The Boy Thing

The minute I announced my pregnancy with Simon, the first question most people asked me was "Oh, are you trying for a girl?"  I admit, the question annoyed me.  The implication seemed to be that everyone dreams of the perfect matched set, one boy and one girl.  In fact, I always had a strong intuition from the first moment that my babies were boys (Isaiah was the only time I wasn't totally sure), and I was never at all unhappy about that.  I also objected to the implied impugning of my math skills - if I didn't want a CHILD, I certainly wouldn't bet on a 50-50 shot ;-).

As my house filled up with boys, the assumption was that we were STILL shooting for a girl - and then when we stopped having children people sympathetically said "Oh, you gave up."  Once when carrying around a friend's daughter, I was stopped by dozens of people who said "Oh, did you finally get your girl?"  To this, Eric coined the word "abdoption" for the process of stealing your friends' kids.  I know people mean well, and it doesn't really bother me, but I do find it odd that everyone assumes I am suffering for lack of a daughter.  When we started fostering, of course, everyone pretty much assumed we wanted girls.

I admit, I love little boys.  Now let me be clear, I wouldn't be unhappy if our next pacement involved a girl or two, if only because it has the charm of novelty, and, after all, I am now storing a buttload of girl clothes, so they might as well get used,  but I am loving this batch of boys we've got right now.  As it stands, it looks as though C. and K. are going to be with us a few more weeks, and will go to family in late June.  We'll miss them like crazy, of course, but we're concentrating on having a really good time, and part of the sheer pleasure to me is watching six little boys form a giant gang (incorporating any extra kids who happen to be visiting, of course) spreading dirt, happiness and mayhem as they go.

Both Asher and C. (6 and 7  respectively) could have been the original models for Tom Sawyer  or any of the other classic benign trouble-making boys of history and literature.  Filled with boundless energy, they've never seen a frog they didn't want to catch, never seen a fence they didn't want to climb, never seen a tree branch that didn't make them want to hang upside down, a mud puddle they didn't want to splash in.  They are constantly mystified at my perversity in constantly saying  "Put the vole back outside right now!" and "No, that doesn't go in your hair!"  Yes, I know little girls do these things to - in fact, I was that kind of little girl, but these guys are almost cartoons of high energy boydom.

They are also incredibly hard working, kind and loving kids.  C. spent yesterday helping out for the entire morning - he helped Eric with the milking, carried water buckets, fed the rabbits, helped me plant containers, hauled compost and put laundry away.  Asher regularly proves that a 58lb child can carry a 50lb feed sack, and constantly offers to assist.  They are children who probably aren't well suited to a life of sitting quietly, but who are at their best when there's lots to be done.  They burst with pride when they work, and won't stop until the job is done.  Both have incredible generous streaks, and because pesky but benign adults are always telling them "No, stop, that's dangerous, don't do that..." very tolerant relationships to us weirdo adults who don't understand that painting with spaghetti sauce on the couch is awesome.

K. and Isaiah, both eight, are made in a quieter mold.  Both of them derive a lot of pleasure from silly humor and adult approval.  They've formed a major bond, sharing a love of various card trading games, cooking and reading.  They also enjoy building things with legos and trying to dam up the creek (the fact that they never actually succeed for any length of time in no way affects their pleasure in doing it.)  Both are sensitive and gentle souls who are extraordinarily kind and generous to other people - Isaiah is always the one who volunteers to skip something if there aren't enough to go around "That's ok, I don't need a popsicle, he can have mine."  K. is one of the most loving and sweet-natured kids I've ever run into, always willing to help, unfailingly gentle and kind with my disabled eldest (actually both C. and K. are amazing with him) and a complete cuddle bug.  Isaiah travels with a stuffed animal at all times from his large collection of unusual stuffed creatures (he has an okapi, a dodo, a wombat, a kakapo, two echidnas (long and short nosed, of course), a pygmy marmoset, etc...), K. always has his collection of trading cards with him and is ever ready to attribute to you +2 powers.

Simon at 10 1/2 is nearly a preteen, and relishes his role as the functional eldest (due to Eli's autism, that's Simon's role).  He likes to boss other kids around, but mostly does so kindly, and is terribly protective of the other kids.  By choice gets up at 5:45 every morning to walk C. and K. to the bus, and takes seriously his responsibility for them.  I sometimes have to remind him "Hey, the Mom is right here, you don't have to be the Mom" and he tells me with a grin "Sometimes it is hard not to be the Mom."  He will be an amazing parent someday - he especially loves babies and toddlers and is just wonderful with them, but is also great with older children.  He does need his time alone, and spends a lot of time enjoying the privileges of 10-ness - he's allowed to roam further than any of the other kids - but more often than not invites the other boys to go along.  He spends as much time as he can making up stories, cartooning and writing - often while sitting in a tree.

