Let the dude bake. My younger son’s personality is both endearing and infuriating. He can be charming and sensitive, but more often is outspoken, gregarious and oppositional, which is why his older brother frequently (but affectionately, right?) refers to him as “the monster.”
He is ultra competitive and loves sports – correction, contact sports – and gaming. He is basically your typical alpha-male in the making.
So imagine my surprise when on a recent school holiday he randomly asked “Mom, can we bake cookies?” I suppose this didn’t really come totally out of the blue, since one of his classmates is a finalist on “Master Chef Junior.” Did I mention that he attends one of those super intense all-boy private schools in the District? Lots of talented kids in there. I guess he wanted to give the chef thing a go.
He baked his very first batch of cookies from scratch with confidence and a decent amount of skill, all things considered. They came out great, which is why I obviously couldn’t keep them in the house.
When I asked what we should do with the cookies, he said he would take them to school to share with his class. I was kind of impressed that he was willing to show a different side to his “hey bro” (pronounced “bra”, by the way) self. We packed up the cookies and the next day off he went, albeit in a Seahawks beanie rather than a toque.
After school, I asked him how the class liked his cookies. He told me he hadn’t shared them after all. When I asked him why, he said “The boys in my class would have made fun of me, Mom.” My heart leapt to my throat and I had a “Gloria and Manny with his poncho and pan-flute” (Modern Family) moment. Hearing him – my sweet alpha-boy – say that broke my heart to pieces.
It also brought back a lot of painful memories. Who hasn’t dealt with peer pressure or mean girls and/or boys? I proceeded to spew forth all of the platitudes that any self-respecting mother would about it not mattering what other people think, or how people that make fun of others are usually the most insecure, etc. To which he simply responded “Maybe, but it still hurts my feelings.”
I talked to my husband about it later, wanting him to say something that would revive my (perhaps naive) belief in the emotional maturity of twelve year old boys. He is a thoughtful and kind but tough-as-nails litigator and former college athlete who attended a school similar to my son’s at his age. I figured he would tell me what was what. When I repeated what my son had said about the way he thought his classmates would react, he replied “He’s right.” Le sigh.
I suppose it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that boys, my son included, who are being raised by decent families in a place as worldly and socially aware as the D.C. area can still be the neanderthals I went to school with thirty plus years ago. “Boys will be boys” right?
But I can’t help wondering: are our efforts to teach our boys kindness, tolerance, and open-mindedness falling by the way-side as we push them up the ladder of achievement? Do all of their actions have to be ranked and scrutinized for signs of their ultimate success in life? I mean, can’t a dude bake cookies and share them with his friends, just because he wants to?
My son and I continued our conversation about the “cookie incident,” which I believe taught him a valuable lesson about two things that I deplore in equal measure: intolerance, which is hurtful to others, and weakness, which is something you must overcome in the face of it.
We are planning to bake more cookies this weekend for him to take to school next week. If his classmates don’t like them, I told him he could say that his step-dad baked them.