I’m a mother to sons, I only have nephews, and when my sons were growing up, even the dogs were boys, so I get boys. Boys are literal, there is no use trying to be tactful and don’t bother suggesting anything, they do not hear suggestions – a suggestion leaves too much open to interpretation.
As an example, with a 9-year-old girl you may be able to say, “Sweetheart, it’s about time to get ready for bed.” She might protest a bit, but she knows you mean for her to bathe, brush her teeth, turn off the light and get into bed, and she will actually do it. Everyone is happy.
Use the same statement on a 9-year-old boy, and he only hears “about time” and in his world that could mean an hour from now or simply until you come back in and make him go to bed. In an hour, you will find him, stripped down to his shorts – his idea of compromise to your suggestion, acknowledgement that his clothes might be dirty – shooting small yellow foam balls from a Nerf gun into his brother’s room, who is now also awake, standing on his bed, trying to catch the balls. If you want him to bathe and sleep, there can be no room for interpretation. “Son, you stink, I can smell you from here, go get a bath right now, then as soon as you are done bathing, get in your bed and go to sleep and do it in that order. Do not turn on your video games, do not wander around the hall or your brother’s room, do not do anything but bathe, turn off your lights and go to bed. I will be back in 20 minutes and you better be in that bed.” As a note, you might want to take the Nerf gun with you to prevent after-bath distraction.
I’m not exaggerating, boys don’t appreciate cleanliness, it falls somewhere south of homework and taking out the trash. My older son went
to camp for 7 days once and never opened his soap or used a washrag. When questioned about the unused items, he replied, “When I showered the shampoo ran down my body and cleaned it.” I have great doubts about any actual shampoo usage considering the state of his hair when I picked him up. This boyhood disregard for clean has not skipped a generation either, I gave my grandson a bath, changed his clothes and we went outside to wait for his parents. He walks straight to a dirty puddle of water and lies down.
My younger son was an injury magnet. If it could be crashed, flipped, or vaulted into the air, then he was all over it. I remember once at 13 or 14, he came inside calling out to me that he had hurt himself. He finds me in another room where I’m retrieving band-aids and Neosporin; I turn around and ask him what happened. He has flipped his four-wheeler on the gravel road next to our house, so my first thought is that he’s cracked his skull, because I immediately assume the worst. No, his head is intact, he’s just hurt his hands he explains, I sigh in relief, until he holds out two bloody shredded palms, deeply embedded with gravel. We’re going to need a bigger band-aid….and some tweezers. This is the same son who will almost de-thumb himself with a green bean can a few years later.
Life is indeed a circle, my sons are grown and they are good and decent men, and I’m back to watching cartoons, singing Sesame Street songs, and buying Hot Wheels. My grandson loves me and always runs to hug me, and I am reminded me of other little arms around my neck, the smell of grass, dirt and little boy sweat. I can still feel small sticky hands in mine, the weight of limp sleepy bodies, and if I close my eyes, little voices calling out, “Momma, can you come here?”