Little boys fascinate me. I mean really, truly fascinate me. They are fearless. Anything seems possible, and anything is worth trying. They are born with an implicit understanding that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. If it’s fun, let’s make it dangerous. Loud is good and big is better. And if you can turn something small and meaningless into something big and loud and powerful? Well, that is really the ultimate victory.
We’ve taken a lot away from them in our “sit still, behave, stay inside, talk nicely, inside voices, please don’t try that, what did I tell you, be safe” culture. I’m not saying this because I am ready to relinquish any of those things we’ve taken away, but I’m learning to live inside the truths of their gender, as I’m a single mom raising two young men.
I’ve been thinking of David, the man after God’s own heart. And when I imagine the fortitude, blind courage, fierce fearlessness, personal confidence, and total abandonment he needed to take on Goliath, to turn those small stones into something big and powerful, well, it makes the pretend warfare that’s happening in my basement come alive to me. Boys are fascinating. God made them that way.
In our home, the loft overlooks the living room. There is a high ledge where the first story opens up to the second. It wasn’t long before my brave son learned he could climb over the ledge and let his feet dangle 16 feet from the floor.
Now, the first time this happened, I responded firmly and with great emotion, helping him to understand how terrifying it was for me that if he fell from the ceiling he could break bones or even die, how our family is already too small and I do not wish for it to get any smaller. Strong words, but all true. I really thought the message hit home. I mean, why would he want to evoke that in me again?
But then, one evening as I finished the evening dishes, my mom was sitting in the living room reading a bedtime story to Tyler when she glanced up to the ceiling, only to see the bottom of Tucker’s feet. In his fearlessness, he had done it again. There he sat, carefully perched, and she faced the task of responding with urgency but certainly not panic that might alarm Tuck and cause him to lose his balance. She said very evenly, “Tricia, Tucker is over the ledge. He is sitting on the top with his feet over the side.”
Anxiety and fear try to tag along with me on a daily basis, and I work hard to keep them in their place. It was not a pretty night in our home, neither in words nor tone, as he attempted this for the second time. When I saw my son hanging over the side of the ledge, I didn’t think of all the characteristics that fascinate me about boys and their fierce fearlessness. No, I just wanted to get him down, safely, with both of his feet planted on the floor. I brought him down and I put him to bed, and wisdom whispered to me that those two objectives were enough for one night.
The next morning at breakfast, we revisited the event. I had to make sure he understood.
“Tuck, do you know why you got into so much trouble last night?”
“Yes, because I was being dangerous when I climbed over the wall, except it wasn’t dangerous for me because I didn’t feel afraid.”
“Afraid and danger are not the same thing, Tucker. You can be brave and still be in serious danger.”
In that moment, when I said those words to him, I realized them for the first time myself. Afraid and danger are not synonymous. My son felt safe because he felt brave; I have often felt unsafe because I felt scared. But they’re not the same thing.
I can think of many times in the first year after my husband died when I was afraid, terrified, shaking in terror all through the night, but there was really no danger at all. I can also think of many times in the last three decades of my life when I felt strong and confident, oblivious and unconcerned, although danger lurked closer than I imagined. They are not synonyms. They don’t always feel the same. Sometimes you just have to take somebody else’s word for it.
I’m working hard to raise men without one by my side. My brave boys are strong and courageous, wired with all the masculinity that will make them leaders in the world they call their own. Danger and Fear are two of our traveling companions for the road ahead—along with Compassion, Loyalty, Forgiveness, and Laughter. If we can somehow manage to tell them apart, let them each have a turn to speak, and know when to let bravery conquer danger, then we’re off to a good start.
But for now, everybody in this house had better stay off ledges and just get some sleep.