The Women's Bible Study from church met at my house recently for our monthly brunch. My kids had instructions to "be invisible" for the morning, which the four boys accomplished by taking advantage of the nice weather outside. As I found a seat at the table with my cup of coffee and a helping of breakfast casserole, something outside caught my eye. Fire!
The day before, the boys had burned a big pile of brush out behind the house. Now, they had revived the fire and worked up a pretty good blaze. I could tell from the various tools and home-made pots gathered about that they were cooking up something exciting. Excusing myself from the table, I stepped to the back door. "Boys, please don't be blowing anything up while we have company!" I feared an explosion might unnerve some of my guests.
"No problem, Mom. We're just making fireballs." (In case you're wondering, blowing things up involves propelling something outward/upward with force. A fireball, on the other hand, is just an exciting ball or tower of flame - no propulsion. At least that's how my boys explain it.)
As I rejoined my friends around the breakfast table, it occurred to me that this little dialogue with my four male teenagers might have sounded a bit odd. Unless these ladies had boys themselves.
When my boys were still very young, our family went camping at Fall Creek Falls with several friends - who also had boys. One morning, the group hiked to the base of the falls. As I stepped carefully down the steep narrow path cut into the rock face, a voice piped out from a nearby evergreen. "Hi, Mrs. Camille!" When I finally located the voice, I discovered a boy among the greenery.
Now, although this fellow was eye-level to me, the base of the towering tree in which he perched was at the bottom of the cliff face. This young man had shimmied about 30 feet up the tree trunk, and now sat cheerfully greeting those of us still inching down the rocky trail. I froze, fighting off a full-blown panic attack. Oh, my goodness! How on earth can we get this child down without his getting injured!
His mother - a few steps behind me on the path - chirped, "Wow! Look how high you've climbed! That's awesome!" I looked from mother to son and back again. Couldn't she see what danger he was in?! Her smile and uninterrupted pace gave no indication of distress.
Later, I asked my friend, "Did that not scare you to death, seeing N--- so high up in that tree?"
"Not as much as it once would have. You get used to it. It's hard sometimes as a mother to resist the urge to say, 'Don't climb too high!' But boys need to climb...they need to climb high. And when they do, they need their mother's admiration."
I understand now the wisdom of my friend - what wise counsel! I wonder sometimes if all the mess we have today with gender and role confusion (especially among our sons) or with violent behavior in young males is caused at least in part by moms who insist, "Don't climb too high!" - or - "NO toy guns!" - or - "Don't go out in the deep water!" Or by school systems who force our sons to sit quietly at desks for hours each day. Our sons are not allowed to take risks, to face real danger, to suffer real and sometimes painful consequences, to conquer their surroundings. In short, they are not allowed to develop into men.
It is very hard as mothers to rein in a tendency to over-nurture, over-protect our boys. We want them to be fearless - but not foolish. We want them to be daring - but not irrational. Those distinctions aren't always easy to determine, for us or for our boys. It takes tremendous effort for a mother to let her sons "test the water" and learn to see those distinctions for themselves. This Mom job is hard work! But, I can testify that "letting boys be boys" does get easier with practice - and learning to greet their accomplishments and their feats of strength and courage with sincere admiration, instead of unmasked panic, also gets easier.
Last summer, when my sons used old Pringles potato chip cans to construct a home-made "cannon" that would launch a tennis ball all the way across our yard, I was genuinely impressed. "Cool, guys! Think it would shoot a ball all the way over the house?" Yep - cleared two stories with room to spare!
When they headed out the door last February to take a swim in the creek, I cringed. They are going to freeze to death! I thought. But I said, "Be back in time for lunch." And you know what? They did not freeze to death. Instead they had a grand adventure, lived boldly...and came home exclaiming that they would never do that again, at least not until next spring's thaw!
Being a mother to boys is not an easy calling, but it is a grand adventure. And maybe, as we free our sons to dare, to climb higher, we will have boys who grow not into momma's boys or thugs or hoodlums, but into men.
3 weeks ago