I was a little worried about having a boy. Part of that, I think, is a common issue with a second child. Your first sort of primes you and sets this image of what “your” child is. Your imagination becomes limited by this creature you love so very much. And so part of you can only visualize another one like it. I had a girl and so I saw myself as the mom of a girl. Another part was just the fear that I wouldn’t be able to relate to (love?) a boy just as much as a girl. This is strange to admit. And I won’t go into my thoughts on the social construction of gender (but oh my do I have thoughts on this). Suffice it to say that I don’t see boys and girls as different species. Not by a long shot. But whatever I think, I know we live in a world where your life is shaped by gender. Mine certainly has been and continues to be. I felt this automatic feminine kinship with my daughter. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to embrace a boy in the same way.
My boy, he’s rounding two years old now, and he is a handful. After already having one, ahem, spirited child (that’s a popular enlightened euphemism for all of the other things you could call a kid who screams at your face A LOT), I sort of figured I’d have a laid back kid next. A contented, gurgly thing who just delighted in hanging out with us. Eli arrived one week after his due date, born in my own bed (on purpose) at the considerate hour of 3:30 pm. He could already lift his head and about roll over by the eve of his first earthly day. And for those first few months, my boy just slept, nursed, and melted into me. (He also pooped a dozen times a day. Like, really.) All in all, he seemed like a very regular, strong and sturdy, lazy country boy to me.
Well. He is strong and sturdy. And very regular. But the Rooster ain’t lazy. Nor is he laid back. After he eats dinner, which these days consists of him eagerly climbing up into his chair, giggling as I set down the food, and then summarily rejecting the whole thing with a shove and a “NOOOO!”, Eli gets down and does pull ups on the furniture. Prepping-for-Shawshank-Redemption style workouts. It’s… unnerving. The kid looks like a bean pole, and then you pick him up and he has this supernova-esque density on account of his strengthening regiment. Another favorite past time is what we call “danger yoga” and consists of him carrying around my yoga block, positioning it in some precarious manner, and then trying to stand on it. And falling. Again. And again. Though he curses the laws of physics each time – and quite loudly so – the Rooster gets back up and tries it again.
Eli drives me nuts. He’s so rough. When he wants another kid’s attention – and he always wants another kid’s attention – he gives them a three second window to acknowledge his advances before it’s just baby Thunderdome. Whacks them over the head with a toy car. Scratches their faces. Today, I caught him beating a friend with her own shoe. And though he does retaliate out of frustration as well, most of the time, these acts are just misplaced love. Fierce, crazy, violent love. I don’t want to scold him for this. And a lot of times, I am able to redirect. But more times than I like, I am tough on him because he’s hurting kids and he is an irrational, gibberish speaking chimpanzee. I don’t know what else to do sometimes, monkey boy!
So he’s an unintentional bully, and also a mama’s boy who doesn’t really want his mama. Therefore he is the bane of the YMCA daycare worker’s existence. He cries if I go to the grocery store without him. Or if I shut the door to use the bathroom. But he won’t let me hold him. Doesn’t want to ride in a baby carrier. Won’t sit in shopping carts. And screams for a large part of most car trips. If I sit on the floor with him, he’s ecstatic. And to celebrate, he knocks me over, climbs on top of me, and lets out a battle cry as he jumps up and down, crushing me with his tiny, freakishly powerful frame. That habit, though, I can’t even say I mind. I do, however, try to protect my eyes.
In order to calm him down we …. ?? I’d love to say “read him books” but at 22 months, he is just almost letting us read him the shortest of board books. As long as we do the Cliffs Notes version with a LOT of funny voices. Television? Edie didn’t watch anything until she was almost three. And even that was just in small amounts. Eli didn’t have as long of a grace period, though limited screen time is among my virtues as a parent (I don’t have that many, so I’ve got to pat myself on the back where I can). But Eli sees an episode of Daniel Tiger most days. Not that it keeps him seated for very long. But, sort of like a mirror in a parrot cage, it gives him a sporadic distraction from his own squawking.
