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A Foreign Country Called Boys
By Jessica Bram

You would think that someone who grew up with brothers would have a better idea of what boys were about. Certainly I loved my brothers, in that particular blend of love and tolerance that seems reserved for siblings. But although for years my two brothers and I shared meals and squeezed together in the back seat of the family Oldsmobile and watched cartoons in our pajamas on long, chilly Saturday- mornings, my brothers were always a mystery to me. Boys always seemed, quite simply, a separate species, inhabiting a world with vastly different climates and cultures that only by some great cosmic accident had ended up in the same household as my own.

Theirs was a world of strange smells and clammy palms and odd contraptions that I tripped over whenever I ventured into the fearful forbidden zone of their room. It was a room cluttered with oddities: misshapen, fat-fingered baseball gloves like relics from some ancient mummy's corpse, wrinkled tubes of airplane glue with missing caps, I-beams from erector sets which, if grabbed too quickly, could slice a palm with a ragged metal edge. It all seemed to belong to some strange, primitive civilization that I, like a white-gloved missionary, tiptoed about with repulsed fascination. How vastly different were my tidy rows of dolls with carefully combed hair, my pencil cups, my plastic tea sets, neatly stacked.

Then of course there was that particular male oddity which I would glimpse at those exuberant bath times when my brothers would feel the need to leap down the hallways like wild, naked pagans before succumbing to the civilizing rituals of soap and water. How, I wondered, could my brothers not be bothered by that strange assemblage of flesh between their legs? What use could there possibly be for so clearly annoying an anatomical arrangement? How much more compact was I, how much more neat and self-contained, like the tea sets on my shelf.

But nothing about my brothers seemed to set them so far apart from me as their wildness - that unexplainable force that would at times transform them into wild, whooping Indians, leaping on sofa cushions with curtain rod bows and arrows, careening from room to room like possessed dervishes, pouncing on whoever was in their path to end up in laughing, wrestling bundles on the floor. There seemed to be a unique physicality to boys, some uncontrollable drive that would grip them and fling them outdoors, coatless even in February, to return at day's end flushed and breathless. Boys seemed inexplicably linked, somehow, to nature -to white-water streams and restless, mangy bobcats - and could, like summer lightning, be set off at any time without warning. I cut a wide path.

What it came down to, I suppose, is that I was afraid. Afraid of their wildness, their sharp elbows and rough knees. Afraid of the stale-smelling turtle cages and the meal worms they fed to their lizard. And afraid, perhaps, of that strange pink flesh that was all the more ominous for its mystery.

So how curious, then, and how ironic, that I should have become the mother of sons. The simple surprise that out of my body came boys, with their unmistakable badges of maleness was, to me, astounding enough, and posed a dizzying conundrum. How could these bodies, which had frolicked inside the internal privacy of my own, whose small, wet lips had nursed at my breast, belong to that foreign species? True, I had bonded with my husband, but it had been a careful and uneasy truce, in which each of us recognized and saluted our own boundaries, while admittedly taking pleasure in our differences. But these male babies, these children, were different; for in the instinctive way of new mothers I felt that we had no boundaries. Even after their births I believed that we had remained somehow one and the same, part of a continuing organic whole. And yet they were boys, were they not? Clearly there were certainties that would have to be reconsidered.

I watch my sons grow and I marvel at the irrefutability of nature. How different from me they are, how male, I note, as I watch them romp like savages, as they engage in laughing combat. Admittedly this fills me, at times, with some trepidation, as it did long ago.

But what truly amazes me about having sons is this: how much boys can love their mother. My sons, without question, adore me. Their eyes light with a special joy when they spot me waiting for them after school; there is an extraordinary fierceness to their rough bedtime hugs. Despite their allegiance to their other-world of boy-ness, their passion for me knows no borders. My sons regard me not as alien, but as home base.

And likewise I, who sense my sons' hurts and fears as deeply as I do my own, have discovered a connection that I never once could have imagined feeling toward boys. It is this connection, along with an awesome, unquestioning love, that has allowed me, finally, to open the doors of my own human race to boys.

We recently had one of those mysterious February mornings after a long cold spell when the sun is unseasonably bright and the warm air releases the scent of pine and softening, damp earth. My sons, as if on cue, as if commanded by some divine power, went berserk, and were soon ripping cushions off sofas and wrestling on the floor. Quick, quick, I told them, laughing as I hurriedly zipped them into jackets and flung them outdoors, where they went careening like pent-up missiles to shriek and shout at the open sky. And I, who never raised an un-ladylike voice or dirtied an ironed dress, watched from a window, delighting in their boy-ness. Their shrieks, for this moment, were mine; their wildness was mine; and I shivered with pleasure at our momentary oneness with untamed nature, with damp, black earth and melting ice and deep pines rustling their secrets.

© Copyright 2003, Jessica Bram, All Rights Reserved.

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Document last modified on: 08/19/2003

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