“So You Want to Raise a Boy?”

snake and boys

“Where’s Nicky?” I asked his older brother Ben.

Ben shrugged. It was a tiny house in a tiny Alaskan village and I had just come from dropping off our daughter at a friend’s house to spend the night. It was a 5-minute drive down the one paved road.

“Where’s Nicky? I asked his other brother Daniel.  Daniel shrugged too, and said look in the closet.

I looked in the closet, checked the bedroom, the bathroom. I went out the back door with rising panic and yelled out into the tundra. He was three-years-old, we lived among bears and it was the time of day when bears were out prowling. Nicky was nowhere to be found. It was after midnight and the sun hung low in the sky as friends and neighbors fanned out, calling his name, searching the backyards and the dirt roads for a small boy in his pajamas.

After several harrowing hours of searching, the village policeman arrived with Nicky clutching a lollipop in one hand and a cereal bowl in the other. He had hurried out the door to catch me as I drove off, when a woman in a pickup truck stopped at the strange sight of a barefoot little boy trotting down the road at a very late hour. She asked where he was going.
“To find my mama,” he said calmly.
“Get in,” she said. “We will find her.”
She took him to the police, the police brought him to me, and he leaped into my arms and we cried and laughed and shook with relief. To this day it was one of the most terrifying nights of my life.

Oh. And this is on the same day I had taken 5-year-old Daniel to the emergency clinic for a bad burn on his arm after a buzzy-bee firework malfunctioned. I was the one who lit it after hours of his begging and cajoling. I felt like the worst mother ever.

The next day my neighbor brought over the book So You Want to Raise a Boy? by Cleon Skousen, written in 1962. I thumbed through the pages skeptically (how could something written in 1962 be relevant today?), and then lowered myself to the couch to read the chapters on the ages of our three sons, each chapter resonating deeply. It is a mix of physical, social, and emotional development from birth to 21 years old written with humor in a no-nonsense style that does not try or pretend to be politically correct. Subversively, that is one of its appeals to me. I used the book for decades even though it is illustrated with photos like this from a bygone era:so you want mama pic

As a mother I looked for guidance everywhere—in an old man’s observation (That boy needs to run!), in books, and from other parents who I admired and who had been through the demolition derby of raising lively children; because you never know where enlightenment can come from. Sometimes it arrives in a tiny village after a bad, no-good day.

so you want

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