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Kim Simon Headshot

Learning to Speak the Language of Boys

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Kim Simon
Kim Simon

I love pink.

I wore pink heels at my wedding. My cell phone cover is pink, my nails are pink, and I've been known to hide a bright pink streak in my hair because I'm partial to living loudly sometimes. I have tiny pink bobby pins, and pink pajamas, and I could probably recite most of Molly Ringwald's lines from Pretty In Pink. I love lip gloss and going to the hair salon, and even though my wardrobe consists of mostly jeans and yoga pants these days, my favorite part of date nights is always getting dressed up. I thought for sure that I would give birth to a daughter one day. I mean really, did the universe intend for all of this fabulous stuff to go to waste?

I am now the proud mom of two little boys.

Boys who never stop moving. A 4-year-old who likes to run the garden hose through the pipe of the soccer goal, so that it squirts out and drenches everything in its path. A little boy who likes to jump in mud puddles until the dirt is covering his shoes and the sidewalk. Max is a Jedi Warrior, slicing the air with his sword. He is Buzz Lightyear, flying off of the sofa and landing with a thud and a triumphant yell. He is a pirate, using an old paper towel holder as a telescope, shouting about shipwrecks and falling overboard and fighting at sea.

Instead of having tea parties and painting each other's nails, I am pretending to be the princess that Max The Knight comes to rescue. After he kills the bad guys with his sword. And somersaults off of the couch to my rescue. I'm learning to be a "boy mom." I tend to confuse Spider Man and Superman (hello? Red theme for both, so how could you not?). I am challenging my preconceived notions about what boys and girls gravitate toward. There are many girls who play rough, and boys who arrange dollhouses. My mom bought Max a dollhouse and he loves to have imaginary conversations with the dolls inside. He lovingly sits them down to dinner, puts the baby to bed, and does tiny pretend dishes. And then he runs into the other room and throws Batman from the top of his bunkbed and pretends to load him into an ambulance.

You don't have to tell me that girls can play with boy things and boys can play with girl things. I don't even believe in "boy things" and "girl things." I hate that the toy stores are arranged in separate aisles of pink and blue. I am a feminist who grew up singing "William Wants A Doll" from the Free To Be You and Me record. I would happily buy my boys gender-specific "girl toys" if they asked for them. But at this point, they're not. My 4-year-old has an innate urge to run and wiggle and throw and jump and break things. He steers his mini shopping cart around the grocery store yelling "Weapons! Activated!" and punctuates it with a "pew! pew! pew!" You would think that we've been letting him watch action movies. But we're not. Apparently many little boys suddenly become fluent in aggression and buzz with high-energy, much to the chagrin of their feminist pacifist mothers (*ahem*). So I am left with learning a new language, with becoming bilingual in "boyhood."

I've been trying to do it my way. I want my boys to be kind. I want them to be gentle. I want them to ask questions, and to observe before jumping in. I want them to be leaders, and lovers, and sweet souls who walk carefully through the world. I will teach them about consent, and body awareness, and positive sexuality. I've been hurt by boys before. My boys will have gentle hands. I will teach them about safety, about how dangerous weapons can be, and about the realities of violence. I lost a dear friend to a silly street fight when I was 14. Weapons kill people. Fighting always ends badly. I don't believe in spending money on violent movies or video games. Hurting people isn't entertainment. And so we've had a "No guns, no blasters, no swords" policy in our house. Until now.

Little boys will make swords from pipe cleaners. They'll make guns out of Legos, and run around pretending to shoot imaginary bad guys. With sound effects. They'll emerge from behind the wall and shout "You're under arrest!" for no apparent reason. They'll leave you wondering what little hoodlum at preschool taught them all of these terrible things, and when you ask the other moms on the playground, they'll tell you that they've been wondering the same thing.

Boyhood is loud. It's messy. It's learning the difference between good and evil, through play. It's walking the line between hurting and helping, lost in your imagination. It's testing out what gentle hands feel like, by getting carried away sometimes with hurting hands. I want my boys to test this out now, when they are young and fresh. I want them to be warriors and pirates and lions and Luke Skywalker. This is how boys become helpers, by testing out what heroes do. They need to run, and climb trees, and splash mud, and spread their Legos out all over the floor while they engineer elaborate cities. They are learning what it's like to live in their boy bodies.

I was drowning Max in a sea of "No!" and "Quiet voice please!" and "Oh honey, you're gonna get your shoes all dirty!" "You know, sometimes we have more fun when you're not here," my husband said gently last weekend. "You know, when we can just be boys."

I get it.

A few days ago at the park, I watched Max run and play with a group of other boys. The biggest one, one that I had never met before, climbed up on a nearby fence and hung there for a brief moment. I looked over at his mom, and waited for her to yell at him to get down. But she didn't. And suddenly I looked over at Max, standing safely on the ground, and realized that I don't want to discipline the boy out of him. I want him to run. I want him to climb fences (as long as they're not TOO high). I want him to sit in a tree and see what the world is like from a new perspective. I want him to be a boy. I want him to be confident, and to know that whatever he's trying to learn, I support him. Whether it's the gentle lessons learned as he rocks his baby doll to bed, or the rugged consequences of toppling over a chair when he's been using it as a surfboard.

I will not discipline the boy out of him. We will learn together, my boys and I. We will meet in the middle, learning to take care of the people around us, while living out loud in a rush of adrenaline. Just watch your shins next time you're at the grocery store. I'll be the mom following her son as he steers his imaginary battleship. You'll know me by my pink cape.

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