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Raising boys: The awesome and exhausting responsibility of shaping the next generation of men

  • “Raising three boys means choosing my battles so they can feel like they're winning sometimes, and I can conserve my energy for more important things.” says Gottschalk-Scher, with (from left) Azure, 3, Ember, 5, and Onyx, 7. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • “It may appear that there's too much ‘letting boys be boys’ happening in my wild family. In reality, the work of raising the next generation of well-adjusted, respectful, kind men is happening in brief, important moments amidst the chaos,” says Gottschalk-Scher. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • On the first day of school, the boys hoped to “make a ton of new friends,” and were nervous that they “might not make any new friends.” Their mother later wrote on Facebook that she was “At the Y trying to decide if I’m going to work out or sit outside the class and cry for 45 minutes. #backtoschool #transitionssuck.” Lauren Gottschalk-Scher

  • Lauren Gottschalk-Scher spends time with sons Azure, 3, Ember, 5, and Onyx, 7, at their home in Florence, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lauren Gottschalk-Scher spends time with sons Ember, 5, Azure, 3, and Onyx, 7, at their home in Florence, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lauren Gottschalk-Scher spends time with sons Azure, 3, Ember, 5, and Onyx, 7, at their home in Florence, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • “My boys need a certain amount of physical activity in order to behave,” says Lauren Gottschalk-Scher, with son, Ember, 5. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lauren Gottschalk-Scher tries to coax sons Azure, 3, and Ember, 5, to get off her car at their home in Florence, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. The family's dog, Jalapeno, looks on. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lauren Gottschalk-Scher tries to coax sons Azure, 3, and Ember, 5, to get off her car at their home in Florence, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



Friday, October 12, 2018

On a sweltering August afternoon, a woman strolls down the dirt path leading to the U-Pick tomatoes at Mountain View Farm in Easthampton, mentally planning her dinner and savoring the final days of summer. Suddenly, the sound of shrieking pierces the air. Startled, she sees a five-year-old boy running in circles, waving his arms and screaming, apparently just to hear his own voice. Then she steps around a lone toddler playing in the dirt. Out of nowhere, a seven-year-old boy runs toward her and throws a huge clump of dirt directly into the toddler's face at point blank range. A shocked gasp escapes the concerned woman's mouth as she desperately looks around for the guardian of these ill-kempt children. She sees another woman waving to her from a row of oregano a few yards away. The toddler is wailing. The five-year-old is still running and screaming. The seven-year-old is now chasing the five-year-old. The woman's head continues to swivel around, searching, as concern turns to panic. The stranger by the oregano yells to her, “I'm right here.” The panicked woman looks puzzled. Then the stranger calmly states, “I'm their mother.”

“He just threw dirt in his face,” the concerned woman yells.

“I know. He deserved it,” their mother replies, and bends down to continue picking oregano. The concerned woman gasps and exhales indignantly, looking around for someone to do something for these poor children. Eventually, she stomps away.

My name is Lauren, and I am the woman from that story. No, not the concerned woman looking for help. I'm the exhausted mother of those three feral boys. This essay is one part explanation of what it is like to raise three young boys under the age of 8, and one part public apology.

That day, I had already been at the farm for three hours picking our vegetables for the week and wrangling my sons: Onyx,7, Ember, 5, and Azure, 3. Pick a bean, catch Azure. Pick a bean, check on Ember, who is trampling the crops. Pick a bean, go on a quest to find two missing boys while carrying the third. Pick a bean, tell them I'm done chasing them. Pick the rest of the beans, realize Azure is alone all the way across the farm.

Then it was on to cherry tomatoes. I chose a spot at the end of the row so my boys could pee in the trees. They really love the PortaPotty on the farm, but I really don't love standing there, breathing the heavy PortaPotty air for 40 minutes while they fight about whose turn is next, whether or not the door is locked, and loudly debate whether the person inside is actually pooping or just hanging out because they love the PortaPotty so much. Our cherry tomato spot is also prime “dirt bomb” territory. The kids love to pick up clumps of dirt and throw them into the woods, which buys me three precious minutes. Azure started throwing dirt bombs at Onyx. I told him to stop sixteen times. Just as I finally start picking oregano, the last stop before home, Onyx decided he’d had enough and threw a dirt bomb back at Azure. Obviously I don't think it's the right thing to do, but in all honesty, I do think he kind of deserved it. Then an overly concerned lady, who most likely has never raised boys, freaks out and thinks I'm a bad mother.

By the time I got to the oregano, I was worn out. “Let's leave now before someone calls the police about child abuse and neglect,” I snarl to my children through gritted teeth. I throw my bag full of produce over my shoulder. I scoop up Azure, who is crying, in my left arm. I grab Ember, who is still screaming and flailing, around the waist. I begin the long trek back to the car carrying them both. “Onyx, NOW,” I yell over my shoulder, praying that he's following me, because I'm out of hands and people call the police on parents who leave their children locked in the hot car while they run back to catch their other child. Every time we pass someone, I strategically yell, “I'm holding you because you won't stop running away from me. I'm your mother, and it's my job to keep you safe.”

