There Is Gentle

When I was pregnant the second time, I harbored a fear.

I was afraid that the baby inside me would be


I’d spent the previous couple of years hanging out with a sweet, calm, kind little girl. I liked the little girl. When I’d take her places, like to the library, we’d sit together in shock and awe, staring at the little boys as they hung from the stacks, fought over toys, belted each other with hardcover pop-up books, jumped off the couches, spun the paperback racks as though they’d melt into butter if enough G-force was achieved.

Cowed by this behavior, I murmured to the chromosomes inside my body, “Please, no Y. Please, no Y. Two XXs? Good. Y? No. Please. I’m not ready to have my refrigerator whacked with a stick.”

Certainly, a good part of this thinking came from the dizzying whirl of Pregnancy Brain, that hormone-infused entity darting toward the sunniest of days before plummeting into the darkest of gloom as it explores every possible permutation of the future.

However, history attests that if a stick thwacks, a punch connects, a war decimates, a bomb detonates, the force behind that violent action will almost invariably be male.

Biology + power + opportunity = men are behind most of the violence.

This is not condemnation–just adding up the facts. Alternately, it is also important to note that women excel at relational aggression, poison, and methodical dismantling over time. It’s simply a different skill set. When women put their minds to nastiness, their subtle, wearing, diminishing cruelty creams an honest sword-swipe to the neck.

So I was pregnant, and although I wasn’t in constant worry about the gender, I did harbor a niggling concern that a boy could hurt our hardwood.

Then he was born—the fluffiest, most cuddly little hugger ever to sport low-hanging fruit. The boy who came out of me has spent the first eleven years of his life requesting “softie clothes,” wanting to cradle egg yolks in his palms, cooing over ducklings, asking his parents if they’d like one of his self-patented massages, whispering to me when we spot a toddler, “Did you see her pudgy little arms?” When we go to the public library, he sits with the rest of us, staring in astonished wonder, dumbfounded by the rambunctious hijinks of his boy-sterous peers. Indeed, my fear of having a boy was groundless, for my son is the most soft-hearted and tender member of our troupe.

Of course, had he been born into a different time, a different country, a different culture, a different family, a different religion, a different life, his natural sweetness, the same natural sweetness that exists inside nearly every human at birth, no matter the gender, could have become corrupted by circumstance. Through the sheer random luck of being born a white, middle-class American; of being born into an educated family that values peace, love, and understanding; of being born into a conflict-free region, my son’s most radicalized life moments may revolve around demanding better sushi.

And so.

Around the world, every day, there is violence within homes, violence with guns, violent beatings, violent explosions that kill innocents. Occasionally–exponentially less often than in most other countries–the United States feels the impact of this male-driven violence up close, firsthand. When we do, we sit on our couches, stunned, subdued, horrified, devastated.

While we mourn the loss of life, the loss of security, the loss of feeling untouchable, we should, similarly, mourn for those mothers and fathers everywhere whose softie sons’ shining sweetnesses, when scoured by prickly reality, lost their sheen. In their boys, as exists in mine, there once was limitless potential–for compassion, kindness, caring. Woefully often, however, their sons’ softness was replaced by hardness and hatred.

I am achingly sorry about that. I feel for mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. I feel for us all.

When violence erupts, it is a reminder to me that I must continue to foster the gentleness that defines my son. I must provide him with a life and environment that recognize others’ humanity; I must teach him mercy and forgiveness; I must help my son be a reminder to the world that another type of male exists.

For every punch that breaks a jaw, tackle that snaps a femur, bullet that pierces a forehead, bomb that obliterates someone’s legs, there are are millions of tender, loving, gentle boys who provide comfort and solace, their grace countering the callousness of a world that is unbearably hard.











13 responses to “There Is Gentle”

  1. Secret Agent Woman Avatar

    I always assumed I’d have daughters. Primarily, I think because in my family the women do so much better than the men. And yet… I had two boys instead. And while they are definitely testosterone-infused, they are also sensitive, artistic, compassionate souls.

  2. Jess Avatar

    I love, love, LOVE this. One of “my” babies- the ones I nannied for- was an incredibly sweet little soul like Paco. I remember taking him to an amusement park when he was 5 or 6 and they had an inflatable slide that was made to look look like an upended Titanic. I kid you not, you slid down the deck [Even more horrifying? I just google-imaged “inflatable slide sinking ship,” thinking it was some crazy one-off; it was not.] Will just stared at it and said, “Jess, don’t you think that would make people kind of sad to see that? Why would they make that into a ride?”

    Of course he also threw me over as soon as he discovered kindergarten girls after proposing to me multiple times when he was 4 so he wasn’t THAT sensitive. When I pretended to be indignant about “the other woman (5-year-old Susie),” he told me that I could be their nanny. 😉

    1. Jocelyn Avatar

      I have to hug this comment right now.

