Hard Boys, Soft Mom


The following post is a reprint from Braving Boys.

I’m soft. I know this. And I’m OK with it. But it kind of goes against the grain of what John tries to teach the boys. Example: the other day, while at a lake for some fishing, Joey and Danny started whining about sunscreen. They hate it, especially the kind that sprays, because it gets in their eyes. So, we do our best to slather faces without blinding them, but as it always turns out, they are gun-shy and get all worked up about the event.

John is sick of it.

“You guys need to get hard,” he told them.

“Here’s how I do it,” he declared, then pretty much sprayed the stuff directly into his own baby blues to prove his point.

Explanation: John is a Marine, and he’s encountered some rough living. There was a period of time in boot camp when he was so hungry, he’d eat from sugar packets in the mess hall to fill the void in his gut. He hiked until his feet bled, marched until he couldn’t see straight, and for months on end, he was worn down and challenged to the core. He’s hard. He can spray sunscreen in his eyes.

Getting hard is good. It’s preparation for life’s tough times. It’s why Joey should eat fish, even though he doesn’t like it — because maybe, one day, fish will be the only thing available. It’s why learning to defend yourself is key, because when you’ve got to fight for your life, you’ll be ready.

I get it.

It’s just not me.

  • I don’t like sunscreen in my eyes either. Bug spray is yucky, too.
  • I do like fish, but I don’t like Chinese food, and heaven help me if, one day, it’s the only thing available.
  • I don’t want to camp — I like running water and cozy beds too much — and I don’t want to climb a rock wall or a mountain or jump from a plane, a cliff, or anything, really.
  • I am hesitant to play a “real” game of football with Joey, because he weighs 90 pounds and his power is pretty amazing.
  • I shy away from “real” games of basketball, too, because I’ve had few balls smack me right in the face, and ouch!, that really hurts. (I am up for a mean game of catch or P-I-G, however).

Don’t get me wrong. I can be tough. I’ve white water rafted, parasailed, driven a jet ski, completed a few ropes courses, traveled Europe all by myself, run a 1/2 marathon, pushed two large babies from my body and fought breast cancer.

Still, soft is my fall-back.

This worries me, and sometimes I fear my boys will come to know me as the wimpy mom. It’s why I choose to engage in some battles. Will I ski down a snow-covered mountain when we finally take a ski vacation? No. But I am fully prepared to let the waves knock the crap out of me during our next beach trip. I’m also on board this year for a very long road trip (in one cramped mini-van), even though my better judgment says, “Don’t do it.” And this summer, I’ll take on one-too-many roller coasters with my little theme-park thrill seekers, even though these rides give me a throbbing head and wobbly knees.

It’s a good thing there’s a John and a Jacki in our family. It’s like we’re the anchors supporting our family tree. John is at the top (of course, he climbed up there), I’m at the bottom (because I don’t want to climb up there), and Joey and Danny are right in between, observing the qualities that define their parents and deciding which ones to embrace.

My wish is that Joey and Danny do get hard. I hope they also realize that, at times, it’s OK to be soft. Because really, I’m convinced there’s value in both.