I am always amused when I hear my nieces lament the strange things their pre-teen sons do. Behavior from fishing out things they accidentally dropped into a toilet and forgetting to wash their hands, to poking a hornet's nest with a short stick seem to be reasons for great concern. The truth is that these are not only normal activities for junior boys, but are relatively mild.
My mother would have gladly traded places with any of them. Before age ten I had caused her anxiety sufficient for several lifetimes. Of course I did not purposely try to cause her grief; I simply was in my own world, experiencing life. To her dismay, at a very early age I discovered snakes and the effect they had on my sister and her friends. How they all got loose in the house is still a mystery, but it was not my fault. Now, the escapees from the scorpion farm I kept under my bed in a box probably were my fault, but not the snakes.
I am sure my mother would trade the hornet's nest fiasco for the time I was arrested at age nine for climbing a restricted fence where I was exposed to radiation. Oh wait, that wouldn't work; I did the hornet thing too, receiving a dozen or more stings for that life experience.
Still, she would probably opt for another bout with hornets in lieu of the time the Naval Police at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard brought me home in smoldering clothes. Apparently some of the night flares that my friend and I found buried at the base dump were defective. How could we have known that some would explode and catch our clothes on fire? And honestly, what nine-year old would think that shooting flares across the bay was something that would upset the base police?
Without doubt, my mother could trump all the collective worries and misgivings of my four nieces by sharing with them her experiences on "that" day. In our family "that" day is a day akin to Pearl Harbor in that it will live in infamy in our memories. It was the day that I pulled the biggest bonehead stunt of my young life.
We lived in Vallejo, California and I was in the fifth grade. One afternoon my friend suggested that we go to the mountain across the valley in Napa, California instead of going to school the next day. Somehow, in my young mind, that sounded like a great idea and since we planned to be gone about the same amount of time as we would hve been in school, we figured no one would be the wiser.
Anxious to go, my friend, I and his younger brother arose before sunrise and headed out. I didn't think my mother would miss me at breakfast, because she seldom got up that early. So we were good to go, and go we did.
The trip across the valley took considerably longer than our experienced fifth grade minds had imagined. There were about a dozen waterways that we had to cross, commonly called "sloughs' in that part of the country. In fact, it was well into the afternoon by the time we got to the other side of the valley.
Wet and cold from our repeated crossing of the sloughs, we enjoyed the warm sun as we climbed the coveted mountain, which by the way had grown considerably larger in size upon our approach. No matter, there was adventure ahead of us and we forged ahead.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day even when we had become stuck in a quicksand-like pit, and I had been bitten by a large, unidentified snake in retaliation for grabbing it by the tail. Unfortunately, the sun was quickly dropping in the sky and even though we knew we hadn't a prayer of getting home around the time school let out, we quickly scurried back toward the sloughs.
Long after dark we finally came up out of the last canal and would have hurried home, but our attention was diverted to a commotion at the local lake. There were police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, news crews and several hundred people gathered at one end of the lake. There were men in boats in the water and search lights beaming from the big trucks. It looked almost like a carnival.
We hurried over to the lake to see what was going on. I saw a friend of mine straddling his bike as he too watched the commotion. I called out "Hey Billy, Hey Billy, what's going on? Billy turned to me and his face went pale. He said excitedly "Gary, what are you doing here? You are in such trouble. Your mom and dad and the whole neighborhood has been looking for you all day. They are dragging the lake for your body. You have had it my friend!"
Now, I was pale. I was going to run home, but Billy told me that he needed to take me because there was a reward for information about me and he wanted it. I was tired anyway, so I agreed to his giving me a ride.
We arrived at my house and all I remember is the shriek that my mother let out. I have never been hugged so hard in all my life. For a moment I felt like the most loved kid in the world. Unfortunately, that feeling was fleeting. Whatever relief my mother felt from seeing me quickly dissipated and was replaced by anger, perhaps even rage.
I then felt like the most hated child in the world as my mother scolded me using language that would embarrass a sailor. I know that to be true, because my dad was a sailor at the time, a Chief in the Navy, and he was wincing at the words that were coming out of her mouth.
I think perhaps my parents watched too much wrestling in those days, because when my mother exhausted her vocabulary on me, she sort of "tagged" my father and he jumped in and took over. I guess maybe he knew some of my mother's words after all.
The bottom line is that this was a very bad ending to a very great day for me. I hadn't thought about what impact my absence would have on my parents. There was no malice or aforethought. I was just experiencing life and having a great time.
So mothers, if your sons seem to be aloof to the impact of their behavior on others, I submit that it is not something to worry about in terms of their social adjustment. They aren't weird and maladjusted. They are just boys, and at that age we can accept that boys will be boys. There just is no getting around it.
The next time your son does something that you think is strange, measure it by the behavior my mother had to endure. It might not seem so bad after all.
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