“Make sure you’re not too close to the couch.”
I shimmied my way over a few more inches.
“I hope you’re ready. It’s almost time.”
Eyes clenched. Belly muscles taut with anticipation.
Suddenly I’m buried beneath the weight of bed pillows, comforters, couch cushions, and Aunt Lucy’s afghan. The smell of mothballs wafting around me.
Giggles escaping and intensifying as the weight of my brother joined the party. “This is the comfiest bed I’ve ever laid on! I think I’ll stay here forever,” he’d exclaim as he wriggled and rolled until I was out of breath from my squeals of delight. Half-hearted protests, sprinkled with cries for “more” and “again” sounded through the house as we played this game for hours.
Every day I hear these same sounds pouring from various rooms of my house.
It’s the sound of brothers playing.
Until I hear the words that makes me pause.
“Nooooo! Stop! Get off!”
I wait with bated breath, then quickly out of my seat and ready to step into the room if it continues. Has someone gone too far? Is it no longer fun for everyone playing? And then the giggles break through once again. The ‘no’ replaced with excited ‘more’ and ‘again’ just like when I was a kid playing with my own brother. So I sit back down and continue working, waiting until the next time I might need to intervene.
30 years ago, was my mother waiting in the wings unbeknownst to me and my brother? Was she keeping vigil in the other room with the hope of preventing injury and potential squabbles? Was our physical safety her only concern? For me, the worry is more than physical when I hear my boys’ rough house and squabble.
“Teach your boys that ‘no’ means ‘no.’”
As the mother of boys I know this is a direct plea, a demand, to make sure that as my boys become men, they understand the strength and responsibility that lay in their hands. As the mother of boys, I am a general in the war against violence toward women.
In my head I go over the countless lessons we’ve had about permission and boundaries and personal space. The emphatic way I’ve explained that you must mean what you say and say what you mean. The repetitive discussions making it clear that ‘no’ is not a request. It is not an option, or a maybe, or a kind of. But are they truly learning the value of my words? Or are these lessons going in one ear and out the other, like teeth brushing and how to make their beds? Have I done enough, explained enough?
The answer is yes. In the hundreds of lessons we’ve had over the years and the oceans of lessons still to come, I teach them. And they are learning- the way young boys do. Which means they do not fully understand the power of their words just yet. Just as little girls don’t always understand the meaning of “I hate you” or “I don’t want to be your friend” or “You can’t sit with us.” Because children live in the now, ‘no’ means ‘no’ at the moment. But, seconds later, when their brother double-bounces them on the trampoline until their teeth chatter or steam rolls them until they are breathless, their ‘no’ might transition into a ‘one more time’ or a ‘now it’s my turn’ as they once again get caught up in the fun.
But as I’ve watched them interact with other kids in my home and others’, on playgrounds and even in the classroom, I’ve heard them apologize, step back, change direction.
They have proven that so far, they understand ‘no’ when it matters most.
That’s just my normal.