But then he is the funniest person I know. He imitates the unintended straining faces I make when I am struggling to get him in the car seat. He pretends to pout when I ask him for a kiss, but he can’t keep himself from laughing, so he goes from lower lip stuck out to cackles and back. We are pretty sure he thinks our smaller dog is a cat, because I’ve seen him several times, crouched beside her, patting her fluffy head and meowing. He does love to meow. In fits of joy, he alternates between spreading his arms and running in circles as an airplane, to collapsing on all fours to become a loud and reckless kitty.
And he is so loving, if you pay attention to how he expresses love. He has beaten me on the legs many a-times, and when my mind is elsewhere, I might shake him off and step away. Only to leave a crushed little boy with his lip quivering in my wake. As rough as he is, it’s how he communicates. Sometimes slugging me means he’s angry. More often it means he needs to connect with me. When I wrestle with him, and I must wrestle with him – it’s like release therapy for both of us, he’s been known to pause long enough to give me a big kiss on the lips and then BAM back to body slamming. During his momentary hugs, he rubs his soft head into my neck as hard as he can, and pats my back with his little fingers. Lately, when I cry out in pain, from stubbing my toe (or maybe getting a block thrown at my toe) or the like, he pauses with big, worried eyes and gives my arm a stroke. This kid’s heart is just so big.
When people commented on my not finding out the sex before my children were born, I was deeply uncomfortable about it. I didn’t want any praise for it. Because I knew it didn’t come from some noble place. At least not entirely. I knew that part of it was: I wanted a girl. So if this baby wasn’t a girl, I didn’t want to spend my pregnancy faking a smile about how excited I was. I just lived on the hope that once that child was in my arms, it wouldn’t matter.
Once Eli was in my arms, my heart about exploded. I was shattered by how in love with him I was. I remain glad I didn’t find out, because I could not have designed a better introduction. And this week marks an end to a big chapter for us, because he has, I am just about sure, fully weaned now. So my heart is aching for that little baby who melted into my arms and on my chest. But my heart is also so full because I live with this little guy who is just the most ornery, difficult, loud, joyful, exasperating, and loving person there could be. And I have no fear for our relationship. It won’t be the same as it is with his sister. But, thanks to both of my kids and the growing we’ve all done together, I see more and more every day how they are their own people. My fears and insecurities are my own. I don’t need to relate to every aspect of his life. Nor should I try to project me on to him or to her. That boy makes me crazy and I still can’t get enough.
We call him the Rooster from that short story by David Sedaris. It’s the one about his baby brother, the only one of his siblings born in the South among a family of northerners. Will and I are from the Midwest. Edie was born in Munich, Germany. But Eli, he’s all Tennessee. So we took to calling him Rooster and it seems to suit him quite well. Just today, I was tucking him in for a nap after a rowdy morning with friends. As I was changing his diaper, I noticed that he had two skinned knees and a banged up elbow that he never complained to me about (he complained bitterly about the seven sticks I took away from him after he smacked other kids with them, but not his lumps). He kicked angrily at me the whole time I tried to get him cleaned up, until I started singing a very enthusiastic and fast-paced version of Old McDonald to distract him. When we sat in a rocking chair to wind down, we read about six abbreviated versions of his little board books. And then I asked him if he wanted me to sing him a song. “Yeah.” (Always, yeah. Never, yes.) So I walked him around and sang You are My Sunshine. But he still whimpered when I put him down. So I ran my fingers through his hair and sang Country Roads. The Rooster passed out on the second verse, and after a little bit more, I snuck out.
He’s never done that before, fallen asleep from me just singing. The thing I have been mourning most about ending our nursing relationship was that it was the only time of day I had a still or sleeping Eli in my arms. But like my fears of having a boy, a little part of me knew, we’d find our way. A different way, but some way. And the Rooster came through. Like his gift of waiting until I’d had time to get a haircut and go out to dinner with friends until getting ready to be born, or how he made his entrance in perfect time for us and the midwives to have a pizza party when he was three hours old, this little country boy did his mama another solid today. Boy, Roo, do we love you something fierce.
The many, changing faces of the Rooster.