Little boys are charming, beguiling, and adorable to be sure. They spend a lot of time jumping up and down in their cribs, racing in circles in the yard for no apparent reason, wandering around the woods poking trees with sticks or searching for dragons, and standing at attention whenever they’re perplexed or insecure, with one hand down the front of their pants, as if for protection. I once had a neighbor, the father of twin girls, say to me about my two youngest sons, ages four and five, “There’s something wrong with them, Meg.  Do you see what they’re doing? You need to get it checked out.”

I felt like saying, “Yes, I see what they’re doing. It’s you, George. You scare the shit out of them and all they can do is stand and quake and hang on to their balls.”

Well, this particular phase passed when they hit around six and seven, and moved into serious masturbation. I, being a very protected female and one of three sisters, had no idea it started so early, nor what to expect or how to deal with it. I do, however, remember my father, a liberal Protestant minister, remarking, when I overheard him being asked by some worried parishioner about the dangers of masturbation, “Well, Mrs. Harrison, there are two kinds of males: masturbators and liars.”

One day I peeked into their room at our summer cottage at naptime, and, wanting to be broadminded and not do any permanent psychic damage, ignored what was going on. I simply marched in and announced, cheerily, “Nap’s over. Time for a swim.” It didn’t seem to faze them. I guess they thought of me as one of the boys.

Desmond Morris was right in his book, The Naked Ape, and if you ever doubted his thesis vis-à-vis the human male, spend a little time with young boys. Much of what he wrote has left me long ago, but what stayed was the fierce protection of their territory, real or perceived, and, at the same time, the willingness to back down if proven wrong, even if the adversary is weaker.

Rob and Tom were inseparable. They were 18 months apart and rather evenly matched. And their squabbles were often settled physically from the start. Girls simply don’t play as rough as boys. And their squabbles tend to be verbal rather than physical. It scares me to see boys tackle one another, smash into a wall just missing a lamp, and come up laughing. But there were times when the older son, clearly knowing he was wrong, invaded the territory of his younger brother, as if to test his mettle. The younger one rose up in righteous wrath and pushed the older one back, fiercely. In nine times out of ten the older one retreated, usually good-naturedly. ‘Just testing,’ was the unspoken message. I always stayed out of these conflicts. They did better without me.

As they got older, however, the fights became more ferocious until one day I came into the kitchen and they were chasing each other around the table waving butter knives. Although as a weapon this is laughable, I could see tempers rising and the heavy round table actually moving. I tried reasoning, then shouting and threatening, but the table just kept spinning faster. Finally, in desperation, I resorted to something I had never done before, but matched my mood at the moment. I lay down on the floor, waved my arms, kicked my legs in the air, and threw a doozy of a tantrum. THAT got their attention!

I was shouting something like, “How can sons of mine behave this way? What kind of mother am I to produce two animals, who want to kill each other? I’m a total failure. I just want to die.”

I was on a roll. Then dead silence. Both boys were leaning over me saying comforting things like, “Hey, Mom, get a grip. It’s not that bad. We were just having fun. Come on. Get up.” I put my hand out and they placed the knives in it.

“You call behaving like wild animals just having fun? What’s next? A sword fight on the front lawn? Heads rolling down the hill into the street?” I will say that I did have a flare for the dramatic, but I never apologized for losing my cool that day. And they never pushed me that far, again.

Games were pretty tame back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s…the occasional stair jumping inside the house, shooting hoops, tag, hide and seek, running bases, wrestling…compared to the sophisticated activities available in the present-day world. Oops, I almost forgot the soapbox derby, but that wasn’t very widespread. There just weren’t as many options as there are in today’s world. No computers, internet, or video games to occupy the mind or, in many cases, distract it. It was a more laid-back time. Kids may have had simpler tastes because they had not been exposed to so much stimulation. Even as small children, before the advent of universal day care and pre-school, there was more free time for playing or making up their own games. But I digress.

Halloween provided my boys with a great deal of fun, but it was a lot of work for me. I had to take in all the garbage pails and lawn furniture, and lay in wait for any youngster who braved our hill in order to throw raw eggs at the windows. One time I caught a neighbor boy in mid-throw. It was his third window. The next afternoon he was on a ladder with soap and water and a rag, terrified that I’d tell his mother. He cleaned up the mess. I kept his secret.

How grateful I was when the local pranksters limited their activities to the benign art of draping toilet paper over the trees, but, because of the traditional damage caused on that night, I routinely forbade my boys to go outside.

They protested loudly. “Aw, c’mon, Mom, we’re just protecting our property from the Brissy boys. Can’t you see?” Yeah, sure, and I was born yesterday.

After the first infraction…sneaking out a second-story window on mischief night, on a ladder made of old sheets…I threatened everything short of a ball and chain. But I was easily circumvented, so let it ride until the glamour wore off and they discovered something more compelling, like girls, lacrosse, and bicycle racing, which took care of their excess testosterone.

Do I think boys are different from girls from the get-go? You bet I do. Does that make me sexist? No. I recognize that they both have what we call their masculine and feminine side, but I’d be safe in saying that the boys have the bulk of the testosterone and behave accordingly. Do I know boys who do not like to wrestle or engage in dangerous sports? Absolutely…my eldest son is an example. Do I think boys never like to play with dolls? No. They’re as cuddly and loving as the fair sex. Do I think boys should be allowed to cry? Yes. In fact, I always encouraged my sons to show their emotions. Too many males in my generation are all bottled up and unable to express their real feelings for fear of seeming vulnerable or weak. How sad for them. But I do think boys enjoy physical contact and wild activities and extreme sports more than most girls. Maybe that’s because girls are more thoughtful or sensible and don’t want to waste their energy unnecessarily. Who knows? Or maybe, as folklore would have it, it’s because there was a time when the male had to bring home the bacon by stalking animals and subduing untamed nature. Or maybe it’s just in the DNA. As for their mechanical ability and prowess at sports, there’s no difference, except in such things as being a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. That would be tough on the ladies!

There is no gender aptitude for science, mathematics, medicine, law, electricity, plumbing, carpentry, agriculture, and numerous other professions or occupations. If you give a girl a hammer she can pound in a nail as straight as any boy. But in my case I was careful not to hand out hammers to either sex. The temptation might have been just too great.