and the ceiling fan.

"Jenny!" I moaned. "I think I live in Lord of the Flies! And I'm a little afraid that I am Piggy!"

And then, of course, I immediately got off the phone and turned my attention to the thing that should have, actually, had my attention in the first place: my unruly clutch of male-children, waiting, desperately, to be civilized by the touch of a woman.

I noticed something interesting about my children very early on: they have always been calmed by the presence of an older female. Their cousin, Lucy, has an especially settling effect on them. She's a born boss (it's one of the many reasons I love her!) and even though she's but 15 months older than my twins, when she starts barking out orders, they listen.

Last summer, I would go spend the day at Jenny's house and let the kids (all boys, except for Lucy) play: sandbox, Wii, swimming at the community pool, usually followed by a couple of Little Caesar's pizzas thrown onto the back deck with a box of Capri Suns and instructions to stay outside until their swimsuits were dry. Lucy would make sure everyone was done eating, then line them up in Mother-May-I fashion for the orderly distribution of popsicles while Jenny and I sipped our Cokes and watched from the kitchen table on the other side of the french doors. I was fascinated -- awed, even -- by how different boys behave when there's a little estrogen in the room.

As I've struggled through the past six weeks of schoollessness (yes, it's a word -- I just coined it) brought on by three weeks of Christmas break, a week of DisneyWorld, and a bunch of snow days, I have often lamented to those who are required to listen (husband, sister, mother, friend) that my house right now is not at all the way my house was when I was growing up. I am the oldest of four, and my two brothers are seven years apart. They did not rough-house. They did not horse around. They did not wrestle, tackle, bite, kick, fight, body-slam, or fart on each other. Our house was loud and happy, but it was not a testosterone-laden den of boy smells and car noises.

I said this to Craig the other day, and he sort of snorted. "Oh, this is exactly what it was like at my house."

God bless his mother. She had exactly what I have now, in reverse order: girl, boy (Craig), then three years later, identical twins. She had the intelligence to quit after the twins, as many more-sane people do, and you should hear the laundry list of antics those three got up to. Someone once gave them boxing gloves for Christmas. I kid you not. And I think it actually worked. Nothing stops fighting like good, old-fashioned permission.

While listening to all of those stories about Craig's grandmother, I realized exactly what we're here for: to civilize. She raised five sons who have all made lasting contributions to the world they live in. They have raised families of their own, started businesses, served others, and lived the Gospel. And the reason they had the skills to do what they have is because their mother recognized the potential underneath the wild-man exterior that, I'm convinced, every boy exhibits to some degree. She molded them, shaped them, prepared them to be husbands, fathers, and leaders, helped them become so much better than they could have ever been without the calming influence of the great civilizer of society: the mother.

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  1. This is a lot of things to me. The best word I can come up with is interesting. It will be great to reunite one day!

  2. What a powerful post ... life is a very interesting cycle, isn't it? Beautiful tribute to what sounds like an amazing woman :-)

  3. I want to hug you right now. I loved so many things about this post. I loved your sentiment and your beautiful characterization of what it is we women are supposed to do for the boys in our lives. I'm struggling mightily as of late to get along with Jordan, so this message was one I needed to read. I also loved that I read this without a speck of a preview in any of our phone conversations. It's rare for either of us to ever blog anything without the other having some clue of the sentiments that will be expressed. But this was all new to me. I think it touched me more for that reason. And I loved it because sister, you are such a beautiful writer. Please do it more. The end.

  4. As a mother of four boys, I needed this. Badly.

  5. LOVE the sentiment. That you know so clearly (at least as you sit down at your computer--maybe not so much when in the throes of mothering) how important your job is, is a beautiful thing.

  6. I've only got two. And they are little. But I can see it starting already. (It doesn't help that their Daddy ENCOURAGES it.) They totally listen to their sister. Better than they listen to me, in fact.

    And having married into a family full of boys (more of whom could be called failures before successes) I needed this reassurance that it CAN be done. Because if the recent potty training success rate has anything to do with success in life, we are all doomed.

  7. Two things:

    I am the oldest of four, and I have no sisters. What you describe, and what your husband's house was like? That was how my house was, too. And that is why I like to read so was the only way to escape from all of the wrestling, farting and general chaos.

    Having all girls is surprisingly crazy, too. I thought it would be different, but there are many times when I would gladly trade in emotional drama and cattiness for farts and wrestles.

  8. I have 1 boy and that is plenty!!! Good Luck and God bless you!!!

  9. I really needed to read this tonight. Love you.

  10. Very darling post and SO TRUE! What would boys become if there wasn't a woman influencing their lives!
    That is a beautiful tribute about your husband's grandmother. She's even more of a saint because you know she didn't have disposable diapers as she was raising those boys.

    Love your way with words.

  11. Oh, the potty noises. The POTTY NOISES? Why are boys so gross? And cute? And awesome?

    And what IS that boy smell? It's like part dirt, part sebaceous gland, and part . . . foot?

  12. Amen and Hallelujah! I miss you.

  13. Ahhh boys! Tonight as I took a break in basketball injury therapy to carry #7 to bed and tuck in #5 and #6 I heard, "Mom, I love you, thanks for being such a great mom." Makes it all worth while when the civilizing pays off with a spontaneous compliment.

    Great post!

  14. I have only boys too, but I like the "what you see is what you get" of it. They are awesome.

  15. OK, I must say that many of these things are not restricted to boy households. My sisters and I (of which there are 5) would often rough house and do other things that left my mother a little bit deaf and very dizzy.

    At the same time, whether it's a son or daughter, the effect of the opposite sex is very apparent and much needed. There is something to the research that has been conducted regarding the importance of mothers and fathers.

    P.S. I celebrated my own grandmother's passing almost two weeks ago as well. It really is amazing to get together with family and reminisce about how much our grandmother meant to all of us.

  16. I grew up with 7 brothers, so I definitely relate to the chaos. But what I loved about this post was how it grounded me and my wishful thinking--that my 5 year old should be calm and controlled--when he is anything but. It has made me take a step back and feel gratitude for his boyish behavior. So thanks for that!

  17. My favorite post of yours ever! I have 1 boy and 1 girl but they both act like boys together. My boy's craziness is so powerful it sucks her into it. I feel for you honey, but if anyone can do it, you can! PS - At least you have 1 girl! My BFF has 4 boys. Ahhh!

  18. I have one boy and he is wedged firmly between too very girly girls. He's quite the fan of tea parties. So sometimes I worry about him but for completely different reasons.

  19. I like your post very much and I really enjoyed to read this this is very interesting and informative,your post is very good about civilization.Thank you for sharing with us.

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  20. Love, Love, Love! I so needed to read this today. You have brought a measure of peace to my heart.


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