In all honesty, today wasn't really that bad. It was just another day with my boys.

As a young adult studying gender and psychology at Hampshire College, I thought I knew everything about raising children free from society's harmful gender norms and expectations. As an exhausted mother of three loud, hyperactive, impulsive boys, I often wonder if I know anything about raising kids. But I'm now 100% sure that nature, not just nurture, plays a significant role in how all children behave, regardless of gender. My boys, for example, have ADHD, which is something in their biological makeup that I have to work with as a parent.

I'll never forget what another mom of three boys told me when I nervously told her I was expecting my third boy. “Three boys,” she said, laughing a little. “It's a lifestyle.”

Raising three young boys is arriving to school early so they can run laps around the playground before going into class. It's filling afternoons with activities in a futile attempt to exhaust their boundless energy. It's working out solely because I need to stay strong enough to carry at least two of them at a time and be fast enough to catch each of them when they decide to run in three separate directions. It's being “that family” at the YMCA — the yelling, running, crying, bleeding family who's always there.

My boys, and many little boys, need a certain amount of physical activity in order to behave. But once that need is met, they go to child watch, and here’s what you’ll see: Onyx welcomes the new, nervous child, showing her all of his favorite spots in the Amaze Place. Ember helps the younger children with a puzzle, excitedly encouraging them to keep trying. Azure pats a crying baby's back, and brings a book over for them to enjoy together. They are eager to see the needs of others and help in any way they can.

Raising three boys means anticipating their antics to try to stay one step ahead. Azure's only goal in life is to run into the street, so I have to make sure I'm always within catching distance. It means choosing my battles so they can feel like they're winning sometimes, and I can conserve my energy for more important things. I may stop them from climbing something unsafe, but I'll often let them climb onto the roof of my van before getting into their car seats. In public, I may have to intervene before something sets off one or more of my sons and sends them into an uncontrollable tantrum that brings the whole family spiraling down. At home, however, I allow my boys to experience the full intensity of their disappointment, fear, sadness, anger, or failure. They may cry hysterically while I hold them. They may scream things like, “I hate you,” or “I'm going to twist your butt off until you can't poop anymore!” We name their feelings, brainstorm ways to overcome the challenges, and practice empathy. They learn that it's ok to feel the whole range of emotions and that I will accept and support them through it. We work on sincere apologies, including recognizing what we did wrong, acknowledging how it made the other person feel, and how we can do better in the future.

Raising three young sons is rethinking my definition of “safe.” It's letting them ride their bikes downhill or climb and jump off of things I know other parents will judge me for. It's gentle questions or warnings that make them stop and think before acting, but ultimately give them the power to decide what is right for themselves. It's teaching them to recognize the feeling in the pit of your stomach that warns you that something's not right. It's watching them learn to set their own limits as their self-confidence grows.

Raising three young boys is throwing poop-themed birthday parties, comparing the size of boogers, and hearing constant talk about their penises. But it's also having open, honest, and positive discussions about all body parts without shame or embarrassment. Raising three young boys may come with a complete lack of privacy when I'm trying to shower or use the bathroom, but it also comes with the responsibility of raising the next generation of men who know about periods, have realistic expectations of bodies, and who respect all bodies.

They love to play rough, but they’re also so very affectionate — even in front of their friends. Sometimes I wonder if my son's classmates are making fun of him for kissing me, but I accept the kisses whenever and wherever he wants to give them. It's encouraging my children to continue freely displaying affection while also teaching them that not everyone wants to be hugged or kissed. It's teaching them that no means no — that they're allowed to say no and that other people are allowed to say no, too. It’s letting them play freely while actively watching for and pointing out body language and signs that friends may not like what is happening. “Look at his face. Does it look like he's enjoying this?” “She's backing away from you. That means stop.” It's teaching my boys that there are many ways to say no. That people make their own decisions about their bodies and we must all respect them.

Raising three young boys is embracing and learning to thrive in chaos. It's rethinking everything I thought I knew about “good” parenting and “good” kids. It's a lot of “doing my best,” a lot of failing, and a lot of public embarrassment. It has taught me that there is always more to the story in situations that make us quick to judge parents, children or families. At a glance, it may appear that there's too much “letting boys be boys” happening in my wild family. In reality, the work of raising the next generation of well-adjusted, respectful, kind men is happening. It’s happening in brief, important moments amidst the chaos that surrounds me and my three young boys.

The other day, Onyx ran into a friend and said “Can I give you a hug?” The friend said no. Onyx said, “Ok! How about a high five?” They happily high fived. They get it. Kids get it. And I felt proud.

Lauren Gottschalk-Scher is the designer of Vida Leche Amor, a collection of breastfeeding tops and dresses, and also works as a seamstress.