I’m not going to write about stinky, sweaty sports clothes or wiping pee off the walls. I’m not going to talk about laundering baby frog carcasses or fart jokes. I could. Believe me, I could. It’s the simple fact that there’s just one of me and four of them around here that’s been on my mind lately. And that there are real differences between boys and girls (other than the obvious of course). And that these differences can make a mom of boys feel pretty left out, like there’s a party at my house but I’m not invited. As the twins have gotten older (Chase and Noah are 8, while their little brother, Jax, is 16 months), the party’s gotten more exclusive. My challenge has been to move beyond being the party planner to being part of the action.
Laying on the ultrasound table eight years ago, the possibility that the tech would announce that both babies growing inside me were boys wasn’t on my radar. Seriously. I never even considered the one in three chance that I could be carrying boy/boy twins. I thought they were girl/boy, or maybe two girls. What would I do with boys? Seven years later, I thought — for sure — that I was having a girl. My pregnancy was so different this time around. I was fantasizing about getting manicures with my daughter, baking cookies and teaching her to sew. But, 20 seconds into my 18-week ultrasound I spotted the tell-tale appendage that told me I was soon to be a mom of three boys. That was fine I told myself because, really, what would I do with a girl anyway?
Every year my boys get older I say it’s my favorite year. As a first-time mom, and with twins to boot, I was just thankful to survive year number one. I loved the toddler years. As they became more verbal I treasure the insight they gave me into their little minds as they shared their observations of the world around them. Because I am a stay-at-home mom, my young twins were almost a part of me – like two additional limbs. We did and went everywhere together. While I thank God for mom’s day out programs because I needed (and deserved, I dare to say) those breaks, I so enjoyed my time with Chase and Noah before they entered full-time school. While I played my fair share of trains and trucks, they smiled as they baked, cleaned and even shopped with me. They loved the ballet and even requested that I make Nutcracker costumes so they could dance along with Baryshnikov and the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker Suite, which we had on DVD. I’m a girly girl, and my boys drifted freely between our culture’s definition of females’ and males’ worlds in those very early years.
But as they’ve gotten older, the boundaries between those worlds have become more rigid. Whether it be due to culture or just their
innate male instincts, Chase and Noah are less interested in my world and all about traditional boy things. They no longer enjoy cooking and baking with me. Getting them to clean is a chore in-and-of itself. And shopping – forget it. Now it’s baseball, wrestling, archery, climbing trees and so many boy-oriented pretend play games that I don’t dare name them all. Add to the development of these distinct male interests, the fact that I simply don’t get to see them as much now that they are in school. Taken together, this means that when I do spend time with them, we are almost always doing very boy things. The exceptions are when I’m on top of them to complete homework, household chores or hurrying them to get to here and there on time.
This change in our relationship didn’t happen all at once, but looking back, its origins were correlated with their entry into full-time school. While I enjoyed the “freedom” that afforded me and the fact that I could actually get something done around the house, I wasn’t prepared for the loneliness I would feel. I should have been. I mean, while studying stress reactions in graduate school, I learned that the anxiety moms feel when separating from their kindergarteners can be likened to a trauma reaction. But I didn’t feel traumatized, I just felt empty. And as the boys have matured into, well, boys, that emptiness is still there. But it’s no longer because I spend so many daytime hours without them, now it’s more because our internal worlds — our likes and interests — are just so different.
There are times when I so envy my husband: the annual ice-fishing trip he takes the twins on, or the week-long camping excursion to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area the three of them have been enjoying each year since the twins where five. And it’s not just those “special” outings that come around only once a year. Tonight is a case-in-point. As I was wrapping up dinner dishes, I ran upstairs to put some stray items in their place. Rounding the corner to my bedroom, I saw Chase and Kevin, my husband, laying on our bed together engaged in a conversation about the current Brewers game (our hometown MLB team). Shortly thereafter when Jax was sleeping in his crib, the twins and Kevin headed out to the back yard to play some catch. This is a pretty typical scene at our house. The three of them talking sports or hunting one minute, and playing baseball, football or just horse-playing outside the next. It’s like they are one unit, moving together in a shared space speaking a shared language. It’s not that I don’t do these things with them — I do. I play catch, I try to talk sports (the keyword is try) and I attend just about every one of their sporting events. But, in all of these cases I’m working to fit into a world that feels pretty foreign to me. And no matter how hard or long I try, the language is still not my native tongue.
Now, I have amazing boys (I might be biased). They are God-loving, empathic, smart young men. They have a father who is surpassed by none; who spends quality time teaching and mentoring them. And my boys adore me and depend on me for a sense of security that assures them a stable place in this world — I know that. It’s just that I’m finding that my attempts to be a part of their inner world are much more effortful than their dad’s. While I make sure their bodies are clean and fed, their minds and hearts are fueled, Kevin naturally jumps into their world and shares their immediate experiences. It’s like second nature to him. I feel like an onlooker; like a proud coach watching her team. I didn’t expect to feel that separation until my boys were much older.
I honestly believe that my experience is one-sided — that at this point Chase and Noah see me as an intricate, interwoven part of their every-day lives. However, it’s important to me that we have a strong relationship in which I feel truly connected to them, especially going into their tween/teen years (which will be here before I know it). Now, I’m not a parent who needs to be “friends” with her children. But I want to pursue a relationship that is stable, honest and trustworthy. I want to be connected enough to have a reasonable shot at spotting signs of trouble. I want them to feel safe coming to me with the hard stuff.
I’ve decided that, in addition to my (however feeble) attempts to be a part of their boy world, I will make more efforts to create opportunities to connect them to mine. In the past, I may have dismissed the chance to go to the theater as a family because Jax is too young. But now I see it as an opportunity to spend time with Chase and Noah while Kevin stays home with the baby. Or, while we try to attend church all together, lately Jax’s nap falls smack in the middle of the service. So, Kevin has been staying back, while I take Chase and Noah. Examples like these are affording me the chance to engage in activities with the twins that we all sincerely enjoy. While attending as a family would also be valuable, for now, me going while being accompanied by Chase and Noah is providing the three of us an important relationship-building moment. A moment that I think will build strong bridges between today and tomorrow — better equipping us for whatever sun or storms our future has in store for us.
So I will continue to leverage those special opportunities, while trying to fully appreciate the smaller day-to-day moments of connection. Chase and Noah love to read – and I am so thankful for that. Not surprisingly they balk at the authors and titles I suggest. But tonight, as I tucked them in and kissed them goodnight, I listed intently as Noah explained the war-torn environment the major character is his current novel is facing. I nodded and smiled as Chase told me how excited he was to go to the archery range tomorrow with Noah and his dad. Just lying there with them, listening is meaningful. I need to soak it in and bottle it up. Because, I’m told, these moments simply pass too quickly.
Photo Credits: The professional photos you see scattered on my blog (like the feature image on this post and in the “About” section) were taken by the very talented Kelly Klein of Captured Moments Photography.