The Brother’s Code

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It can’t just be my boys.  Please don’t just be my boys.

Hitting, shoving, kicking each other… for fun?   As a woman I try to think back to my friendships and I don’t recall a single moment where I lunged at a little friend in the middle of tea cups and wrestled her to the ground laughing.

But if you’ve ever watched little boys play, it’s very much like watching puppies.  They jump on each other, roll around, punch each other in the ribs- it’s rough.  Sometimes it’s hard to know if they’re laughing or crying… and then after you’ve had four, you don’t even care.

I have literally established with my boys that unless they are actually on fire, bleeding profusely or frothing at the mouth, they should not scream for help.  I won’t come.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve ran into a room with medical swabbing and car keys in my hand, only to find them laughing.

The main issue, as I see it, is that growing boys rely heavily on contact as a means of communication.

A shove = “Hey.  How are you?”

A push = “This is mine.  Wrestle me for it or go away.”

A wedgie = “This is the best day ever.  Chase me.”

It’s all well and good… until someone gets hurt.  In a culture where violence is sadly a surging epidemic, it is even more important to teach our sons balance and restraint.  Knowledge of their own boundaries.  Sympathy and understanding.

How do I raise a compassionate man?

Truthfully, I don’t know the answer.  But just as navigators use a compass, I felt instinctively that I should offer my sons a ‘code’.  A simple promise that brothers could make each other, to serve them as a guide for when the seas get rough.

We decided on the words together and the initial oath was sworn in the forest, over the trunk of an old tree.

To Love, to Teach and to Protect.

We called it: The Brother’s Code.  It’s handy to have.  I whip it out during name calling, X-Box arguments and headlocks.  “Explain to me, child…  Does aiming a nerf crossbow at your brother’s eyeball fall within your promise to love, teach and protect him?”

It’s a good little mission statement.  We are given such guidelines through school, work and government.  It makes sense that a family should have a mission statement too.

The reason we made our promise to each other over a fallen trunk?  It was a little way to symbolize that developing better habits, often means letting some bad ones go.  We vowed to leave many things in the forest- anger, impatience, selfishness- these things, they can rot away with the dead tree.

This is not to say we won’t behave badly again.  Let’s be realistic.  We will stuff up again eventually.  Um, or on our way back to the car.

But we have new seeds to plant.  And those are the ones we want to water.

Sleep. I remember you.

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Last night something a little strange happened.  At approximately 3:34am, I was woken up by a little person standing beside my bed ‘rowing’.  Yes, rowing.  Little hands flapping madly, face intense.  At that speed, he would have overtaken the Awesome Foursome.

Me:  What on earth are you doing?

Child:  Rowing.

Me:  Why?

Child:  ‘Cause I like it.

I thought sleepless nights would be limited to the baby stage.  Apparently not.  I don’t know about other people, but I still get woken frequently for a variety of reasons, ranging from:

  • There’s someone in the garage.
  • I had a dream that you were eaten alive by a zombie/dinosaur/giant moth.
  • There’s a kid at school called Jonah/Ben/Oliver who… (insert badly constructed story with absolutely no point)
  • I think there’s someone in the garage again.

After I instructed my child to row back to bed, I found myself recalling their baby years.  I have friends going through it now, and I feel that nothing- not all your biggest nights out of your 20s combined-  can prepare you for the exhaustion that a sleepless baby can cause.

The difference is that this kind of exhaustion is deeply emotional.  You know that you love this little screaming demon.  You tell yourself over and over that you’re an excellent parent, as you pace the hallway trying to chase away thoughts about the ridiculous things you could do to stop this baby crying.

I know this isn’t popular material, but I’m putting it out there anyway.  Because like me, there are women who see people pushing prams at the shops with blissful smiles on their well rested faces, and wonder if they are somehow broken.  At the height of my sleepless delirium,  I legitimately considered anonymously dropping my bundle of babies back to the hospital for a night.  They’d be safe, and I would go to a hotel room nearby, have a bath and SLEEP.