Eli is 12, and because of his disabilities, still doesn't talk much, so it is hard to know what's he's thinking, but he is so full of joy and energy that we know he's happy most of the time.  He spends his days on the swing, playing the creek, swimming (he's very athletic), and dribbling balls around the house.  Affectionate and giggly with a merry sense of humor, he is likely to sneak up behind you and tickle you, and he constantly gets into things - but the messes he makes aren't that important and he so clearly enjoys being one of the guys that it is just a pleasure to watch.  He's a devoted big brother and loving foster brother, who never resents being kindly bossed around by the other kids - indeed, he revels in the attention.

The aggregate boydom is loud, messy, bickers a fair bit, and occasionally descends into whacking each other with things.  In an odd way, that's actually part of their joy.  While I'm stereotyping a little bit, I remember so well from my own girlhood the complex ways little girls often played out their conflicts "You aren't my best friend anymore, only my third best friend..." and other kinds of junior "mean girls" stuff that could go on for weeks.  It isn't that my kids don't say mean things, and it isn't that whacking each other with plastic swords is better, but there's something straightforward about it all, and for the most part, conflicts are forgotten within minutes.  I feel better equipped to handle the direct stuff, somehow.  All six of my sons are bright, bright kids with a lot going for them.

Why am I singing the praises of little boys?  Well, in part because we have a culture that seems to generally prefer girls, at least in some respects.  While a Gallup poll found that if parents were intending to give birth to only one child, they'd rather have a son than a daughter, for adoption, US Census data shows that girls are significantly preferred by almost all parents.  African-American and biracial boys of partial African-American descent (C. and K. are biracial)  are the least desirable children in the foster care and adoption world  .  Statistically speaking, for every 100 girls that gets adopted, only 85-89 (depending on age group, the numbers are actually worse for younger kids) little boys ever get adopted.

The reality of this means that a lot of little boys end up languishing in foster care (there are more boys total in care, and slightly more boys in the general population), and aging out of the system.  The outcomes for kids who aren't adopted are appalling:

One in four will be incarcerated within two years of leaving foster care, 1 in 5 will become homeless, only half will graduate from high school, and less than 3 percent receive college degrees.

Most of us probably haven't thought much about what it is like to be kicked out of care at 18 with nowhere to go, no one to live with, no support system, no consistency.  Aged out foster kids talk about what it is like never to receive a birthday card, to have no one to celebrate milestones with.  I once read an interview with a young man who noted that having made a comparative success of himself, everyone assumed that he was ok with never having been adopted - but that as he enters into adulthood, he longed for adoption even more - because the need for a family never stops, the desire to have someone be excited that you exist never stops.

Why don't people want boys?  There are a lot of speculative answers, from the idea that because mothers mostly take the lead on adoption, they are more likely to want children like themselves to the higher rates of disability and school issues with male children. The reason that people prefer to give birth to boys but to adopt girls may be related to historical ways that girls are perceived as being better able to join other families (since that was so often their role in marriage).

My own thinking (mostly based on the anecdotal, however) tends to focus around the latter two explanations, and also around the cultural perception that boys are more likely to be "bad" or that boy issues are harder to manage.   I see this over and over - people who are impressed that I can manage four or more little boys, but who seem to think that girls are a walk in the park.  Having been part of a group of three sisters, I tend to think that both of them have their challenges.

Seven and eight year old non-white boys like the ones I have are, in many places, by definition already defined as "hard to adopt."  Now these little guys don't need adoption - they have family that loves and wants them and most likely will settle there - and they landed in a home where if need be, we would have happily kept them forever.  It would be so easy, however, for them to be one of the tens of thousands of little boys who bounce around the system without a home, however.

I wish I could go out there and show off these wonderful, bright, loving, kind, generous, funny, sweet natured boys to everyone who has ever considered adopting a child and point out that what we're doing isn't always hard, it is mostly FUN. That doesn't mean there are no behavioral problems, no challenges, no troubles - life isn't perfect.    Lord knows, my parents had plenty with my sisters and me, though.  Children in foster care have lost a lot, and all of them have issues - but that doesn't mean that boys are so challenging that it isn't worth considering them if you want to adopt.

Adoption and fostering is a private decision, and there are lots of wholly legitimate reasons why one might prefer little girls - you always dreamed of a daughter, they would have to share a bedroom with your extant daughter, you are called to a particular child, you have a teenage daughter and don't think teen boys would be a good mix...  A lot of the time who you adopt is simply a matter of what children end up in your home first.  I'm not sitting in judgement of anyone's choices. But since May is foster care awareness month, I do feel like giving others a picture of the joy of boys might be something I could do, in the hopes that maybe someone who thinks that boys are too hard, too likely to bring trouble might rethink and consider a boy.

