I heartily approve of a kid who goes to play outside and comes back thoroughly filthy. Every boy (or girl who’s so inclined) should wade in ditches to catch polliwogs and climb trees and wander the woods investigating everything or play with pill bugs in the dirt. They should have sword fights with sticks and play kick ball in the street and ride their bike until they’re thoroughly sweaty, tired, and grimy. Getting dirty is a necessary consequence of having quality kid fun. So you’ll know I’m not talking about dirt when I say, boys are gross.
I don’t think boys necessarily corner the market on being gross. I’m sure some girls are gross too, and I completely support a girl’s right to be gross. No gender stereotyping here. But we’re raising sons, and I have come to believe that they have a genetic inclination to some of the things I’m about to describe.
So after a lifetime spent observing and gathering data – as a sister, a friend, and mostly, as a parent to boys – I think my conclusions are sound. Boys are gross and I have years of field observations and anecdotal evidence to support it. Here are a few simple assertions I have found to be true when it comes to boys:
1. Farts are funny. – From the time he was very young, before he went to school, when I spent almost every minute with him and knew exactly what books had been read to him and what TV shows and movies he had watched, even then, before any outside factor had a chance to influence him, our middle son thought almost any bodily expulsion of gas was hilarious. He couldn’t burp or break wind without bursting into giggles. If someone else did it, he laughed even harder. And if someone else could do it on command, like his big brother, he just completely lost it. He was five then. He’s sixteen now and still giggles when he farts.
2. Table manners are unnatural. – Our boys eat like barbarians. Sometimes I think I should just give them all turkey legs and let a pack of hunting dogs lounge under the table to eat the bones they throw down. The youngest, who is 14 now, still prefers his hands to a fork or spoon. Our middle son still can’t remember to chew with his mouth closed or to avoid talking while his mouth is full. And the oldest, at 24, eats like someone is going to take his plate away at any moment.
The conversation is even worse and often involves the youngest trying to gross out his big brothers and the middle boy pretending to throw up in his mouth (which he learned from his older brother and they all think is just hilarious). I take what comfort I can in knowing that one day, when they have children and/or pets of their own, they’re going to spend more time than they ever imagined cleaning up vomit, and this little bit of dinnertime karma is going to come back on them.
3. There are no trees in the bathroom. – Until 3 years ago, we lived in house with one bathroom. One. It’s the source of unending delight to me that our current house has 2 and a half baths and I don’t have to share with the boys anymore. But the bathrooms they do use are still a problem, and I have invested considerable time in trying to convince our sons that the toilet is not a tree and requires a little more finesse in terms of aim. I beg, I plead, I threaten. If they invested just a little more time and attention, I implore, then life would be ever so much more pleasant for all of us. Much to my dismay, many of my friends who are married to men assure me that this often remains an issue well into adulthood.
4. Tidy bedroom is an oxymoron. – When the oldest still lived with us, his room was a mulch pile of dirty clothes, wet towels, and organic remains of snacks. Banana peels and empty Mountain Dew cans were prominent. I once found a pile of a broken glass under a layer of clothes next to his nightstand. A large irregular area of the hardwood floor around it had been dyed a powdery Kool-Aid red. Our second son has proudly followed in his footsteps. We make him clean it thoroughly once a week, but through the action of a mysterious and spontaneous natural process (i.e. our son), it returns to its original disheveled state with remarkable speed.
So while concepts like “restraint” and “tidy” and “etiquette” are not a natural part of our boys’ philosophies, we are determined to teach them. One day, we hope, they will each be the kind of housemate a future wife or partner will be happy to share a home with. When all the wives are sitting around trading horror stories about their husbands’ habits, I want ours to be the ones that make all the other men look bad. It’s worth a shot, anyway.