My hands would twitch nervously every time I went past the hospital exit.  The delirious little daydream would play out in my mind, and I would exhale like an athlete from the exhaustion of not succumbing to temptation.  I never would have done it of course (partly because I was always appeared in handcuffs on Chanel 7 at the end of my daydream).  But this, and many other scenarios where I’ve been a less than perfect parent have created something very important in my life: opportunities to forgive myself and grow.

Now that my children are older and I am functioning with slightly less sleep deprivation, my weaknesses as a parent are sadly more visible to my sons.  There are times that I shout, that I’m tired, inconsistent, preoccupied, dramatic and rough.  I feel terrible shame; but I do believe that there is so much power in a parent’s genuine apology to a child.

It tells them two things:

It’s ok to be wrong sometimes.

And you are important enough for me to admit it.

(sorry boys about wanting to return you to the hospital)

Faces in the Trees

forest finalLast weekend, on what was possibly the coldest weekend of the year, I decided to take the boys up to a cabin in the mountains.  We did all the expected things like build a fire, argue over Monopoly and consumed twice our body weight in dangerously charred marshmallows.

We also did a couple of great walks.  Four kilometres can be a long way on little legs; and after the initial excitement of observations like “look- that branch looks like a bum” died down, we settled into a rather quiet and contemplative pace.

The rainforest is both beautifully silent and yet alive with the sounds of life.  As we walked deeper, it swallowed up our imaginations and we started to notice patterns in the vegetation.  Large ferns hung lazily off Bunya Pines and Red Cedars.  Fig vines coiled around native Tamarinds in various stages of suffocation.  Large fungi grew colourfully along the twisted roots of the forest floor.

Insert: dreary grade eleven biology flashback.  Suddenly in my head, all the plants had faces.  I pointed this out to the boys.  Most people that they will come across in life, are actually just like these plants.

There are Fern People, happy to take a free ride into the canopy where they can bask in sunlight that they did nothing to earn.  It doesn’t necessarily harm the larger tree; but it’s just dead weight to carry.  Everyone has some friends who are ferns.

Then of course, there are the Vine People.  They germinate in stumps or tree forks, sending their tentacles down to the ground in an engulfing embrace that slowly kills the host tree.  I warned the boys, that whilst most women are good, there are those who will trawl bars at 2am, looking for a host.  Best not allow them to attach.

The Fungi People will come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are bright and beautiful, some might even look a little gross.  Although often un-appreciated, fungi help the host extract nutrients from the soil and fend off harmful parasites.  In our lives, these people can be teachers, partners, work friends, siblings… anyone with whom you share the generosity of spirit that helps both of you grow, each day into someone a little better.

As we stepped onto a look out, and admired the breath-taking expanse of forest below, one of my little fellas piped up and asked, “well how do you know the difference?”.  I told him with honesty that I did not know; it’s one of those endless pursuits in life to know which relationships to build and which to let go.

Marriage to a Vine will suffocate you.  A business partnership will only work with a Fungus. Watch you don’t carry too many Ferns.

I then turned to him with my own question; it’s after all, the only one we can really answer: which plant are you going to be, little man?

Grow brick, grow.

FullSizeRender-5There are many things that little boys are good at. They’re good at making friends and making noise. They’re great at picking noses, scabs and fights.   Boys can make sounds with their bodies that seem disproportionate to their size and innocence.

Really, when you think about it.  Boys are great at many things.

But the thing they tend to do best, is GROW.  You spend stupid money on career-making football boots one season, only to discover they can’t get their toes into them the next.

This kind of growth requires no effort.  The growth happening on the inside, however, is a different matter.  I often remind my sons that I’m not raising boys, my job is to raise men.  The lessons I fail to teach them today, life will most certainly teach them later.  Usually without mercy.

Kids don’t get this of course; and they often resist learning.  If only all the adults would shut up and stop trying to make us better.  We’ll grow up eventually.

Or will they?

The other day I decided to do something rather strange to illustrate to my sons the very crucial difference between ‘growing old’ and ‘growing up’.  We pulled over outside a construction site and borrowed one brick (for an indefinite period of time!).  We then drove the brick to an empty lot near our house and I asked one of my boys to place it on the grass.

We sat in the car watching the brick for a few minutes.  After some time in silence, I asked the boys if they could see anything happening.  No, nothing happening.  “What about if we come back in a week, do you guys think the brick might become a wall?  Or in a year, what are the chances of it growing into a house?  In ten years, could it become a cathedral?”

