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At some point over the weekend — maybe it was when I was holding Harrison upside-down by his ankles, or when I was showing Spencer the short video I made with my digital camera of him jumping into the hotel swimming pool — I realized that I do in fact like boys.
Granted, these boys are 2 and 5 years old, respectively. There’s a good chance they will grow up to be men I like, too, but right now they are active, adventuresome, trouble-hungry boys who are adept at both wearing me out and melting my heart.
While spending a weekend in a hotel room with my partner, these boys and their mother, I had moments where I prayed to have only daughters and moments when I thought there is nothing cuter than two little boys. I have spent time in close confines with Spencer and Harrison before, but usually their dad is present and always watching for their youthful shenanigans, meaning my only responsibility is to tickle these boys until they can barely breathe from laughing so hard, to give shoulder rides until my muscles can’t take anymore, and to be really cool and fun in general.
This weekend, Todd was AWOL so I felt in some ways like I was called to duty as a back-up authority figure. In fact, at some point Harrison — working with his limited, 2-year-old’s conversational abilities — told me I was a daddy. Not his daddy, but a daddy. If I were bigger and butcher, that would have been really funny.
Being less big and butch, though, it got me thinking about what that means, to be perceived by a 2-year-old as a daddy when clearly, in my own mind, I have Future Mommy stamped on my forehead. It reminds me of how my niece, Carney, used to tell me, after reciting her line about how girls are pretty like mommy and boys are handsome like daddy, that I was handsome.
At some point after she turned 3, I became pretty just like all the other girls.
Carney’s mother used to tell me she thought it was my short hair that had Carney confused, but I think Carney and Harrison are vocalizing nuances that older kids and adults might just be too polite to say out loud. My partner and I have been saying for years that I am the “play aunt” and the “play mommy” (to our cocker spaniel) while she is the one the injured or tired or sad children or dogs in our life turn to for comfort and nurturing.
It’s not that I can’t comfort or nurture, because I can, and do — and was reassured of this when a sobbing Harrison reached out for me instead of his mother when he fell off the hotel bed this weekend. But I tend to so strongly cast myself in the “let’s have fun!” role that when something serious comes up, I’m not the one the kids (or the dog) usually turn to.
When my oldest niece, who’s now 19, was a little girl, her mother got pregnant and married a man who was about my age, which was around 20. I asked Tara if she could imagine me having a baby at that age and she told me, in the infinite wisdom of a 5-year-old, that I was too young. I agreed with her, but I asked her why I was too young if Rob, her new little sister’s father, wasn’t.
“You’re like a grown-up kid,” she told me, which at the time seemed like a perfectly fun response and something I was proud to recite to other adults and grown-up kids. Little did I know, I’d always be a grown-up kid and would always feel too young to have a baby, even as I grow closer to being biologically too old.
Luckily, I found a partner who has a strong nurturing instinct and who would never let herself get so worn out by wrestling with a child that she’d be too tired to make a nutritious lunch. But the combination of her fear of being perpetually worn out and my fear of not being good enough when nurturing and nutritious lunches are needed is the exact reason we haven’t taken the plunge to start a family yet.
We are always telling interested friends and family — who know we definitely want to have children — that it’ll happen “soon,” “maybe next year,” sometimes even saying “maybe later this year,” and years keep passing and we keep being childless.
The truth is that we’re also unsure of how well we could parent boys, especially in the plural. Together we have four nieces and we’ve spent lots of time with all of them, often finding ourselves exhausted at the end of a babysitting weekend and wondering how people find energy to parent while holding down a job.
These are girls, sweet little girls, darling little adorable girls who like to run around a little bit and like to be held upside down and sit on my shoulders, but also like to sit quietly on the floor and read or color or play with dolls.
Spencer and Harrison did not exactly reassure us this weekend that we could survive if we found ourselves with two little boys. When I expressed my concern about parenting boys to their mother, Shalar was little help: “Just don’t have two of them who are these ages,” she said, sounding chipper but also worn out.
Their father, responding to my comment that we’d miss him during our weekend adventure, wrote back ominously: “You’ll have more fun without me there. You’ll be more tired too. Have fun with the boys.”
The truth is, I wanted to take them both home with me when we were saying goodbye on Sunday. And I still look back proudly on the contrast between Friday night dinner, when Spencer made a crazy mess of our table by playing in his chocolate milk, and Saturday night dinner, when I laid down the law and told him there would be no objects (except his straw) allowed in his water, and there would be no bubble-blowing or splashing. We left a tidy dinner table that night.
Maybe I can do it. Maybe I can be fun mommy and still comfort a sobbing child while setting a rule or two. I might even be able to make a nutritious lunch once in a while. And I know I caught Kim giving at least one shoulder ride. Like anything else, you take what comes, and you adapt to it.
Maybe we can survive the Y chromosome, if it comes calling.
Kristina Campbell writes Alphabet Soup biweekly, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She and her partner plan on starting the baby process soon. Maybe later this year. Maybe.
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