Why raising multiple boys is like living with wolves.
We were the usual spectacle that day: I was carrying my 18-month-old and the diaper bag, urging my two older boys, 3 and 6, to hold hands and keep up. When the elderly woman stopped me in the street—grasping my forearm with knotty fingers—she only paused long enough to say, “Three boys? You’re so lucky.”
I was surprised, not because I don’t consider myself lucky to be the mother of three boys, but because no one (especially not strangers in the street) ever labels me that way. Rarely do I leave the house with my sons without being asked to confirm that all three of those little blond heads bobbing around me like ducks are boys. I’ve grown used to the incredulous sympathy, the exasperated “been there, done that” eye-rolling, the nervous laughs that imply better you than me. Once, a gray-haired woman made the sign of the cross over her heart when she saw us coming down the aisle at the grocery store, gasping, “Three boys? Good luck to you!”
Three is supposed to be a charmed number, but something about having three boys inspires people to make all kinds of comments about the terrible nature of boys and how much trouble I’m in for having them reside inside my house. (As if I have a choice: honestly, if we could keep them outside, in some nice, warm enclosure—like a chicken coop for small children—I would. They could run and jump and wrestle and shriek like pterodactyls and eat Cheerios out of a feeding trough, and I could go back to having a coffee table in the living room and a bathroom that isn’t wet all the time. But I can’t have those things, because I have three boys instead.)
Something about having three or more boys means you now have what constitutes a pack—a messy, noisy, roving pack of boys. It’s fitting, because raising boys is exactly like raising wolves. They roll around on the floor. They bite and kick and scrabble. They compete to see who can howl the loudest. They spring out of bed every morning, bounding down the hallway on swift feet. They pee in random places all over the house. They make as much noise as possible while they eat.
I correct this behavior all day every day, hoping that at some point they’ll remember they are human beings. They must hear some of my lecturing; when we leave the house, they are almost always polite and courteous, respectful and friendly. I’m usually complimented on their good (okay: decent enough) behavior. But when they get home, the comfort and safety of their den turns them back into wolves, suddenly powered by something stronger than boyness: brotherhood.
Understanding brotherhood is what really connects mothers of multiple boys together. It’s fascinating to watch the bonds forming, taking shape in expected and, often, unexpected ways.
Put brothers in a room together for longer than five minutes and the cacophony of conflict echoes through the house. Separate them and they seek each other out again, missing the companionship of their built-in playmates. At the playground, they interact happily with other kids but maintain a keen awareness of one another. They defend and protect and comfort; sometimes, I even catch them hugging. Where one boy goes, his brothers follow—so if one dives headfirst off the picnic table, you better believe the others will be lining up to repeat it.
There is no limit, it seems, to the energy this pack of brothers can expend in daylight hours. From equally exhausted posts on the couch, my husband and I watch our boys chase each other in mad circles around the living room after dinner. We wonder aloud what three little girls would be doing instead. Girls are like mythical creatures to us. Would they have nightly tea parties? Would they make flower crowns and dance like fairies? Would they sit beside one another without the oldest purposely sticking her foot in her younger sister’s face?
I used to think I wanted to find out the answers to these questions. Before my first son was born, I thought I was destined to be a girl mom. My mother and I are so close, it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t have that same kind of relationship with at least one daughter of my own someday. I would be good at braiding hair and painting toenails and sharing secrets over mother-daughter lunch dates. I hadn’t considered whether I would be good at being a boy mom. I didn’t know the difference between a backhoe and an excavator. I couldn’t tell you a single superhero origin story. I had a low tolerance for dirt and muck and unknown smells. Would I find any pleasure in driving matchbox cars across the carpet or collecting bugs in the backyard?
But then that first little boy with the murky hazel eyes was born, and I knew. Yes, I could be good at this. One of the greatest surprises of my life has been discovering just how much I love having sons. Reckless, stubborn, loud, goofy, always-in-motion sons, that play and fight and tussle like wild animals but love like them, too. Throwing their arms around me and hugging so hard they squeeze the air out of my lungs. Smacking wet, awkward kisses on my cheeks. Tugging on the hem of my skirt, asking why I’m wearing “fancy pants” and shouting “you look pretty, Mommy!” with fistfuls of fabric clutched in their hands.
People ask me all the time if we’re going to have more kids. They say, “A girl, maybe?” with a clever smile. I know it’s well-meaning and comes only from a place of misunderstood sympathy. They think I must be aching for a girl to balance out the testosterone. They don’t intend to make my sons feel bad, but my heart breaks for them when people inadvertently suggest that my boys are not enough for me. That I need something else, something they aren’t and could never be, in order to be happy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is that I love my boys, and that is what I tell people—loudly, so my sons overhear me—when they ask if I would like to have a girl. I’m not sure what kind of answer they’re looking for; I don’t think I really care. What matters to me is that my sons know they are more than I could have ever asked for. They love me ferociously and it’s spectacular. It fills me up in ways I can’t explain.
If I ever have a daughter, I will love her with the same frightening devotion that I have for my sons. But I will never secretly hope for a girl or wish for anything more than what I already have: curious, thoughtful, adventurous, exuberant, perfect boys. They make me so happy that it hurts. I don’t need anything else in my life.
The lady who stopped us on the street that day might be in the minority, but she was right—I have three boys, and that makes me lucky.
About the Author
Sarah Bradley is a freelance writer and creative writing instructor from Connecticut. She is a mother to three wild and wonderful boys and a wife to one extremely patient husband. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Lost Country and The Forge Literary Magazine. In her so-called “free time,” Sarah is a homeschooler, avid baker and lover of all things DIY. She also knows way more about dinosaurs than she ever thought possible. You can find her offering her freelance services at pentopapercreativewriting.