Lessons Learned from My Three Sons


After almost 27 years of being a mother, I have finally become just pretty darn smart.  My three sons may laugh hysterically at such a ridiculous notion, but they shouldn’t, for most of what I have learned over the years I have learned from them.

Back when I first jumped onboard the motherhood train, there was no Google to answer my every question or to squelch my slightest concern.  There was no email or online chat, and my mom–with all her wisdom and years of experience–lived three hours away and could only be reached through expensive, long-distance phone calls.  I compiled a running list of questions to ask her on our Sunday morning visits, but for the rest of the week I was on my own.  Well, maybe not entirely, for I did have my well worn copies of The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide and The Well Baby Book for reference, as well as all my single friends and family members who seemed to think that their lack of children made them unbiased experts on the topic of raising other people’s offspring.

Most of my learning, though, came through simple trial and error; miraculously, my children survived (as did I)–perhaps a little battered and battle-worn, but survivors nonetheless.

From my sons I learned, for example, that a little bit of dirt never hurt anyone.  Food that fell on the kitchen floor could be picked up, dusted off, and safely consumed without tragic side effects (as long as there were no guests present).  It took a while for my sons to understand, though, that the same rule did not apply to someone else’s gum found adhered to the grocery store floor.

I also learned that vowing never to spank my child was an easy promise to keep–at least, until Son 1 (such an adorable little angel) turned into a screaming, foot-stomping, food-throwing two-year-old monster.  I knew better than to make the same vow with Son 2 and Son 3.

I learned that little boys are going to fight.  They are going to intentionally trip each other (and then tattle when the victim retaliates),  slam each other against bedroom  walls, kick each other in the “privates,” destroy each other’s toys, say incredibly hateful things–and, most likely, they are still going to grow up to be best friends.

I learned that little boys couldn’t resist the urge to pee outside anymore than grown men can.  I also learned that arcing the flow off of a second-story deck was irresistible, especially when an unsuspecting older brother just happened to be walking through below.

I learned that beige carpet was a really poor floor covering choice when there were three small boys in the home.  Despite my best policing efforts, mud was tracked in and Hawaiian Punch was spilled.  Son 2 liked to sneak food into his bedroom, even though he knew eating in the bedroom was against the rules.  Apparently, I almost walked in on him once in the middle of consuming his contraband, and he quickly stashed it under his bed–and then forgot about it.  Some time later I was rearranging his bedroom when I discovered a plate-sized, fudge-colored stain on the beige carpet beneath his bed with a popsicle stick lying in the middle of the stain.  I also learned that creative furniture placement can hide most carpet stains and wall scribbles.

I learned that sometimes it’s okay to lie to your children.  “Santa Claus is watching you” was a great deterrent to misbehavior in our house for many glorious years.  (And sometimes all three sons–but especially Son 1–needed to be reminded that Santa Claus was watching even in July, not just in the weeks leading up to Christmas.)

I learned that when no other cleaning supplies were readily available, a mother’s spit was a suitable alternative.

I learned the importance of follow-up questions.  It was not enough to ask, “Did you put on clean underwear?” without also asking, “Did you take off the dirty underwear first?”  Similarly, “Did you brush your teeth?” needed to be followed with, “Did you use your toothbrush and toothpaste?” and “Let me smell your breath.”  And when the question, “Do you have any homework?” was answered with, “Nope!” it was also necessary to ask, “What about English?  What about science?  Social studies?  Math?”  And then the miraculously remembered assignment was pulled from the book bag.

I learned that when three-year-old Son 1 handed me the phone and there was a voice on the other end speaking in a language I did not recognize, it was essential to hang up immediately.  Overseas calls (yes, plural) turned out to be quite expensive.

I learned that children could survive on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese for a long, long time.  I may not have won any June Cleaver awards for those menu selections, but I didn’t earn the distinction of “Worst Mother in the World,” either, for forcing them to eat brussel sprouts and asparagus.

I learned that sometimes I just had to laugh and go on.   Son 3 did everything he could to entertain his older brothers, often at my expense.  When he was about five years old, he would frequently wait until we were next in line at the grocery store check-out before loudly (and inaccurately) proclaiming, “Mom farted!”–much to my horror but to the gut-clutching delight of his brothers as well as the cashiers and carry-out boys (who were usually my current or former students).

