From the moment I announced that the child I was carrying was a boy, I was bombarded with warnings.
“Oh, boys are crazy!”
“You’re going to have your hands full!”
“Stock up on laundry detergent and Band-Aids now!”
Throughout his infancy and toddlerhood, I heard the same refrains every time the subject of kids came up. Now he’s a big first-grader with scraped-up knees and people still can’t help but comment on how “wild” he must be.
And the truth is, I never quite know how to respond. Because my boy is not wild. He is not crazy or a handful or a walking mess. He is calm, and quiet, and well-mannered, and caring.
As a baby, my boy wanted always to be close to me. He cried in the stroller but slept peacefully in the baby carrier. He could sit for hours on my lap, listening to me sing and read and talk to him. When he got a little bigger and someone bought him a walker, he used it only to follow me around the house. As a toddler, he cried at daycare drop-offs and spent weekends holding my hand tightly as we explored the world together. His feelings were easily hurt by kids playing without him or by a mild reproach from a teacher. As he grew he did begin to venture out, to climb a tree or dig for bugs. But he always came right back to me to tell me everything he’d done and everything he’d seen.
My boy is sensitive. He cries when his feelings are hurt. He likes to be close to his mama. He would rather read or watch a movie on the couch with me than play soccer or run free at the park. He is easily scared and even more easily offended. We have spent many an afternoon with him in my lap, wiping away his tears and talking about our feelings and about why some kids don’t want to play the games he does.
I get a lot of advice from other people. They tell me he needs to toughen up. To be more independent. To be braver.
It is not said but often implied that he needs to be more of a boy. I look at these people and I wonder, how do they not see what I see? How are they missing the boy he is?
This little boy is quick to tears. He feels things so strongly that he often cries over the tiniest injury or offense; but because he knows how it feels, he has nothing but compassion for other people who are hurting. He is the boy that will run to get you a Band-Aid or an ice pack without being asked. If he sees you crying, he will be the first to give you a hug and pat your back and tell you that it’s going to be OK. If he hurts your feelings he will notice—immediately—and be quick with an apology and attempt to make things right.
This little boy is often scared but he is also so very brave.
Each night when I tuck him into bed I know that he is worried about monsters in the closet, about earthquakes and fires and bad guys, about things that could lurk in the dark. But every night he closes his eyes and faces the fears and manages to get to sleep in spite of them. He is shy and afraid of not making friends. But he is brave enough to walk up to the other kids anyway and ask to play. He is afraid of getting hurt, but he never lets that keep him from climbing the tall tree or jumping as high as he can or riding his bike as fast as his little legs will pedal.
This little boy takes criticism hard. The feeling that he has failed or has let anyone down weighs heavily on his young heart. And this makes him the best-behaved kid in nearly any scenario, the boy who looks at other kids misbehaving and says, “Oh man, I would never do that.” Instead of scolding and punishing him, I find myself reassuring him that even if he made a mistake it’s all going to be OK. Our house is full of hugs and kind words in place of time-outs and yelling because this boy is so quick to correct his own course.
This little boy is amazing.
He is deep and kind and thoughtful. So please stop saying he needs to “toughen up”. The world will make him tough. There is plenty of time and adversity ahead of him in life for that. What the world is unlikely to do, as he gets older, is make him softer. I trust that the balance will come; please have the same faith in him that I do.
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