I could expound for hours on what I believe are the differences between boys and girls. I understand I don't have a daughter of my own, so this may seem unfair, but I'm a girl myself (for one thing) and I'm about as close to my nieces as anyone can get (for another). So while I admit I don't know it all, I do know a little.
Instead, I'd like to just focus on one particular thing. That when little boys cry, it completely breaks me.
I remember feeling this way--overwhelmingly--in elementary school. There was always that one kid--you know the one--who held things up for the rest of the class. It might have changed from year to year. Let me see...there was Mark (he wore brown pants every day), Jack (who had an eye patch like a pirate), Mark (who still wore brown pants two years later), Jason (who stuffed a note from the teacher to the principal in a radiator and totally got in double trouble for potentially causing a fire hazard). But about once a year, it happened that that kid cried. In front of everybody. Blotchy face, snot, bangs pushed up from a sweaty forehead. I think this is hugely indicative of larger issues for these boys, but again, that isn't my point here. My point is (like always) what happened to ME in those moments.
I'm not sure why exactly it broke my heart every time. Perhaps it was the complete unexpectedness of it all, that this boy was absolutely the last person on earth I would expect to feel so helpless in any moment that he had to cry. It might have been that I was raised in a family where girls cried and boys just didn't, or that literature and the media perpetuated that stereotype. For whatever reason, seeing a boy cry made my heart clench and my stomach drop and made me want to do the unthinkable: get up out of my assigned seat in the middle of everything and offer comfort to a person I would normally steer clear of entirely.
It follows then that when my sons cry, it's all over. This is something that really irks my husband, I know, because a lot of times they are crying for valid reasons. As in, they did something pretty bad and deserve to be crying a bit.
I will say I've become a bit impervious to Joey. He's incredibly sensitive, so he cries far more often than really anyone I've ever met. He doesn't cry at school, which is a relief, because he must recognize the weirdness that could cause in front of his friends. (I asked him once and he was totally appalled. He said, "Ugh, Mom, no WAY.") But apparently, I'm a "safe" person, as is anyone else in our extended family. And Joey doesn't cry--he wails. It's like his jaw is on a hinge, and he just flips his head back, his mouth gaping open, and at first nothing comes out. He holds his breath, building up the big loud cry. And then it comes out, long and strong and embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone but Joey, who's too involved with his episode to notice.
There are some times, though, when I'm not unmoved by his pain. That's when I know he truly feels broken and I can't do a thing about it. Like the first time he watch Charlotte's Web, or when we were in Disney World and he thought he couldn't participate in the Star Wars Padawan training. I'll never forget that one. Joey wasn't the kid in Disney having meltdowns or acting spoiled. He was the happy-go-lucky kid who said cheerfully, "Okay!" to pretty much everything we said, from "Let's try that ride out,
to "Oops. Guess that ride is closed this week." So when Joe and I were discussing that maybe we'd missed our chance for Padawan training, we were shocked when we notice Joey's head hanging down and him desperately fighting off The Wail. After that, I would have taken out any kid who got in our way. Joey WOULD be trained as a Jedi. And he was.
Noah, on the other hand, continues to be my proof that it doesn't matter if you have the same parents and upbringining: you can be totally different than your sibling. Noah is pretty tough. When he falls off his bike, rolls across the blacktop, and skins both knees, he grunts, lifts himself off the ground, and gives a wave. "I'm okay!" is his mantra. To my great confusion, he didn't spend nights crying as a baby. He spent them playing--so much so that I decided he must see ghosts and be talking with them. I remember talking to the pediatrician about this when he was almost a year old. "Why do you keep going in?" she asked. I was baffled. "I don't know," I said. "Because he's not sleeping." Her response, "Stop. You'll know when he needs you."
And that is why it breaks my heart when Noah cries. It's always so unexpected. Although, I have to say, it usually happens when he knows he's done something bad. Like yesterday. He was mad at me about something (not unusual), so he jabbed me in the ribs with his pointy little elbow. I'm not kidding--he meant to do it! What a little jerk. So I said, "Ouch! Noah, it is NOT nice to do that to ANYBODY, but definitely not your mother. I don't want to be around you if you act like that." WHOA. That was the IT thing to say, if I wanted him to "get" my point. He stood up, shocked, and his face contorted slowly into a pained, I'm-going-to-cry expression. His eyes got all scrunched and his mouth became an almost cartoonish frown, his chin jutting out beneath it, and then these crocodile tears began to tumble from his eyes, rolling over his cheeks and onto his t-shirt. He SO deserved to be in trouble--he elbowed my ribs on purpose! But I knew I'd hurt his feelings, and he looked so devastated I felt a crumbling all around my heart. I had caused this tough, tough, mommy hitter to feel heart-broken. Joey, too, felt I'd crossed some sort of mommy line, and he was instantly at his brother's side, rubbing his back. But he was stronger than I would have been if I'd allowed myself to speak (something I've learned not to do when I know the child was truly out of line). Joey said, "Well, you can't hurt our mother, Noah. You just can't. But we do love you. We just want you to be good." I couldn't have handled this better, and found myself thanking God that Joey is as sensitive as he is. Who would have thought he'd be the voice of reason when I couldn't be?
I don't really think it's bad that they cry. I don't want them to be...you know, sissies--and be real, here. You know what I mean. But I do want them to feel comfortable...feeling. Isn't everyone entitled to that? They can be manly in lots of other ways, but sometimes, especially when you're little, crying is okay no matter who you are.
Still, I suppose this is all just another reason I'm not meant to have a daughter. If I can't handle the drama boys bring, what on earth would I do with a girl? Sure, you might tell me, "Not all girls are dramatic, Mary Pat," but seriously, the odds aren't in her favor. Have you met me??