I learned that the third one was so much easier to raise than the first two–not because he was a better child (which he will most likely dispute) but because I was a better parent by the third time around.  Or was I just more relaxed (i.e., tired)?  Certainly, the panicked “Oh my God!” frequently uttered during Son 1’s childhood was, by Son 3, replaced with a much more nonchalant, “Whatever.  Don’t bug me unless somebody’s bleeding.”

I learned that I could never have too many Band-Aids, popsicles or paper towels.

I learned that if I forgot to check pockets before putting clothes into the washing machine, I was pretty much guaranteeing that crayons would be melted onto blue jeans in the dryer.

I learned that the hour right before bedtime had the magical power to elicit previously forgotten responsibilities–snacks that needed to be baked for tomorrow’s party, a uniform that needed to be washed for tomorrow’s game, difficult math homework that needed to be explained by a sleep-deprived, geometry-challenged parent.

I learned not to show fear when a snake, lizard, mouse, or other backyard catch was presented for my inspection and approval (such fear would have been just cause for delightedly attempting to throw the small critter in my face).  I drew the line on tarantulas, though.

I learned that every deceased pet deserved a proper backyard burial (and, because my sons had so many pets, I learned to keep shoeboxes on hand specifically for that purpose).

I learned that all three sons would break my heart a hundred times over–and mend it repeatedly with a smile, a hug, or a tearful “I’m sorry.”

I learned that buying teenagers a cell phone and putting it on my family plan (hence my bill) was still no guarantee that they would answer the phone when they knew it was me on the other end.

I learned to be more specific in giving directions because telling a teenager to “Clean your room” implied that he and I had the same standards on cleanliness.  A detailed list was much more likely to elicit the desired effect: “Make your bed.  Throw the dirty clothes in the clothes hamper (not next to it).  Pick up the clean clothes off the floor and hang them in the closet (and I know which ones are clean, so they better not end up in the clothes hamper).  Throw all food wrappers, soda cans, and wadded up pieces of paper in the trash can, and take all dirty dishes to the sink (and then rinse them and put them in the dishwasher).  Do NOT stuff anything under your bed–in fact, get everything out from under your bed that you put there the last time I told you to clean your room.”

I learned that teenagers who are given money to pick up a few things at the grocery store will conveniently forget to return the change unless asked for it.

I learned to pick my battles.  Hair length was not one of them.  Son 1 would cut his hair when he finally got tired of dealing with it, and Son 3 would cut his hair when it got too hot.

I learned that no matter how much I would have liked to, I couldn’t pick their friends or their girlfriends.  I learned that the less advice given, the better, and eventually they would figure out for themselves which friends to steer clear of and which girlfriends to bid a tearful farewell.

I learned that few things elicit as much joy as a phone call from an adult child.  (I wish I had fully realized the importance of those phone calls while my mom was still alive.)

I tried to teach my sons to be thoughtful and kind, tolerant and strong.  I tried to teach them the difference between right and wrong and the importance of valuing every living thing in the world around them.  I tried to foster their self-confidence and creativity, and I tried to instill in them a sense of justice and beauty.  I believe I was successful, but I also know that for everything I tried to teach them, they taught me more just by being who they were.

This year was the first Mother’s Day that I did not have all three sons at home to help me enjoy the day, but they all remembered to call (without being prompted by their dad), and two of them also acknowledged the day on Facebook.  Below is a Facebook exchange with Son 2:

  • Son 2 (status post):  My mom had three kids. None of them have ended up in jail (that she knows of), done drugs, or murdered anyone. Kudos mom! Job well done!
  • Me:  They have all graduated from high school and have (or will) graduate from college. They have not stolen cars, burned down houses, rolled a homeless dude, killed helpless animals for pleasure, or starred in a porno flick (that I know of). You’re right–I have done my job well!
  • Son 2:  About the porno flick …
  • Me:  NOOOOOOOOO!!!  
  • Son 2:  I’ll spare the details for my memoirs. And yes, that was plural.
  • Me:  Please wait until after I’m dead to write those memoirs–I’d hate for you to live with the guilt of knowing that it was your life stories that caused the fatal heart attack that put me in the ground.
  • Son 2:  Ground? I thought you wanted to be cremated and shot out of a hot dog cannon over the Grand Canyon.

