And then there were the boys. They were loud. One disruptive boy could send the whole lesson plan down the toilet. Their papers were crumpled, and they forgot to turn things in. “Miss Whiston, everyone knows you don’t like boys very much,” a particularly gutsy student told me one day. What? That was ridiculous!
Sure, I kept a professional distance from the boys because I was a young teacher and I didn’t want any tinge of impropriety on my career. Word on the street was that at least two of my young colleagues were teetering on the edge of that very precipice at the time, and I wanted no part of it. It was just easier to get close to the girls. I understood them. They liked me. They kept track of what outfits I wore, noting to me in a most “helpful” way when I got to my first clothing repeat. I could read their handwriting. They cared about their grades. Pulling late night sessions in the windowless yearbook office was easier with girls around, too.
Oh. Crap. I guess the accusation was correct.
But as I got my teaching legs and that 5 year age difference crept up to more than a decade, I became much more at ease around the boys. I loved how the brightest, most awkward ones would stand by my desk, jostling each other to be the first to tell me something. Maybe they’d encountered one of our vocabulary words out in the world. Maybe they had a pun to share. Girls were not yet digging these boys, so they weren’t self- conscious about being brown-nosers hanging around the teacher’s desk. By the time I stopped teaching, the afternoon before Jack was born, I was as comfortable with the boys as the girls.
Jack. At our 20 week sonogram, the technician announced, “It’s a boy.” What?! I got teary, and not in a good way. I didn’t know what I would do with a boy. My fondest childhood memories were of special moments with my mother, and I hoped having a girl would mean we could somehow put balm on the painful scar of losing my mom too young.
What if this baby… this boy…and I couldn’t share those experiences together? I like words. I don’t like running around. I’m totally cool with potty humor, but I wish someone would just go ahead and paint the football neon orange so I could at least pretend to follow the plays. Besides, isn’t it much more fun to talk about the outfits and the cheerleaders' moves and the band than actually watch a game? And the lists of baby names scrawled in my high school notebooks were all for girls. For some crazy reason, I’d convinced myself that only another vagina was going to come out of this vagina.
My sister, 9 months ahead of me on the parenting journey said, “At first you’ll pray to God for A child. After he’s born, you’ll realize you had prayed to God for THIS child.”
And she was right.
Jack and I were made for each other. He wasn’t rough and tumble. He was charming and funny. He loved words and word play. He was loyal and smart. Our bond strengthened during long days together while Tim worked full-time and went to law school, but it somehow felt as if it had been there since the beginning of time. I read to him incessantly. Our house was small. Our world was small. No cable tv, no smart phones, no blogs. Sometimes it felt too small, but most days it felt just right. Just mom and Jack, seeing what the day held.
As I grew as a mother, and grew to love Jack even more as I got to know him, I thought back to my teaching days. I knew I would be a better teacher now that I was a mom. That doesn’t mean all teachers have to be moms, but I think parenting gave me important perspective on homework and balance and boys that I sorely lacked before. I sent up a silent apology to all of those frazzled moms of boys for assigning their sons Pride and Prejudice over summer vacation and so many touchy-feely journal entries.
I thought of the quirky boys who encircled my desk. The ones who would come up with weird facts and present them to me as a gift. Who, despite the surging of hormones and the burgeoning facial hair, still seemed like enthusiastic little boys inside. They reminded me of Jack, and I loved them.
I hoped that when Jack grew into himself and took his own charming quirkiness off to high school, he would encounter teachers who got a kick out of him the way I did. Teachers who would see his brains and his charm and his bursts of enthusiasm as a plus not just a hindrance to the day’s schedule.
In 6th grade, I got a glimpse of this possibility. His science class was studying rocks. On his science teacher’s birthday, he found an ugly hunk of rock on the playground. After recess, he presented it to her with flourish, saying, “Here. I found you a Common Rock for your birthday.”
And his teacher, seeing that this common rock came from an uncommon boy, took it home and put it on her mantel.