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How This Mother Learned the Language of Boys

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SHERRI KUHN
Sherri Kuhn

It starts out as a wail, possibly even just a slight whimper. A tiny cry that signifies the beginning of a language you may not always understand.

Those first sounds you hear after the doctor declares, "It's a boy!"

In our case, the first sound our son made was more like purring as he sucked on his wrist until it turned blue while lying on my chest. It was like bottled-up nirvana right there in the hospital. I couldn't get enough.

Those first few weeks and months are a cacophony of sounds: crying that intensifies as he gets bigger, some of that cooing and babbling stuff, an occasional sigh or full-on gurgle.

Then comes the laughter.

And oh man, is it good! Fits of giggles that rock an entire little body not yet capable of forming a single word. And this is how it goes for quite some time, this language of noises and laughter, sprinkled with some cries when his needs aren't being met.

Until actual language takes over.

No mom worth her Starbucks wants to admit it, but there is a certain oddity to the language of boys.

In our house, it all started with the garbage and recycling process. And the trucks that came to pick it all up every Friday. I listened to a rambling dialogue daily about why the polystyrene is not included in the plastics bin. He did an incredible rendition of the exact sounds the truck made as it hoisted the can skyward and emptied its contents into the truck. Of course, our garbage and recycling man came at the earliest hour possible, so this narrative was most likely heard without benefit of coffee.

None of this even remotely resembled anything I'd ever been interested in before. Ever. And yet this crazy new language was something I desperately wanted to learn.

It was the language of little boys.

Soon, he moved on to dinosaurs. They lived in different scientific-sounding periods, ate different stuff and made varied noises including grunts, screeches and moans. I did my best to memorize their names, eating habits and noises. I could participate in a mean dino battle, once in a while even remembering that dinosaurs that lived in different time periods couldn't possibly battle each other.

Duh. Without time travel, at least.

From dinosaurs, my son moved on to Bionicles, which had just been invented by the LEGO company as a new way to drain the wallets of unsuspecting parents who had already paid for enough plastic bricks to build a monastery. They teased the release of these new best friends with a comic book series, sent for free to LEGO magazine subscribers. It was like handing out free Botox at a PTA meeting; Just try it, just this once.

So these Bionicle dudes have different powers/colors/weapons/nemeses/worlds and well, you see where this is going. It's quite possible that the whole Bionicle phase is responsible for my first signs of memory loss, because I just couldn't keep up. But he soaked it up, learning everything manly about the guys and their special powers -- just another chapter in the language of this little boy.

Then we moved into the video game realm with the gift of a simple little device called the Game Boy. Total game changer. New phrases, characters and game-winning strategies invaded our conversations on a daily basis. Pokemon dudes in different colors; Mario and his cast of characters.

I was losing my grip on his language. I tried to keep up, really I did.

Along the way I learned that potty talk is hilarious (there are at least 12 different words for poo), knock-knock jokes are funniest when repeated numerous times within the same day and a good armpit fart is worth at least a thousand words.

When he turned 16, his language became a mixture of Call of Duty: Black Ops and Biotechnology terms; of classical literature quotes and zombie survival tips; odd quotes from movies I've never seen and technical details of weapons used in movies. Once in a while, there was a Homer Simpson quote or something vaguely familiar that I could latch on to, hoping for a regular conversation between a mother and her son.

Just a break from the language of not-so-little boys.

A little boy loves you full-force and expresses that love with body-slam hugs and wet smooches; sticky high-fives and a shimmer in his eye. His style of communication is not what you have with your husband or your friends, and probably not what you experienced growing up. It's raw and larger than life at times, like a funnel-cloud touching down in your living room.

But pay attention... it's the language of little boys.

And the older boy? The 20-year-old kid who grew from that little garbage-loving boy into that taller-than-you young man who shaves and leaves socks on the floor, who grunts his good mornings and begs for coffee? The boy whose days consist of deciphering college textbooks and making mac and cheese in the microwave, of late-night study sessions or midnight movies? The boy who speaks of Dr. Who and politics, of Minecraft and epic action movies, sprinkled with Stephen Colbert quotes and a few German phrases?

This boy? He too, loves you full-force and speaks his own new language. But I catch this language now in tiny moments, small changes in expression, an inside joke, a text from school, or simply the question, "What's for dinner?" or "How was your day?"

A hug once in a while, a kind gesture, a thank-you when he's home for a change and sharing dinner with the family. This is the language I understand, when all else fails.

It's the language of a mother and son.

This post originally appeared as a guest post at The Flying Chalupa.