And that’s where the conversation ended because I have also learned that when it comes to a battle of wits with any of my sons, I am going to be the loser.  Eventually, it’s easier to just accept that defeat is inevitable and go ride my bike.

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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20 Responses to Lessons Learned from My Three Sons

  1. Janet Taber says:

    Very funny, very well-written, and filled with universal truths….most of us moms will find several of those examples to be ones with which we relate. It’s always good to learn that “At least I’m not the only one who….”

    • Thank you! And there certainly is comfort in knowing that so many others have had similar experiences raising children. The pain, the sacrifice, the hardship–the sheer joy!

  2. SUE says:

    LOVE IT. LOVE IT. You bring back so many memories of my own boys. I hesitate to even put my most embarrassing moments in black & white or the world to see, but you’re right – the important stuff I learned was & still is from them. Now that they are grown with kids of their own, I love the fact that it has ALL been worth the effort.

    • Absolutely! I guess that’s part of our legacy as parents–feeling confident that we have done a good enough job raising our children that they will, in turn, pass our lessons on to children of their own (and maybe even learn from one or two of our mistakes!).

  3. pampr1 says:

    I cried tears of laughter reading this, so good.

  4. sebastian says:

    Mrs. Eubank, thank you so much–words fail to express my feelings–for the card and copy of the blog. It is a great reward to get to know you through this blog site. Did you get my response for your blog? Sebastian

    • Sebastian, first of all, you are very welcome–it was important to me that you know the impact of your kind words. Thank you so much for checking out my blog site! If you read back through all the blog posts, you will definitely get to know me (more than you ever bargained for, I’m sure!).

  5. sebastian says:

    I am the oldest of four boys. It seemed to me that the greatest common bond we shared was farts. It would seriously p.o. my step-father. We boys had contests in farting at the dinner table. Our step-father may be gone and not misssed; but not with the wind. When we are all gathered at family functions, there is the constant common bond: farts

    • Four boys–I thought I had my hands full with three! And I would imagine most brothers share that same “common bond”–I have never been able to understand the appeal of publicly committing such an “olfactory offense,” but after spending the last 29 years surrounded by junior high and high school boys, I have quit trying to understand it and have just accepted it as some adolescent rite of passage.

  6. emjayandthem says:

    Simply a great perspective on life – and lessons – with boys!

    Cheers! MJ

  7. sebastian says:

    ‘As a rite of passage’…hmm…good choice of words. Karen, I meant I sent an email with a blog response–re: the kind word blog–to your karen@wordpress.com email. Did you not get that?

  8. sebastian says:

    oops. I notice I had your email wrong. Resent

  9. dearrosie says:

    What a great post for Mother’s Day. I read somewhere that a Mother of 3 boys deserves an award. Congratulations on what sounds like a job well done.

    What is it with boys and farting? I have two brothers and every car trip we took my brothers would sit in the back seat and fart.

    • Thank you for your kind words! And yes, there have been many days when I felt as if I deserved a medal for my efforts.

      I cannot explain the “farting” phenomenon; not only have I experienced it with my three sons, but I have been an educator for the past 29 years and have experienced it almost daily among my male students (regardless of age). It may be disgusting and annoying to the rest of us, but the boys seem to extract incredible pleasure and satisfaction from it!

  10. sebastian says:

    Mrs. Eubank:

    I am touched seeing the pictures and getting to know you better. Isn’t it wonderful when we come to a space of listening, learning and valuing our mother. In the past few years I have made a special effort to REALLY get to know my mother–for who she is. Growing up she was just Mom. But now I see a beauty in her I have yet to recognize. I admire her spiritual journey–devotion to her religion–and how strong a woman that has made her. As a Mormon mother she has accepted a son that is gay and Catholic with open arms. She has even made special effort to go to clubs with me and meet my friends. In my addiction I put her through hell. Now: She calls me her “Miracle.” I am so grateful I can be the true me for my mother–that I can strengthen her heart rather than break it. At 37 I look around and think: “Boys don’t come with instructions…how on earth did she do it!?!” p.s. Mrs. Eubank did you get me response blog?

    • Yes, I received it and posted it. I am tremendously enjoying the relationships developing between me and my adult sons, and I hope they, too, can appreciate getting to know “me” better.

  11. Alex Niedt says:

    Knowing the family, this was such an entertaining read. Wonderful. 😀

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