By Gregory Keer
My wife complains about being the lone female in a house of four guys. She bemoans the bathrooms that have been territorially marked by boys with bad aim. She scowls at the criminal lack of fashion sense they possess. She shakes her head in futility over the pushing, punching, and head-locking the guys engage in more often than they speak to each other.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this,” she said, following a harrowing incident in which our seven-year-old chased her with a pair of socks that could have been mistaken for a round of Stilton cheese.
“I’ll never be able to pass along my Nancy Drew mysteries or my Little House books to a girl in pigtails,” she went on.
Then she glared at me. “It’s all your fault.”
This may be genetically true, in that the father determines the gender, though I’m hardly sympathetic. Growing up, Wendy was actually as much of a tomboy as a princess. Her childhood photo albums reveal a hard-nosed little leaguer, a dog lover who wrangled the Great Danes her family raised, and a kid who liked to tinker with socket wrenches. This is not to say that my wife didn’t wear dresses or try out her mom’s perfume. It’s just that Wendy is particularly well-suited to hanging with her homeboys.
For instance, it isn’t always the kids who start the rough-housing. Wendy picks fights with the boys, playfully challenging them to wrestling matches. Our youngest, Ari (7), loves it and doesn’t even mind when she pins him on the rug. Jacob (10) thinks the whole thing is just not right.
“Mommy, you’re a girl,” he says. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
To which Wendy responds by tackling Jacob, who is quickly reduced to a giggling mess.
Our 13 year old, Benjamin, has had quite enough of wrestling Mommy. He gets plain embarrassed when she tangles with him, especially because all 5’ 2” of her is competitive enough to still toss him around some.
Speaking of competition, my wife loves to coach the boys in athletics. Over the years, she’s mentored our kids in tee ball and soccer in addition to running them ragged in backyard basketball (she sucks at that sport, but enjoys harassing them on defense).
When it comes to fixing garbage disposals and door hinges, Wendy is the handy one. Ari loves to work alongside her with his own tool set, taking apart drawers and old toys for fun, showing how his engineering aptitude clearly comes from Mom.
I admit that some of these more traditionally male contributions tread on my ego as a dad. I’ve done a share of the wrestling and coaching, but when Wendy jumps in on these things, I feel a little left out. I’ve done everything from warning my wife that she might get hurt during the wrestling to nitpicking her methods on the field. And the day I tangled endlessly with the clogged toilet, reading instructions online and going through an assortment of plungers and coat hangers before I was flushed with success, I made sure to crow proudly to my sons that, yes, Daddy is a manly man who won’t be daunted by plumbing.
Fortunately, Wendy is big enough to let me work out my insecurities and deftly move to other ways of bonding with our boys. Among other things, she’s occasionally put aside her Twilight novels and headed down the path usually reserved for characters on The Big Bang Theory as she’s delved into science-fiction books and movies. This allows her to talk about aliens, wizards, and post-apocalyptic theories with Benjamin. Even in this gender blurring era, there aren’t too many mothers who can converse about wormholes and inter-galactic war.
Eventually, though, Wendy always returns to her moments of wishing she could interact with other females around the house (the dog and hamster just don’t do the trick). Frankly, I sometimes feel the same when I think of the missed opportunity to play the protective dad to a daughter or two.
But Wendy has gotten what she has always been well-suited for – a bunch of boys with whom she can put to good use all those years growing up as a girl who fit in with the guys. It’s helped her move past the occasional sexism in the workplace and it’s made her as strong as she is sensitive in other facets of her life. As a result, our boys see their mom as an example of how role models can come from both sides of the gender line. It’s the reason why this Mother’s Day is full of as many mud pies and bruises as Bath and Body Works. Wendy wouldn’t want it any other way. I know I wouldn’t.