When I was pregnant with Big Bear I just assumed I was having a girl. I don’t know why – I think I could imagine the fun I would have buying little outfits – so many pretty fabrics, so many beautiful combinations. Maybe I was envisioning a mini-me. Although if I’d have thought hard about that I would have realised that as a child I didn’t really entertain dresses and was more comfortable up to my waist in mud.
About 6 weeks before giving birth I woke in a panic. This wasn’t unusual, I was particularly panicked about giving birth somewhere strange and would often wake with thoughts such as “what if it happens in the car?” or “what if it’s on the kitchen floor?”. On this particular day, my panic had nothing to do with inappropriate locations; instead I had been hit by the realisation that it could actually be a boy. A boy!! What on earth would I do with a boy?
Looking back this was clearly the befuddled workings of a hormone flooded mind. How could it possibly have taken me 8 months to figure out that there is a 50/50 chance of having either gender? I was just so certain the baby would be a girl that I hadn’t even considered anything else. It was time to get thinking of a boy’s name. Just in case (because I still acted under the delusion that it was a girl).
It was a boy. Grizzly says he knew so all along but was probably a bit too scared of me to say so.
Having given birth I couldn’t have given a tiny rat’s backside what gender the baby was. I was just relieved he was healthy and seemed to have all the correct anatomy.
When we came to adopt, I was quite adamant that this time it WOULD be a girl. A girl wouldn’t provide the same competition with Big Bear I reasoned. A girl would have different toys so we wouldn’t have the same issues over sharing etc.
And I’d be able to buy pretty dresses.
It was a boy.
This time I had a choice in the matter. It was me who saw Little Bear’s profile first; it was me who shared it with Grizzly and Anne (Our Social Worker). I was very sure he was the right match. If a child seems as though they would fit right into your family clearly gender becomes irrelevant. And so I welcomed into my life a second boy.
Now, I must point out that not all boys are the same, just as not all girls like dressing up and playing with dolls. Apparently some boys are quite bookish and prefer quiet indoor games. Forgive me if I sound disbelieving, it’s just that my boys are quite possibly not from the same species as those boys. My boys (and in that I include my husband) are Boisterous Boys. I mean noisy (extremely), excitable, active, energetic get-bored-very-quickly boys.
When I hear the chant of BEAT-DOWN, BEAT-DOWN thundering around the house I know it’s time to take cover. This signifies the start of a mass wrestling “pile on” kind of situation. The volume will rise by 20 decibels, my posh cushions will be cast to the floor in a haphazard pile, made beds will be rapidly unmade. There will be a tangible shift in the atmosphere, as though the air itself is getting overexcited. I will know that it will end in tears or injury. Grizzly will be surprised when it does.
For a while I did exercise my matriarchal rights and banned beat-downs. Little Bear loved them but couldn’t cope with the adrenaline rush. The certainty of pushing him into over-stimulated territory made them untenable for me.
However, he generally can cope with the madness now and as wild a situations as it is, Grizzly does (sort of) manage it. The bears never oppose each other, always working as a team to “defeat” Grizzly. I just leave them to it and studiously turn down all offers to join in. Ditto Nerf Gun fights (it hurts) and water fights (its cold).
I always said I wouldn’t have any guns in the house, peace-loving as I am. However, all 3 boys are drawn to weapons and we have ended up with an extensive collection of guns, bow and arrows and swords. None of the bears want to hurt anybody, they just seem to like shooting and are fascinated by knights and soldiers. Big Bear had quite a major Army phase and went everywhere dressed in head to toe camouflage. We frequently had an army tent erected in the living room. In fact, he took his SAS Survival Guide to his Pre-school graduation (just to be prepared I’m guessing!).
Before we met Little Bear, we met with his Paediatrician and I have never heard anybody use the term “busy boy” so many times in one hour. We could have aced buzzword bingo.
The thing is that all 3 of my bears are ‘busy boys’. Not one of them can sit still for long. Grizzly somehow manages to work in an office but he has to get up to pace about every few minutes. Big Bear does well at school but gets into trouble due to his boisterousness and over-excitability. Little Bear seems to have interminable energy. They all need exercising regularly. If they are not playing football, they are canoeing. If they are not canoeing they are swimming. If they are not swimming they are on a bike ride. If not a bike then scaling across some sort of rope lattice suspended between two trees outside.
