So What Are Little Boys Made Of?

I can identify the very day, hour and minute I decided I did not want sons. Mom was doing laundry and I, age 16, watched as she turned pockets inside-out. She picked up a filthy, swamp-covered pair of Levis belonging to my younger brother, Luke, reached into the front pocket and drew out a large hand of roe. Yes, salmon eggs – and not even fresh salmon eggs – eggs that had been ripening since his last fishing trip. My mother, and this tells you what kind of woman she is, laughed and said she was glad she found the eggs before she did the wash. But she did not fool me, I knew right then I only wanted daughters; there was no way I could deal with raw fish eggs. I understood girls, but boys ?

At first everything went just as planned with the birth of my daughter Grace, but when I found out my first son, Spencer, was on the way I could not help reflecting back on the fish egg trauma and wondering how successfully I would meet the challenge of raising sons.

And a challenge it has been. Spencer (age 7) followed by David (age 5) have given new meaning to the words "repeat offender" – they have invented trouble Grace Never dreamed of. However, in spite of the constant turmoil that surrounds them, I am surprised at how fun they can be (I still have no idea what's going through their little minds) but instead of being distracted I have slowly grown to appreciate their – ahem- -> i> creativity.

Take, for example, the Great Easter Egg Disaster of 2001. I had Grace, Spencer and David lined up at the kitchen counter where we were preparing to dye eggs. I turned my back for a second and Grace started screaming in a rousing panic, "MOM! MOM! SPENCER ATE ONE OF THE PILLS!" I turned around and found that Spencer had indeed sampled one of the egg dye tablets and was gagging and retching as green fizz from his mouth and dribbled down his chin .. Who knew those dye tablets explode on contact? I had always surprised why so many products identify themselves as "non toxic," now I know it's for the benefit of those of us with boys.

Instead of playing something as simple as dress-up like their sister, Spencer and David play Dead in the Desert, where they strip down to their swimming trunks and crawl commando-style across the living room floor, panting and crying, "Water! Water ! " When they reach the dining room floor (evidently it's the only oasis for miles) they lap up imaginary water at the edge of the vinyl and lie gasping on their backs in relief.

Grace carries a purse but Spencer carries his camping gear – complete with canteen, flashlight, mess kit and latrine shovel. He does not know it's a latrine shovel, it just happened to be his favorite color (orange) and within his price range (one dollar). At the doctor's office the nurse complained he took off his gear so she could properly weigh him for his physical. He expected (and I had to give it to him that weighing him without the gear seemed pointless as he's never without it and there before it could properly be considered part of his weight) but the nurse insured.

All of my children like to read but my boys see literature with new perspective. One night at the dinner table Spencer got annoyed with Grace for hogging the conversation. He put his fork down and rebuked her by saying, "Grace, you're the biggest fool fool in the Jungle of Nool!" I determined that maybe we were being reading too much Dr. Seuss and temporary retired Horton Hears A Who .

More recently, Spencer and I had been reading Treasure Island together when one night as I was preparing dinner I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked down and found Spencer dressed in full pirate gear, including sword, eye patch, and red silk scarf around his head. He said nothing but handed me a folded piece of lime-green paper, turned and left the kitchen. Upon opening it I discovered a large Black Spot (think back to the last time you read Treasure Island . It must have been his way of telling me I was slipping in the polls – or that he did not appreciate the broccoli I was cooking.

In our house the words "Mom! Watch this!" are usually followed by a crash. It could be something simple such as Spencer practicing his headstands against the nearest vertical object but recently I found Spencer teaching David to hang by his knees from our fireplace mantel. This is quite typical of their criminal history – Spencer's rule of thumb is: "If it looks fun, go ahead and try it, but if blood could be involved go get David." One quiet Saturday I looked up from my paper and noticed an ominous silence. Upon creeping downstairs I turned the corner in time to hear Spencer reassure David, "It's okay if your skin comes off it will always grow back." I've learned that when you have boys you should expect to become well-acquainted with the details of your insurance coverage. You've been surprised how narrow-minded the insurance industry is when it comes to the word "accidental."

