The Mother-Son Relationship I Never Knew I Wanted

I am one of four daughters born to a mother who is the middle of three daughters. Needless to say, I grew up surrounded by women. It’s almost enough to lead one (with very little knowledge of how these things work) to believe that our family just doesn’t make boys.

This was fine by me. When I saw two lines appear on that home pregnancy test five years ago my head was instantly filled with thoughts of future shopping trips, pedicures together, and braiding hair. I perused only one side of the children’s clothing store. I selected bedding in pinks and purples.

“What if it’s a boy?” My husband asked.

“It’s not. It can’t be.” I assured him.

Thank goodness for the enormous pregnant belly. My jaw didn’t have as far to drop when the doctor let us know that we were expecting a baby boy. It wasn’t disappointment I felt in that moment. It was fear. I could fill a library with the knowledge and experience I had on interacting and building relationships with girls (or so I thought), but what I knew about little boys wouldn’t fill a page.

An old Irish saying played over and over in my mind. “A son is a son ’til he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for life.” Our relationship had a finite end before I had even laid eyes on him, it seemed. The only experience I had with mother-son relationships was that of my husband and my mother in law. They spoke twice a month and saw each other even less. I cried all the way home from the ultrasound.

After a few minutes with my sobs as the only sound in the car my husband finally spoke. “Are you crying because you didn’t want a boy?”

“No!” I choked out. “I’m crying because he’s going to go off to college and never call me again!”

“You are crying because you’re worried that our son, the son who is currently a fetus, isn’t going to return your phone calls eighteen years from now?”

Pregnancy is one of those times in life when you are allowed to emote about something two decades in advance. My husband knew this and instead of arguing he just placed his hand over mine and let me cry it out.

My son will be five next month. We play with action figures in place of my little ponies. We have intense debates about which super hero is the best instead of choosing our favorite Disney princess and, occasionally, he asks me to hold out my hand and then puts something alive and squirming into it. He is all boy, but in many ways we have more in common and are more alike than my daughter who we welcomed a couple of years after Anders.

Once I got past the fear of the unknown that came with raising a boy, I realized that the difference in our gender did not define our relationship. Furthermore, ours was the first relationship he would have with a woman and would set the stage for the rest of his life, it would shape how he would treat his wife and female colleagues. I wasn’t just mothering a little boy. I was creating a man.

I still worry sometimes about how our bond will weather those tumultuous teenage years and what shape it will take as he enters adulthood, but I think those are worries a mother faces with a child of either sex. I also have a little more sympathy for my mother in law. Which reminds me, I need to nag my husband to call her…

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