Since becoming the mother of a boy, I have learned a great deal about changing diapers without getting pee in your eye and treating minor but constant head wounds, and have vastly improved my construction-vehicle taxonomy.
My son has also taught me a lot about my husband, and not just that sports preferences are as genetic as eye color.
(“Bassikball!” my son yelled, throwing a balled-up sock into the potty, long before he could have possibly known what basketball actually was.)
For as it turns out — not to be too post-post-feminism here — boys and girls are really different. My daughter loves to sit perfectly still for hours, listening to classical music, drawing, and narrating complicated stories about grown-up ladies. In other words, she’s a lot like me. My son, on the other hand, wakes up and first thing in the morning throws himself against the front door, yelling “OUTSIDE! WUN AWOUND! GOT TO WUN AWOUND!” until someone opens it or he concusses himself, whichever comes first. Essentially, my husband at the end of a workweek.
Now, I don’t want to play into that “men are just toddlers with leg hair” gestalt that characterizes so many of our culture’s portrayals of fatherhood, giving our parenting partners free passes for their Homer Simpson-like cluelessness. But, well, let me put it this way: When my daughter was 2, she had a hitting streak. She would mug children on the playground, stripping them of their sandbox shovels, and then bludgeoning them with their own toys. When I rushed over she’d cheerily announce, “Want to go home!” She knew hitting meant going home. It was all the scheme of a mastermind; a female toddler will outwit you at every turn.
My son, on the other hand, will joyfully slap his best friend in the face as a greeting. “Hands are not for hitting,” I reminded him after one such episode, and he said, “Oh!” I know I sound like an indulgent mother, but believe me when I say it was a guileless “Oh,” and that he shrugged and wandered away; he just really doesn’t know. He has this sweetness at his core, and a kind-hearted, bumbling confusion about interactions. He romps through his little life smashing toy cars apart and then staring in wonder at the pieces, both literally and figuratively.
Is it so much of a leap to say that the men in my life seem to act the same way? It was only after I came to know my son that I realized, mid-argument with my husband, that he was telling the truth: he hadn’t meant to slight me in the subtly cruel or possibly imagined way I’d perceived. He honestly didn’t even know what had happened, and to him, I really did seem completely cuckoo; he just needed me to explain what he’d done, not to be annoying, but because he really didn’t know and wanted to avoid doing it in the future. Sometimes they just need our help putting the toy car back together, if you catch my drift.
I’ve heard of studies that suggest parents of boys have easier marriages, and it’s tempting to dismiss that as sexist nonsense. But I will say having a son has helped me to better understand my husband, and I imagine this will continue as he becomes his own man (or at least, is potty-trained).