Some of you more than others have heard me comment on or discuss my love of boys. I purposefully use 'boys' instead of 'guys,' 'young men,' or any other term indicative of slightly grown male humans. Why? Because I have come to recognize that I only truly, honestly, and freely relate to the older members of the opposite sex through the little child inside of each one.
Since my early childhood, a large tender spot in a corner of my heart has belonged to boys. They creep in in a way girls don't. I sympathize with girls, but with them I normally share but a mutual understanding (except the closest friends). The boys, on the other hand, awaken a warmth of boisterious camraderie unlike feminine fellowship. It is a warmth hard to describe - especially to young women who do not share the attitude. It is feeling motherly without smothering, less of a female friend than a sister, yet not so much a sister as a young aunt or adolescent grandmother.
One of the most healing aspects of my time at Augustine College has been (what I think of as) regaining "my boys." You see - and there is a post of greater depth in the works on this topic - my boys were my life between kindergarten and fourth grade. I made friends (sometimes rather artificially) with girls because it was 'proper,' but the little men were my comrades and I doted on them even as I darted with them through recess games of freeze tag, kick the can, and eventually soccer.
One of my most cherished memories, fixed in my mind forever, is a scene of crouching inconspicuously to avoid "It" atop the wooden platform whence met slides, swings, tire bridges (and all manner of fun objects of bounce) evesdropping the conversation of two boyish classmates directly beneath me. They had just paused from the chase in a game of tag.
"You know, Sarah's as good as any boy. You wouldn't know she was a girl," commented Ronald. Zachary (oh, how I always giggled inwardly with delight when eluding him) nodded and agreed. From then on, I never felt the least bit of uncertainty about joining my little male peers in games and pursuits - on the contrary, I felt as though I had earned a place among them. They were mine - not by virtue of me owning them or having power over them, but they had taken me up among themselves and just as I gave myself to them, they gave themself to me in a way I never saw them interact with my girlish classmates.
But then, I began homeschooling. The first year of homeschooling, I was fairly cut off from "my boys." My dearest cousin David (the best friend of my earliest childhood) was off in far lands. My classmates had been shed for siblings. Our family had not joined a homeschool co-op yet and I was not impressed with the majority of my church peers (in addition, I had quit Sunday School, opting for Adult Bible Class with Mom and Dad). Basically, the only boyish interaction left open to me was in the realm of 4H. But I was new to 4H and friends there came slowly. (Grandpa can attest to my tears both with the goat and with my shyness in the first year or so of Goat Club.) Eventually, as I became familiar with the members and came into my own in Caprine knowledge and skill, camraderie grew to the point that I actually point out my experience in 4H Goat Club as one of the greatest blessings of fellowship with hardworking youth (male and female) of my life. "My boys" are in 4H too, but it took some time to get to know them.
Before I could fully grow into comfortable 4H relationships, something else happened which proved a turning point in my social life. My male peers suddenly turned skittish. The boys I had known in church, in school, even my returned cousins, started treating girls as something to be avoided. The fact that I wanted to share their fun didn't help things. Girls were uncool. No longer was I "as good as any boy." Rejection hurt. "My boys" were turning themselves into "those boys." Alternatives slim, I turned more fully to the girls I once disdained. God blessed me with a core group of Christian girl friends with whom I shared laughter, tears, earth, work, play, and hours of discussion. To be sure, we discussed boys. We were, after all, pre and adolescent females and we were curious about the strange behavior of the opposite sex. Together, we grew into adolescence, learning and discussing our lives, futures, hopes, dreams, fears, problems, and particularly our roles as Christians and as women.
And as I grew into adolescent understanding, I began to tentatively venture into interaction with boys again, but not in the previous sense. Oh, to be sure I would most always take the younger guys into the "my boys" tender spot of my heart, but I was very, very careful to hold males of my age and older purposefully at arms length. You see, my friends and I had marked the fashion in which many girls of our age flung themselves at the boys for attention. I was determined neither to lower myself nor the boys in such a manner. Though boys had become incomprehensible, I respected them and wished them to respect me. Because I loved them, I tiptoed around them very, very cautiously. In retrospect, I doubt they even noticed my silent token of respect.
Girl though I was, Woman I was becoming, and as Girl-becoming-Woman my heart developed another niche for the young male. It crept on quite unawares and proved to be a more painful, if sharper and more passionate throne. I was unsure how to treat it and unlike the "my boys" tenderness which expanded and drew all in with warm glow, the "laddie throne" could fit only one at a time. It caught me quite unawares and naive to it's rolling surge. Convinced that the emotion was untimely, I simply bottled it, recounted it to my trusted group of girl friends, and waited. Any action on my part, I deemed, would be improper. Besides, I was young, I could afford to let Time run its course and work its changes.
Needless to say, (or perhaps needful) most interactions with guys older than I proved rather stilted, simply because I wanted to leave the lad without any ambiguouties about the pure friendliness of the exchange. Gradually, I learned to relax - especially as I grew to know each individual better. Free and light teasing came back to a certain extent. But whenever another girl by action or word seemed to insinuate that another dimension might be added to relationships, I tensed up completely, sometimes even withdrawing from conversation with any guys involved. Not wishing to step on toes, I stepped off the dance floor completely.
This left me two possible sources of guilt-free, comfortable masculine interaction: lads younger than I and peers without aspiring girls or audiences of romance-plotting adults. If you as a male of my age had a girl friend, any indication of one, or an overly enthusiastic parent I wouldn't talk to you much. This left me feeling quite frustrated to put it rather mildly. I felt all tied up - bound and gagged as it were. Or in more extreme language, like I was walking a tightrope with a gun to my head: one false move and toast would I be.
