The boys in my world these days—not just the ones I raise, but the ones who spend time with my sons—are tender. They are ages three and four and five and nine and ten. They bring stuffed pigs to sleepovers and hold them close. They cry when they learn that their old dog may only have a few months left to live. When they find a fallen baby bird, they suggest we bury it.
The boys in my world still want company as they fall asleep at night. They want a warm body next to them, breathing in the dark.
The boys in my world these days are wild. They rip off their shirts and twirl them in circles before tossing them in the air and running through the yard. They will pee anywhere: off the front porch, in the grass, on the driveway. They also linger in a warm shower, and enjoy pajamas fresh from the dryer.
The boys in my world these days play well with the girls in their world, though they sometimes have trouble admitting this. Already the outside world has taught them to see each other as separate. But this doesn’t stop them from playing dead man on the trampoline, or climbing trees together, or riding skateboards down the driveway. They may pretend not to understand each other, but they do.
The boys in my world have barely any inkling about romantic love or sex, even though it seems our culture often treats them like they should. At the fair last week, one of the children’s rides featured a mural with ridiculously buxom women bursting out of their corsets. When I pointed this out to my nine-year-old, he looked at me quizzically and shrugged. He hadn’t noticed or cared.
The boys in my world are rough with each other. Sometimes they wrestle for fun. Sometimes they hug so hard it hurts. Sometimes, in passing, they punch each other to make a point. Sometimes they battle and scream, and as consequence I separate them. They don’t want to be apart.
The boys in my world are emotional. One doesn’t like to say goodbye in the morning when it’s time for school. Another still remembers friends who he only knew for half a year in kindergarten. He wonders where they are now, and if he’ll ever see him again.
The boys in my world don’t know how lucky they are. They are fed and sheltered and loved without interruption. Their realm of worry is limited to things like monsters and earthquakes and attack dogs, and also things like too much homework and who’s best friends with whom. I want them to understand their luck, to care about the world and the many many ways it’s broken, but when I try to explain its brokenness, they can barely comprehend. That a family would flee a war, that a child would be torn from his parents and sleep every night alone—these are things that sound more imaginary than monsters, more remote than earthquakes. They look at me as if I’m recounting the plot of a very terrible story.
The boys in my world are tender and need tenderness. They drink it like plants drink water.