I’m a girl who’s raising a boy. He’s six now; I’m thirty-four. How can I control the programming for a gender for which I hold no code?
I want to sculpt him into a good man. I want to make him tough enough to take the punches and emotional enough to cry when he’s hurt. I want him to be aware of his happiness first, but also be aware of the interaction with the world. Don’t look down as you walk through life. Take the route through the park instead. Stop and watch the sunset. Pick up that rock and write the date on it.
I want him to know that anything is possible. I want him to think that he can make that anything happen. I want him never to doubt my unconditional love because I don’t doubt his. I want him to feel that love is life—it is the flavor and the spice.
It takes him longer to color than other kids. My son is a perfectionist and I take full blame. I know that he’ll be carrying that burden through his life.
He can read books three grades above him, but he beats himself up about the coloring. “Sometimes I get outside the lines,” he says. “It’s okay to color outside the lines sometimes,” I reassure him. “Isn’t that breaking the rules?” he asks. “It’s creating your own rules. It’s being unique. You are the one that said it’s important to be unique,” I reminded him. “Unique over perfect.” He taught me that. Of course it’s easy for him; he’s pretty unique and pretty perfect.
I tell him to let ladies first. I tell him to hold the doors. Am I growing a sexist creature? Or a polite one?
Sometimes I think I’m too grown-up with him. It’s his fault; he made the first move. He was reciting the alphabet at sixteen months. He knew the name of every single Thomas train from Thomas the Tank Engine. There are hundreds and they all look the same. What was I to think?
Last year I told him there was no Santa Claus. That’s probably mean, but I’m Jewish so I kind of felt entitled. His reaction was, “Duh!”
This year he told me he believed in Santa Claus. But not one Santa Claus. “That’s impossible,” he said. “How could he get from New York to Africa in one night?”
“I don’t think Santa makes it to Africa,” I disappointed him.
“Well I think there are lots of different Santa Clauses that all look different. Like there’s an Indian one and an African one. There’s even women ones.”
“Okay,” I gave in. Not sure why he’s hung up on an African Santa. I know he’s bullshitting me anyway.
One time he engaged me in a half-hour lecture on the mysterious life that existed in his brain. There were three secret parts that comprised the secret life: Imagination, Invention and Creation. Each part had a unique function, of course. When I asked about the difference between Invention and Creation, he launched into a lecture about how being creative and implementing an idea mandated two different compartments of the mind. I couldn’t argue otherwise. He had me going for a while and then finally, as in letting me down easy, he said “You know this is all pretend, right?”
Yeah, sure, I thought.
After he told me he did believe in Santa Claus, he told me that he didn’t believe in God. This didn’t surprise me. I’m an Agnostic (cynical) Jew who wasn’t raised with faith. I was raised to believe in science. If you prove it, I will believe you. By choosing to not preach religion to my son, I also robbed him of belief in a greater power (other than Jedis). He is happy to collect Chanukah presents and Christmas presents and believe in an African Santa Claus.
These kind of huge child-rearing screw-ups are definitely ones I deserve to be blamed for later. I didn’t want to preach what I didn’t feel.
He recently told me that he doesn’t like music at school. I was surprised since he’s got a great sense of hearing and he loves listening to music, even if it’s Guitar Hero heavy metal.
“They’re baby songs,” he said. “I like rock.”
“You have good taste,” I told him. “You still behave in music class, right?” I ask doubtfully.
“Yeah,” he resounds.
He’s compassionate. I’m not sure how I taught him that but I’m glad he got it. He’ll offer to help people carrying bags on the street. He holds the elevator door when others are hitting door close. He offers up his piggy bank funds for any national disaster. But then again, he is a boy who doesn’t live materialistically unfulfilled. He gets almost whatever he wants (within reason).