My Dangerous Boys

MotherTalk bloggers are talking about The Dangerous Book for Boys today; here’s what I’m thinking about danger and boys…

For three years after Ben was born, I thought we lived without a dangerous boy. We baby proofed the house, as recommended, before Ben started to walk, but in retrospect needn’t have bothered; he wasn’t about to attempt the stairs on his own, and he’d run from the kitchen when I opened the oven door. When we walked to the local pumpkin patch and considered the hay ride, three year-old Ben regarded it warily: “Mama, does it go out of the pumpkin patch?” he asked. “Are there buckles [seatbelts]? Is it bumpy? Does it go fast?”

Needless to say, we did not go for a hay ride. For the most part he will sit instead of stand, walk instead of run, cuddle instead of climb. The quintessential Ben moment was when he stood on the couch (an uncharacteristic height for him to achieve) and called out, about to jump, “Watch, Mama! I’m gonna be safe!” This boy who came out hollering after such a short, sharp labor–well, we joke that being born is the only fast thing he’s ever done.

And then Eli arrived. It took him 17 hours to make the trip out of my body, and he was so quiet on his arrival that the doctors and nurses rubbed his feet and hair vigorously as I cradled him in my arms until he squeaked his protest and they let him be. And yet for a while it didn’t seem like he’d be much different than our older cautious boy. He crawled at ten months, walked at sixteen, a similar pace as his brother.

But then he started to run. And climb. And now every day I find myself unpeeling his fingers’ tight hold on the kitchen drawer pulls, where he hangs midway up the bank of drawers, a rock climber with his summit (the cereal, the fresh banana bread, the clean wine glasses) just out of reach. “Where do we climb, Eli?” I ask him. “Pah-pah! [playground]” he laughs, and runs off, until he finds some other chair/table/lamp to climb.

I got this far in my writing when Tony brought the boys home from the park: Ben, looking just as he had when he left the house; Eli, covered in dirt and blood. He’d been running after a ball, tripped over a gopher hole, and gotten a bloody nose. Perhaps that’s my quintessential Eli moment—he throws himself full throttle at the world, and sometimes doesn’t manage a soft landing.

And I love it. I love my cautious guy (who reminds me so much of myself), and I love my adventurer. I want to encourage each boy to be exactly who he is, while continuing to admire the strengths of the other, too. I want each to have the confidence to take risks, the judgment to evaluate which risks are worth taking, and the strength (physical and emotional) to recover from the risks that didn’t quite work out.

Right now the risks are minor and the stakes pretty low – if I gave Eli a match today, after all, he’d more likely get a splinter than a burn. I wonder what the future holds, as my boys move farther away from my protection, as their world broadens. But it looks like one of them will be pointing out the dangers, the other one rushing toward them. My two dangerous boys.


  1. Libby says:

    I love this image, Caroline. But watch out: Nick (my “Ben,” as we’ve often remarked) has started coming home bloodied and bruised lately. Just a late bloomer, maybe?

  2. Caroline,
    Yikes! We have more in common than I realized….I’m thinking it’s a second child thing with my two boys. I was spoiled with Will and am now very unprepared for the risks Miles runs head first into. Food for thought indeed. (By the way, did you read the NY Times Mag yet? Funny story about the best-seller DBFB….)