There have been little accidents such as Spencer slamming David's ear in the car door (do not ask, I could not begin to explain) to larger events such as Spencer getting stitches during the last five hours of our Hawaiian vacation from doing a Superman moves onto a glass coffee table (we spent two hours driving around Maui looking for a plastic surgeon).

However, one must not get the wrong idea. Generally speaking my sons are well-behaved, obedient children. But after years of study living among the species I have come to the conclusion that the part of the brain that deciphers the cause-effect relationship in most humans does not seem to be yet present in my young sons. The logic that tells an adult, "If I stick the central vacuum tube to my cheek I will get a hickey the size of Montana" just is not there with Spencer and David.

To illustrate, I recently took Spencer on a Saturday trip to the hardware store. I was busily comparing plumbing supplies when slowly, breaking into my consciousness was a loud, shattering "BANG" (pause) "BANG" (pause) "BANG." Looking up I noticed Spencer was no longer beside me. With a sickening suspicion I peeked around the next aisle to find my son, ice chipper in hand, doing a quality control test on the floor tiles "BANG" (pause) "BANG." He looked up to see the "WHAT-IN-THE- WORLD -DO-YOU-THINK-YOU'RE- DOING ?? " look on my face and dropped the chipper with a startled, wide-eyed expression of "Oh, I guess this probably is not a good idea, is it? " Just as if he'd never put two and two together on that one. Unfortunately for me there is little way to expect all the different ways those two can get into trouble. Before we went to the store I went down the usual list of rules; how was I suppose to think of saying, "Oh yea, and no smashing floor tiles with ice chippers"?

At any rate, I suppose all these findings should come as little surprise when one considers my sons' genetic source: my husband. The first time I bought him home to meet the family my two teenage siblings immediately challenged him to a fight with these bamboo-karate-sword things that they liked to spar with. Andrew, not to be outdone by a couple teenagers (despite his complete ignorance of kendo swords) walked into their trap and promptly accepted their challenge. Five minutes later, after a manly yet futile display, he was sporting an impressive lump on his forehead and a bloody lip – but it did make him a full member of the tribe.

But that was twelve years ago. Has he matured? Consider a more recent incident: Grace's hamster, Crème Puff, escaped from his cage and headed straight into the wall by way of a hole in the baseboard heating. We could hear him scratching and digging but could not get to him. I went up to get a carrot for bait (the obvious solution, right?) But when I returned I found my husband with his drill, drilling into the wall above the heater. The boys thought it was great until he hit the insulation which happened to be the same fluffy pinkish-brown color as Crème Puff. The kids thought he'd killed the hamster and started screaming, "Dad's killed Crème Puff!" I stared in disbelief as my husband, a normally sensitive and intelligent man with three years of graduate work behind him, drilled a hole the size of a fist in the sheet rock with monster-truck enthusiasm.

The hole was useless, as there was an unforeseen board separating the hole and the hamster's hideout. I left the room for a minute and when I returned I found Andrew with a tin pie plate full of smoldering newspaper, blowing it toward the hole to (his words) "smoke out the hamster." How would THAT look on the insurance claim? "Reason for fire: A hamster extraction gone bad." No wonder my boys do what they do, given their genetic material.

Well, regardless of the reasons, Spencer and David provide the comic relief in our family life and if my husband is any indication it looks as though I can expect plenty of material for years to come. My perspective has changed since I watched Mom doing the laundry, boys were then a nuisance but now a little boy's valentine made from rocks and feathers glued to construction paper can melt the same heart that once found salmon eggs revolting.

How can I resist when David crawls into my bed on a Saturday morning and wants to know who would win in a fight: Spiderman or Darth Vader? (or Darf Bader in the common tongue). A debate ensued over the finer points of the Force v. automatic webbing, ending with David conceding that Darf would probably win but Spiderman could always bite someone, giving his victim super-spider powers, and therey raise a spider-army capable of defeating the Empirical Leader. Not only are my boys cute – they're brilliant too!