I once read that the definition of a boy is “a noise with dirt on it.” This definition is a bit simplistic. I might instead say “a hungry noise with dirt on it,” but it does ring true to my ears . . . to the extent that they still work.
Boys are noisy. Boys are dirty. And this is good, for many of the most heroic things, done by the best of men, involve both. If you have boys or hope to have boys just accept this reality from the beginning. You will have a much happier life.
Early on, as the noise and the dirt started to get to me, I thought it through. At a fundamental level, boys are loud and messy. If I did not like these “qualities” then on one level I just did not like boys. Given that I appeared to be in the habit of giving birth to one every 19 months, that just would not do. I had to like them! I decided then and there that noise and dirt did not bother me.
Very often, in response to irritations I would step back and think, “Is this just noise or dirt?” If the answer was “yes”, as it often was, I would just say to myself, now self you knew that this was part of the deal when the doctor said, “It’s a boy” and handed you that messy, crying bundle.
For my little fellows growing up in the warm climes of Austin, Texas, nothing was more fun than getting dirty playing outside. On rare rainy days the boys would charge out to backyard puddles churning the ground beneath bare feet, until a glorious mix of grass clippings, dirt and water reached the proper viscosity where it would cling to every surface, annointing, cooling, refreshing. Legend is that the University of Texas picked its burnt orange color because it was the color of clothes stained by the dust and grime of Texas. I think they might be right.
Mud puddles still have an appeal, but today they are a choice venue for slinging a four-wheel drive truck around in circles until the truck and everyone in it is covered with mud. And while my second son saw no real problems with his new dwelling, a basement bedroom . . . in the fraternity house (yes, it is bad), he conceded that at least one good cleaning might be in order. Perhaps he reasoned that it will keep his clothes and books scattered across the floor from getting dirty.
More challenging than the dirt is the noise. While dirt is linear, noise has an exponential aspect, with opportunities for noisy interactions multiplying with each addition to the family. Thanks be to God that the happy sounds of our home, so much easier on the ears and soul, far outnumbered the whiney, angry ones. From playing on pots and pans on the kitchen floor to practicing the electric guitar for hours on end, from soft midnight cries to jarring late night phone calls, from baby giggles – oh those precious baby giggles – to deep manly laughs, the soundtrack of our lives has changed over the years but not so much the volume.
Of course, even after many years of practice, it is not always easy. A couple of weeks ago, for the first time since Christmas, all four of our boys were home: Edward playing guitar and singing in the living room; Owen playing guitar and singing upstairs with a friend; John in the family room, watching golf on television – yelling at Brandt Snedeker periodically; and Andrew, the quietest one, in the basement, accompanied by the usual posse of friends who are not so quiet. Husband Ed was on the phone, the speaker-phone as he prefers, in his office – an office without a door. I sat in the garden, writing, but then puppy Riley, a male of course, started barking at the neighbors. I came inside and retreated to an upstairs bedroom, closing the door. I googled noise-canceling headphones.
I will remember this in the years quickly coming, when the sound of silence echoes from wall to wall in a big empty house. . . A house where the upstairs will not smell like a locker room, the sofa cushions will stay where they are put, and I will sit quietly and long for the days of noise and dirt.