Let Them Be Boys: How Raising Two Sons Is Teaching This Mom to Be Brave

“Before you take him to the hospital, make sure you take a picture of his injuries. You’ll be the hero and he’ll love the photos someday,” she told me. It’s valid advice, but her timing was a little off. The veteran mom spoke this advice over my 6-day-old newborn. We were just barely out of the hospital from his birth, and I wasn’t ready to even consider the possibility that we’d need to go back for an emergency of any kind. I certainly didn’t intend to be the kind of mom whose child would need to visit the ER ever. I was going to keep him nice and safe, cozy and warm, right next to me forever and for always. That was the plan.

My son broke his first bone the summer before he turned two years old, which coincidentally coincided with the birth of his little brother. So I had a second infant with a very vulnerable soft noggin on his still-forming newborn skull, coupled with a toddler in a cast from his fingertips to his shoulder for a break in his wrist. Why the giant cast for such a small break? Oh, because his little toddler mind found a way to take the cast off. Repeatedly. So a pediatric orthopedic surgeon had to be called in to wrap my Houdini toddler in a fiberglass situation that would hold his broken bones hostage until they could be whole again. That was the beginning, and we’ve kept the hospital in business for more than a decade now. His pediatrician actually renamed their trauma room after my son. You could say we’ve made some generous donations, so to speak.

It turns out, that stranger in the elevator was right. I should have taken more pictures. In part because he indeed loves the gore of medical mishaps gone by, but also because we’ve been to the Emergency Room so many times that I can no longer list all the reasons. This kid is speckled with scars, and they are indeed his victories.

As they have grown, my two sons’ preferences lean quite clearly toward activities for which I have no skill set, sports that scare me, and bodily functions that don’t leave me laughing. When their dad died before they were in kindergarten, I felt brokenhearted and especially displaced; how I could I raise men without one? How could I keep up with their antics when I didn’t have an ounce of testosterone on my side? In my journey to reinvent myself in the widowed life, I had to embrace a whole separate something: I had to start thinking like a boy. When you live in a frat house, sometimes you have to suck it up and get in the game. And that’s exactly what I did.

I still can’t catch a ball to save my life, but I’ve learned to hold my own in a game of MarioKart, I know the difference between a home run and a touchdown, I can tolerate some versions of poop jokes, and I even peed behind the car in a parking lot emergency at the circus. (If you ever get the chance to pee outside, I can pretty much guarantee you Serious Cool Mom Points, you guys.)

Most importantly, I can handle their bumps, bruises, and blood. It’s par for the course. They take a fall now, and I don’t even blink. But what would I rather raise: a child who is indeed safe and sound, takes no risks, and lives an uncheckered childhood, or a kid who lives big and loud and all-in, and who occasionally gets a new scar to show for his adventures? I choose B. I’ve learned some most important lessons: superheroes have scars, boys heal, the best moms are brave, and a boy can only fly as far as his mom’s courage. I will be brave because my boys have got to soar.