But I did not need to live this way. I can see it now. Many wise people whom I highly esteem had advised me in the same vein, but I did not understand what they meant. My problem was not in the interactions themselves, but in my mode of engagement. I had by default treated every lad of peer age in respect to the "laddie throne" instead of in terms of "my boys." I was terrified of public opinion because I was certain all would regard me very poorly if I did not build a solid, if unwonted and unwanted, hedge between me and the lad in question. Alas! I tend to lay more weight on what others think of me than I ought.
The Augustine boys have restored me to my elementary school mindset. They have become "my boys." Perhaps the fact that three of them have girlfriends already yet still sought camraderie prompted me to open up to them. They are all like brothers to me here. They treat me not as a boy, but as a girl - but a girl who is a friend in the best sense of the word. And they've squirmed their little boy way into my tender regard. In that warm corner, I see "my boys" not as strange incomprehensible males, but as little laddies. They're all still so much the small boy with the big eyes, the sensitive little heart so easily crushed, the silly rashness, the funny sayings, the undeserved admiration and comical but charming generosity.
I tease them - sometimes to the point where I am ashamed of myself and afraid that I have perhaps wounded them more than they would care to admit. I make them food. I laugh with them and at their antics. I make them food just to see the happy hungry look in their puppy eyes. If they ask me to do something, I usually go along with it. They're my little Frederick and Justinian in 18 year old bodies - how could I say no?
In return, they have given me such affection to fill the tender spot in my heart to overflowing, bubbling up and over. Especially in the last few days I've been blessed to experience the fruits of boyish love. A day or so ago, I was vested with Slapping Authority. It went something like this. I and the boys were lingering in the kitchen making small talk and snacking after class. Somewhere in the conversation someone made a crude remark. "Quiet! There's a lady present." admonished one of them, a trifle ironically. "Hasn't stopped you so far," I observed a bit sarcastically. There was a quarter moment of silence before one of them broke forth with a wonderful new idea. Over the course of the next day, whenever I heard any sort of profanity, I was to calmly rise, walk over to the offender and slap him across the cheek with equal equanimity, then sit back down. We made it a deal. As they prepared to walk out the door, J. turned back. (I paraphrase)
"You know, Sarah, I like how you keep us accountable. You're kinda like a...a little... I want to say sister but more like a mother. But that wouldn't sound right - a little mother." We all laughed.
But reflecting on the term put me exactly in mind of what is different about the "my boys" attitude. I had heard the words "little mother" before, many times. Like many great illustrations of love, I encountered it in Emmuska Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel.
"Listen to the tale, Sir Percy," she said, and her voice now was low, sweet, infinitely tender. "Armand was all in all to me! We had no parents, and brought one another up. He was my little father, and I, his tiny mother: we loved one another so. Then one day -- do you mind me, Sir Percy? The Marquis de St. Cyr had my brother thrashed - thrashed by his lacqueys -- that brother whom I loved better than all the world! ... Oh, how I suffered! his humiliation had eaten into my very soul! When the opportunity occurred and I was able to take my revenge, I took it... When I realized what I had done, it was too late."
Now, I am most certainly not saying that the motherly/sisterly love I have for boys is as passionate as Marguerite's for Armand or that it takes revenge for them, but there is a certain relevance in the love of these siblings to that of which I here speak. The little boys in grownup bodies are neither my little brothers, nor like big brothers, nor like unattached men. It is a different relationship all together. Perhaps they are more like little uncles than little fathers, but that is beside the point. Whether I am truly like a "little mother" to them or not, we do love one another and I am not ashamed to admit it. God help me never to be ashamed of loving my fellow man (or woman) again! When they are glad, their gladness makes me glad - glad that they are glad and glad in their gladness. When they sorrow, I feel grief for them even if I know not why they are grumpy or even if they have a right to be grumpy. When they pull an all nighter - I feel a tad guilty going to sleep knowing that "my boys" are working into the night. When they fall asleep in class, the tiredness catches at me too. When they climb buildings, sing silly songs, talk about dogma and whatever they joy in, I laugh inside (and often out loud) not in derision but for the sheer passionate energy they put into what they do - even into being sluggish.
God has granted me to once more know and love my brothers as I have learned to know and love my sisters. It is a blessing in estimable to me.
And their kindness overwhelms me at times: like today. I was having a rather icky day. I was out of sorts, worn out and just feeling at the end of my last bit of energy. (Ha! that is why I am still typing at 4:27 am!) After Literature class, I sat down on the stairs too ambivalent to continue either up or down. In my own fashion at such times, I started randomly commenting on my emotional state to myself and the general audience in a sporadic flow of consciousness fashion. K. came over and patted me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to pray. That kindness pretty much broke the dam: I broke out weeping. It felt so very good to weep. I managed to politely escape to my room to gasp out the deep sobs for about five minutes and then everything was "all better." Between Scriptures and Chapel, I curled up in a big armchair to take a nap with a blanket. The next thing I knew, J. had come over and tucked the blanket in around me. I couldn't help but smile. Little boys have surprisingly good aiding instincts even if they do follow them awkwardly at times. (Girls, we must commend them for too often we do not even have the instinct to help and we avoid awkwardness by not acting when we do.)
One more thing and then I must sleep. This looking at young men through the little boy inside of them has really changed the whole way I watch movies too. The girls and I watched the 2 hr Pride and Predjudice tonight. I winced for Darcy almost every time Elizabeth spoke to him. Granted he was proud, granted he was disdainful: he was still a little boy inside, struggling desperately to figure out what to do with his great big manly frame and words. She was witty, well in command of her body - if not of her heart completely - utterly intimidating. We might converse with one another with greater understanding, causing less pain, if we recognized and held dear the tiny trembling child inside each of us.
4:43am Ha! Sleep.... Blah. Glad Classes were canceled tomorrow.