One of the many wonders of my life is my four-year-old son Theodore. He is affectionate and noisy, warm and curious and kind, and I will never forget that first moment he was handed to me in the hospital. Red as a beetroot, and covered in blonde fluff, he looked like an angry orang-utan. Joy burst over me. A son! My son! My little boy! It was electric, that moment, and something of the magic of it has never left me.
I take my job as his mum seriously. What his future holds, I don't know. Will he be a travelling minstrel? Petty criminal? Hairdresser? Molecular geneticist? At the minute he has rock-solid ambitions to be a baker with a shop called Teddy's Yum Yums, where I have a permanent table, but, sadly, I must face the the fact that this may not unfold as planned. So how should I raise this boy? How can I try to equip him for life? I have a few ideas.
1. 1. Supply him with books.
I I am told that the day will come when my barnacle boy will no longer beg me for cuddles (cue the sound of my breaking heart). Apparently when boys reach a certain age they lose the ability to speak, and you are forced to interpret grunts and facial twitches in lieu of actual conversation. For years now, I have been building a massive weaponry against this adolescent wall o’silence. It’s called the bookshelf. My teenager's collection, which grows with every school fete and Salvos visit, covers the spectrum from Judy Blume to Puberty Blues to The Outsiders to Bukowski to Nick Hornby. I hope that opening up many worlds to my boy will help him to understand the lives of others, and to give flight to his dreams. I hope that in tough times, when he feels he cannot share his worries with anybody, that books will help him to feel less alone. I also hope that the wide sea of relationships he can explore in books will give him a more realistic picture of sex than the images he is likely - heartbreakingly likely - to see on the internet. I take the job of supplying this alternative narrative of sex and relationships through fiction very seriously. It’s not like I anticipate easy conversations on the topic with thirteen year old Ted. ‘Sit down, darling. It’s time for Mummy to talk you through the layered gender politics of lady-bush.’ Um, no. Yet, I think the grip that the porn industry has on the net is viciously strong, and the messages it sends to young people are false and damaging. I don’t want to be creepy with my kids, but I am not afraid to let The Joy Of Sex (original Euromuff edition) be creepy for me.
Of course, I hope Teddy’s instinct will not be to eschew reading altogether. I imagine, in fact, that this might be a pretty sweet rebellion against his nerdily eager, bookish mother. (Note to self: be cool, tool. Be cool.)
2. 2. Be happy in his masculinity.
Guilty as charged, yes, I am raising this boy to be a feminist like his wonderful dad. And like his dad, I want him to feel proud that he is male, with all of the biological and social machinery that make men the fantastic creatures they are. I want him to glory in the strength of his body, and the magic of male friendship, and the man-flavoured thinking styles that will provide contrast to the thoughts and imaginings of his sisters. I feel lucky that this boy will be bringing his man-baggage to the family table, and also that he can carry all the shopping bags in from the car. (I’m told he will eat four cows and a half-ton of Weet-Bix every day, starting pretty soon, so this seems only fair.)
3. 3. Cherish his emotional self.
It’s important to me to help Teddy to find ways to express his inner life. Music can be wonderful for this, so I’m going to try my best to have him learn at least one instrument, and I’ll pass on the cathartic wonders of really just belting the balls out of a power ballad. I hope to teach Teddy the language of feelings, helping him to pick through his worries and fears until he feels more at peace. I want him to know that vulnerability can be strength.
4. 4. Be his soft place to fall.
In the final reckoning, I cannot protect my little boy child from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and mean bosses and bad decisions. He’s going to hit the wall sometimes, have his heart stomped, fail painfully. My main aim is to be here to hug him and talk to him, make him laugh, stroke his fluffy head, as long as I’m alive, no matter how big those arms and legs get. He's on his own for most of the road he has ahead, but I have these few years to do what I can to smooth the path. Me, and his amazing, thoughtful dad, who will be a beautiful role model to the little boy he loves so much.
Several other bloggers are writing today about being the mother of a son, Lexi's idea, a group response to the awful fanny-bashing that went on last week here in Australia. Read and enjoy. x
Meet Me At Mikes - meetmeatmikes.com
One Flew Over - oneflewover-oneflewover.com/
Pigeon Pair - pigeon-pair.com/
Hugo and Elsa - hugoandelsa.com/
Gourmet Girlfriend - gourmetgirl-friend.blogspot.
Checks and Spots - checksandspots.com/