It’s easy to think that by the time you reach a certain age (we don’t have to say what age) you have learned a few things. But to a point we are still trapped in our own experiences and our own understandings. As I recently came to appreciate anew, I am not a boy. I do not see or understand things the way boys do. I had four of them. I watched them closely for many years. But I am not one. And some things I don’t remember well.
Boys were coming to the cottage. Two boys, seven and ten. I did the logical thing and asked my 22-year-old son for help. “You are seven, and you are ten,” I began. But I did not get far.
“Mom, I’m not seven.”
Clearly my preface did not work, but I liked it, so I tried it again. “You are seven, and you are ten, and you are a boy.”
“Mom, I can’t be seven and ten at the same time.” He had a point.
“Samuel, work with me here. Pretend you’re seven or ten or both or somewhere in that range.”
“You are going to an airbnb cottage in the woods with your parents for a few days. What do you wish were waiting there for you? I mean toys.”
He did not hesitate. “G.I. Joes.”
“G.I. Joes?” Whose child was this?
“Sure. Soldier toys are the most classic toy.”
Laugh now if you want, but I did say a most female thing. “But won’t that make them want to fight and go to war and do nasty things?”
There was no hesitancy whatsoever in his responses. “They want to do those things because they’re boys.” This was not at all what I had expected from the conversation. It was not improving. I had to try to turn it around.
“But you don’t like those things.” Samuel likes reading and acroyoga and coffee. I thought I had him, but I didn’t.
I quote: “No, but I understand the appeal of weaponry, engines, fast cars and things that go boom.”
I expect I looked entirely disillusioned because it is how I felt. He continued. “When I was ten, my toys were in nonstop combat. Bionicles and legos.”
“Legos? You build with legos.”
“Mom, you fight with legos. Remember all those little swords and shields?” Could this get worse? Of course it could. “The only time they weren’t fighting was when I was creating things for them to fight with.”
I cringed then. I cringe now even thinking about it. There’s way too much nastiness in the world, and here was more evidence. Images flooded my mind of bloody, cruel, heartless people doing bloody, cruel, heartless things to each other and (most awfully) to innocents.
But he redeemed himself, and quickly, and gave the much-needed upside to all this horror. “As much as the war-faring genes allow for all that, they also allow for what stops that.” Hallelujah. Now we were somewhere more comfortable for me, and I could start to relax. Better images came to mind. I could think about bravery and strength and why some people make me feel safe. I could be thankful to live in a peaceful place, thankful for those who came before me and made it peaceful. It’s not Memorial Day or Veterans Day or any other day set aside for remembrance and thankfulness. Holidays like that are good. But I wish our moments of remembrance and thankfulness were not confined to them. I wish more people realized every day how very fortunate they are.
This was a completely unexpected outcome of airbnb cottage guests coming for the weekend. A seven-year-old boy and a ten-year-old boy were on their way. If they had been girls, I would not have asked Samuel for advice. One thing led to the next. Entirely without having any idea about it, the boys brought warmth, thankfulness and reassurance. Samuel, in his own (roundabout) way, explained a thing so simply that it makes far more sense to me than it ever did before. He balanced the images.
“How about if you choose what to put in the cottage for them?” I asked him. “All the old legos are downstairs, and other stuff. Whatever you think they would like.”
He chose a box full of matchbox cars. I put it in the cottage off to the side by the back windows. The guests arrived and I greeted them and welcomed them in. I did not point out the cars. It did not take even 30 seconds for the seven-year-old boy to find them and sit down on the floor next to the box and begin to make one of them go fast…