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.