When someone asks me if my boys are trouble, I think always of Leonato's gentle reply to Don Pedro's statement that by coming to his home, he is giving Leonato much trouble:

"Never came trouble to my house in the face of Your Grace, for trouble being gone, comfort should remain; but when you depart from me, sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave."

The only real trouble my boys - these or any others we've had under our roof (we've had quite a few over the past year, along with 6 girls) - give me is when we have to say goodbye and happiness takes his leave.



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Lovely essay, Sharon. I wonder if some prospective foster/adoptive parents favor girls over boys because girls, when awful, are "only" mean, while boys have the physical ability to do bodily harm? Anyway, I know what you mean about the assumptions about families. When I was pregnant with Andy (who as you know has an older brother and an older sister) a good friend just goggled at me, stunned. "But... you already have a boy and a girl! Nobody has more than two kids anymore!" When I imagine what my life would be if I'd stopped with just the older two... wow. Don't wanna go there!

Then, too, I hadn't realized how delightful little boys can be. I only remembered boys from about 4th grade onward, and they were icky creatures who teased, used bad language, and obsessed about sports. To discover how much more there is to boyhood and boyness than that was a delight.

" because the need for a family never stops, the desire to have someone be excited that you exist never stops"--- this is gorgeous. the rest of the essay, too, moved me to tears.

i'm also thinking that the perception that it's easier to adopt a girl (because of China, for ex) is one reason they're more popular. Adoptive parents simply, if not understandably, often are desperate and want whatever they think is easiest to get.

Ah, Sharon. Once again. You leave me with two questions.

How many of you are there, really?
Will you marry us?

6:39 PM? where is it 6:39 PM? Not in the boonies of NY, nor right here, nuther. How many techies are working on debugging the new Science Blogs system?

And do you have anybody wandering the halls there, strumming a guitar, and crooning "Where have all the comments gone... long time passing?" :-)

This is lovely; you made me cry. And want to run right out and adopt a few boys, though in truth, we've long since concluded we're not parent material. But I'm so glad these children have you.

This was a very touching piece. As the youngest of 3 and the only girl, it seems to me that my parents were content to stop after they got a girl. But, of course, growing up with older brothers teaching me how to act, I became the classic tom-boy.I wouldn't stand for any drama. I truly admire what you are doing. There are few who would open their lives and their hearts up like that. I wish there were more people like you. It's not about how many you have or what gender they are. It's about loving your children with all that you have so that they may have better lives and learn to pass on that love to their children.

Hi Greenpa, I don't think you want to move to NY, and I'm not prepared to move to you. Otherwise, we'd consider it ;-).

NM -- my sentiments exactly. =)

I do not usually comment but just had to comment to this post. I have a daughter and a son and currently have my 2 oldest grandsons living with me and my husband. Boys are totally awesome! Girls are awesome too in a different way. What really matters is how a child is loved. A child who is loved has the freedom to love back and with that comes many wonderful things. I smiled all the way through your description of the boys and their activities. The newest members of the family sound like great kids and they are so lucky to be spending time in such a loving home.

Oh you're making me nostalgiac! I grew up the oldest girl cousin in a pack of eight boy cousins (there was one other girl, but she was no fun as a kid). We build forts and fought and dammed up the creek and rode ponies and fought and shot beebee guns and built jumps for our bikes. It was noisy and dirty and so so so much fun.

By Charlotte Freeman (not verified) on 30 May 2012 #permalink

Sharon - aww. That's a better answer than my first wife gave me the first time I asked her.

"Probably not." she said. But she changed her mind, and it lasted 2 kids and 23 years. So- keep in mind that alterations are possible... :-) Sweetie.

This made me laugh. I'm the oldest of four siblings, three sisters (including me) and one brother (the youngest). As soon as anyone finds out that my brother is the only adopted one, they assume that my parents adopted in order to have a boy. Actually, they tried to adopt a girl, saying that they had the girl thing figured out by now, but the social worker suggested that a boy might be better, since he'd have his own niche in the family. My parent's only regret is that circumstances prevented them from being able to adopt another child.

Now, I'm raising my own children (one of each), and learning more about the wonderful world of boyhood. The biggest challenge so far has been figuring out how to preserve my son's unbounded curiosity and desire to experiment while preventing collateral damage to people or property. My son's self-initiated project for the day was to investigate how a toilet works, and see if there is any way that he can get it to continue running!

We've been told that, generally, boys are more challenging to parent the first 10 years, and girls more challenging the second 10 years. Looking back on my own drama-fraught teen years, I could definitely see that being true.