Sunday, April 13, 2008

Boys don't have to be sons of bitches

Can you have a crush on a baby? Your own baby? Is that weird?

Because the way The Champ lights up at the sight of me, and that his first word was "Mama," even the way his face twists into a painful prune if I don't go right to him when I get home from work, could make the coldest of hearts melt.

Yet when my husband jokingly called him a "Mama's boy" I froze. With that one two-word phrase, everything I thought I knew about being the mother of a son turned upside down.

From that precarious position I was just a hop, skip and jump from the oldest vulgarity in the American lexicon: "Son of a bitch."

Because, honestly, it's not the son we're all thinking about in that turn of phrase it's the mother. And I tell you what, for the first time I could see my own unflattering picture inset next to the dictionary definition (yes, Webster's defines it).

People tell me all the time that a girl will travel the Earth to be as unlike her mother as she can be, but a boy will hold up all future women in his life to the light of her image.

Even if he's not the proverbial "Mama's boy," boys still love their mothers.
So why is it the nebulous they also say: "A daughter is a daughter the rest of her life, a son is a son until he takes a wife?"
I was thinking about this as a friend, the mother of two boys, told me she was buying keepsake ornaments for her sons each year for Christmas. She planned to give them to them when they left the nest.

"But, don't you worry about stepping on the toes of your future daughter-in-law," I asked.

"What do you mean," she replied, slightly irritated at my inability to remain gender neutral.

"Well," I said, digging the hole deeper, "I was thinking that when you give your sons these keepsakes you’ve collected for them it's really their wives who are expected to adopt things that, in essence, are really YOUR memories of your kids’ childhood."

Silence. Deafening silence.

None of us really wants to think about our sons marrying women who want only their own memories on the family Christmas tree. We don't want our sons to fall in love with some brazen hussy who doesn't cherish his family, too. And having HIS things displayed equally on the tree PROVES that she is a good and deserving daughter-in-law. For a mother-in-law, having the keepsakes accepted seems like the ultimate test of devotion.

I can't help thinking that all this rivalry might really be over all the wrong things.

Perhaps it does show my own errant perspective on gender, but I assume girls become the keepers of their family's sentiment while the future wives of boys become the unwitting collectors of junk that has no meaning for them.

Perhaps it's all futile really, this stuff we hold dear. It's not really the things but the memory of times that things recall. It's mine not my children's. And yet it is theirs because it’s about their mother: The cradle that they slept in, that their father slept in; the cup that bears her name, and her great, great grandmothers' name; the ancient spoon they were fed their first foods from; the sweater their auntie wore.

We get hung up on these things because they are tangible.

We can't watch our children change and grow and move away from us without some degree of sadness. Yet we can't really hold on to a memory.

Everyone has a way that differs from another, from the way we look to the way we think. Everything has the potential to cause strife. Our minds explode when our helpful mothers-in-law come for a visit and, on the premise of being helpful, re-arrange our utensil drawers.

We imagine it's because SHE wants it HER way. She is engaging in a power struggle because she thinks things SHOULD be different. Maybe she thinks her son (or daughter) should have married a different person; a better person.

The rivalry between a mother and daughter-in-law can spin out of control over things.
But what if good-old-mom just GUESSED wrong? What if she put the knives where the forks usually go because the drawer was empty and she couldn't remember where they'd been when she set the table the night before?

Why do mothers have to lose sons as that old saying goes? Why can't they gain daughters? After all, we may be more alike than we admit.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wish that question at the end had a positive answer that yes it can be that we will not loose a son....
But who am I kidding? The son will leave and will be the son for the other family...the girl still remains the daughter of that family....

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Oh, I can't even think about this, it hurts. A woman who is close to her mother is just a good daughter. A son who is close to his mom can be a 'mama's boy'. OH please, let me have a mama's boy! And please, I want to love whoever he ends up choosing for a spouse.

Forty_Two said...

There are breast men.

There are leg men.

After 20 years with my mother, I came to appreciate the value of mental stability in a woman.

I'm sanity man.