  3. Friko Avatar

    Dear, sensitive, old Paco. As you say, a lot of his sweet nature is down to nature and nurture, Mum and Dad being the kind of parents who foster gentleness.

    Both my son and my -now – husband are like that, ‘honorary women’ I call them. Although there are some right bitches among the female persuasion too.

    At the same time, it doesn’t do to be too smug and self-congratulary, fate has a way of smacking you right between the eyes when you least expect it. I know several families whose sons/daughters have gone ‘off the rails’ as teenagers and one can only hope that their departure from the cosy, middle-class path is hormone-related and temporary.

    Mind you, my son, who is now a responsible father himself, and has never knowingly harmed a book, occasionally regrets that he missed out on the rumbunctious hijinks period of his life. I sincerely hope the male menopause Sturm and Drang will also pass him by.

  4. Maria Avatar

    I was TERRIFIED that my daughter, Liv, would be a boy. I didn’t even pick out a boy name. And the SECOND I could know the sex, I did. I grew up in a family of girls with one very kind, gentle Da who died when I wasn’t even 10 years old yet. I had seen up close and personal how easy it was to string boys along when I was in high school and had once witnessed my cousin beat his brother bloody over a FORK choice. And then, an hour later, they were bonding again. Boys were just…weird. I also know that most men are behind the violence of this world. I once got in an argument with a priest who said that God was punishing “gays” with AIDS when I pointed out that lesbians had the lowest incidence of AIDS. Did he think that maybe God just loved lesbians more than everyone else? And he replied that men were just the weaker sex when it came to sexuality. Dumb shit. But, I was still wary of having a boy. I still am. But, my bff has three sons and she tells me that she’s had a rougher time with her two daughters, that girls are more prone to sulk and be “sneaky mean” while boys get over it fast and one punch and they’re fine. So…I guess it’s all in the raising. Or the temperament. Psychological studies show that when breaks up occur, the men tend to be the most heartbroken, not the girls. Yet, the boys tend to jump right back on that horse much more quickly. So, yeah…I am totally baffled.

  5. lime Avatar

    and when i think of what has been done to the gentle men and boys of the world in different times and places it makes me weep for their loss and ours as a result. bless paco.

  6. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    I have boys that swing both ways if you well–testosterone-driven and all-boy at times, but also tender-hearted. Come to think of it, that’s my husband, too. One thing is for sure though, every member of this house knows how many points are in a touchdown 🙂

  7. kmkat Avatar

    I love this. My boys were not so much gentle as quiet. No significant boisterosity, thank goodness. Had they been noisy and bouncy and whacking-things-with-sticks they might not have survived childhood.

  8. A Cuban In London Avatar

    What a beautiful post this is. I loved your honesty and humour. That’s why I’ve become a regular of your space. I have a boy of 15 and I can attest to what you have written. Get them to show their emotions early and not to be afraid of exploring their feminine side. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  9. Mike M Avatar

    Thanks for stopping by my ‘blog’.

    We had two girls and a boy, the eldest girl, now 37, well, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. The youngest, now 25, was Sherman through the South. The boy was quiet, smart, un-athletic, bookish….right up until he was 19 and joined the Army, infantry, Rangers and Special Forces. I thought I’d worried a lot about the girls, esp. the youngest when they were teenagers, but it was nothing compared to the three deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

    No argument about violence being male-dominated. Tomes have been written about the ‘whys’, but we don’t seem to get any forrarder, do we?

  10. Bijoux Avatar

    What a lovely post! My son is also the type who would just look at me when he was confronted by boys who were hanging off of shelves. My husband insisted that our son try out every sport till he found one that he liked. He chose tennis because it didn’t involve being on a team of other boys!

  11. Ann in NJ Avatar

    My gigantic, wild-haired 18 yr old boy… is a big teddy bear with a huge soft spot for babies. You’d say he was scary-looking except he usually has a big smile on his face. His sister is also sweetness, though not nearly as comfortable with babies, and their younger brother is stereotypically all-boy except he is not competitive and really hates conflict. But he is ACTIVE. You’d probably never guess they were all birthed and raised by the same parents. I do say thanks periodically for being able to raise them in this time and place (despite all the cultural issues that we deal with).

  12. Meg Avatar

    I was secretly glad my second was a girl, too, because I just didn’t know what I’d do with a boy. Oddly, though, I have such a soft spot for the boys I teach at Sunday school and the middle school boys I coach in Science Olympiad. There is such a sweet awkwardness to them – kind of like puppies.

    When I read about violent acts by individuals, I nearly always think first of their mothers; how sad they must be; how devastated that their once-sweet babies could have committed such acts. It’s not easy raising children.

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