I have to admit that some of the time I feel a little left out. It’s mainly when the boys are embarking on a water based pursuit that I would hate.
I have made efforts to get involved in their other favoured activities though. I like a bike ride and can just about pass muster as a goalie. Some of our best family days have been when we’ve donned our wellies and headed off to a forest or country park. We build dens, explore, get muddy and make log bridges. The boys are suitably exercised, we all get some fresh air and I return to my younger tom-boy ways (just with really pretty wellies).
Even just walking down the street is turned into a gymnastic activity by Little Bear. He will hold my hand and the hand of anyone else that makes the error of walking beside him and do mid-air roly-polies (the child has abs of steel) or skid along on his heels. If we pass something climbable, it will be climbed. The inappropriate indoor climbing has mostly stopped but I do need to watch out for shop counters. As the cashier in M and S aptly observed, I could do with eyes in the back of my head.
Boisterous Boys also tend to be LOUD. People always know we have arrived and I generally wish we could be a bit more inconspicuous. It does come in useful sometimes though – my voice doesn’t carry at all but all 3 of my bears can yell without any effort and make the whole village hear if needs be. Occasionally that can be useful. Most of the time it isn’t and when we are eating outside and they are exchanging rude insults I do frequently wish they had an inbuilt “silent” button. Our poor neighbours!
I have to admit there are times (when I’m being roped into sword fighting practise or am crawling around with a child astride my back shooting at imaginary baddies) that I wish I had children who would sit still and be quiet for a while! Maybe draw a picture or colour in. I would have sat for ages as a child doing that and to be honest I would still enjoy it now. Or sit and read a book. I can remember reading my way around our local library until I felt as though the books had run out. I have made sure that both boys appreciate books but it tends to be a bedtime only thing at the moment – they are too busy (!) during the day.
It is times like these that I wonder if I need a girl in my life – a little calm, colouring-loving ally in a world outnumbered by Boisterous Boys. I know of course that girls can be just as noisy, wild and boisterous as boys, so it wouldn’t be the panacea I’m imagining, but a girl can dream.
Whenever I’ve had these thoughts, I’ve usually ended up in a situation with other parents talking about their children and the conversation will have drifted to ballet classes and the pressure to create the perfect bun. “Eugh”, I will think, “thank God I’ve got boys”.
And I am thankful (mostly) because the other thing about Boisterous Boys is that they are really good FUN. A big part of Grizzly’s appeal when we first got together was his ability to make me laugh like no one else and he still does to this day. Both of my smaller bears are budding comedians too and I can’t help but laugh when I find the smaller one running around sporting my bra on top of his t-shirt or the bigger one comes out with some clever witticism or other; or perfectly mimics someone’s accent. All 3 have a naughty glint in their eye which I find very endearing.
All 3 bears are tough (in their way) and completely unfazed by being dirty or seeing small decapitated creatures the cat has brought in or by picking up interesting looking insects with their bare hands. Equally there are no longer many things that faze me, used as I am to neighbours bringing the boys toads they have found or helping them to dig in the garden or forage on the beach.
Not long ago we went for one of our muddy adventures with our friends and their girls. One got a smudge of mud on her hand and trousers and wanted to go home to change. It completely ruined her trip and she was quite upset about it. I realised that my mad outdoor life with the boys has become so second nature that I had forgotten it was even possible for people to become upset by mud. Perhaps a clean, book-loving girl would not fit quite so well into our family after all…
Having boys has also taught me things I never thought I would know. I have been subjected to A LOT of Star Wars. I know lots of ladies like it too but I just don’t get it. It’s not for me. Yet I know my Darth Vader from my Kylo Ren, my Emperor Palpatine from my Jabba the Hut. I can reel off names of sports cars and talk in depth about different types of Lego. I can identify a wide range of superheroes and quite possibly describe a back story or two. I now seem to be embarking on a crash course in all things football. Zlatan Ibrahimovic you say? Yes, I know the one. Having boys is mind-expanding it turns out.
As mad and noisy and full-on as my boys are, I completely adore them, just as they are. And there is nothing better in this world than a big snuggle with them (if they’ll stay still long enough).
I do occasionally still find myself wandering through the girl’s clothing section though…