They all looked at me like I was stupid.  Cue for me to make my point:  even in a million years, that one brick won’t become anything more than it is today.  Because time alone, changes nothing.

I explained to my silent audience that to grow into something better, is a deliberate choice.  It is a choice to learn, read, explore, challenge, accept correction, take risks… and the sad result of ignoring opportunities to grow is seen in the many so called ‘grown ups’ walking around with the emotional and intellectual capacity of a child.

Every morning as we drive past Lord Bernie Brick (as they have named him), we check if he’s grown into anything amazing overnight.  And each time that he hasn’t, it serves as a reminder to the boys, that they won’t grow into good men by accident either.

It’s going to be a daily choice.

The Adventure

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I’ve been trying to get into the habit of reading a book with the boys each night. We all clamber up onto my bed and (after the usual negotiations of who is sitting where) we eventually settle into a few good pages of our latest adventure.

The book we are currently reading is ‘The Alchemist’, by Paulo Coelho.  Nominated as one of the top 100 books of all time, I figured that it would be a good enough read.  Yes, it’s true I’ve had to simplify a few adjectives here and there, and even fudge a few descriptions.  But overall, it has been a book filled with valuable lessons.  And the boys are captivated.  Which helps.

Tonight, the chapter related to the main character, a nameless boy, as he makes the decision to go on a great adventure to Egypt.  It spoke about courage, the value of taking risks and the rewards of responding to opportunities with a ‘yes’.

But then I paused, as I looked around the bed at my half dozey little bunch, in a range of assorted dinosaur and skull pyjamas, my imagination begun to run wild.

I imagined moments in our lives that might lie ahead, like perhaps driving one of my sons to the airport, watching him and his backpack disappear into a crowded departure lounge.  I thought about receiving post cards from far away places; or waiting for the phone to ring from destinations I might not be able to pronounce.

How will I cope?  Truthfully, I fear distance from my boys.  My inability to protect and guide them- it’s all slightly frightening.  But when the time comes, if I’ve done my job, I should be able to trust in their ability to leap out into the world and… go.

I put the book down.  A heavier thought occurred to me- and I voiced it to my sons.  Life rewards those who step forward, those who rise to a challenge and say ‘yes’ to life.  But sometimes, lads- the real adventure, is to say ‘no’.

You’re on the sidewalk one night, about to get into a car full of mates.  They’re off on an ‘adventure’ around town.  Everyone’s excited.  And everyone’s been drinking.  It takes no courage to get in.  It takes courage to say, ‘no’.

We spoke about a few more examples.  In a world where little boys challenge each other to jump higher, run faster, kick a ball farther… it becomes terribly easy to confuse bravery with stupidity, and caution with weakness.

Teaching him that difference might mean that one day, in a far away place you can’t even pronounce, your boy makes a choice that keeps him alive.

 

Boytherhood

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The ancient art of raising boys, as mastered by none.

Welcome!  My name is Cristina and I am a 36 yr old writer and single mother of four sons.

Those are the general facts that sum up my life.

It seems kind of obvious looking at this information, that I should at least have a go at writing a blog about raising the miniature male species.  It has only taken me twelve years of brilliance to realise this, but I’m going to forgive myself because I’ve been kind of busy (see- barely coping).

Raising sons (well, children in general) is a job that requires a serious amount of fortitude, sense of humour and a strong gag reflex.  It will drive you mad with fury, mad with joy and just mad in general.

Some of the situations we find ourselves in are plain ridiculous.  The negotiations, conversations and explanations are sometimes so outrageous, you can only laugh.  Or you would cry.  And maybe never stop.

There is no manual that could have ever accurately describe the abstract art of trying to turn a little boy into a somewhat decent man.  Or at the very least, not a criminal.

And yet, isn’t boytherhood just the most wild, beautiful and marvellous fun?!

So it’s kind of ironic that the day I have casually chosen to start writing this introduction just happens to be Valentine’s Day.  Not because I am desperately bored and without a date, but because after all the craziness is said and done, raising my sons has been the love affair of my life.

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The ancient art of raising boys, as mastered by none.