Boys Will be Boys
At the discount bread store, my boys--9, 13 and 15--come in long enough to choose their treats.
"Let's go outside," says my oldest son, and the other two follow.
"The car's locked," I call, wishing they'd stay. How did they become so independent?
They don't look back. My middle boy brushes me off with a backward sweep of his arm. "We'll wait by it."
It is only the girls, 7 and 11, who stay with me. I know I shouldn't stereotype, but boys really are different than girls. My daughters help pick out the breads and rolls then wait with me behind a very slow, very frail old woman at the cash register. She has her punch cards filled and she's painstakingly deciding on her free bonus items from the rack behind the counter.
I sneak a smile at my oldest daughter. Her eyes twinkle back. The store fills with other customers as we wait. A man in a white truck with a construction logo parks right outside the window. The bell on the door jangles as he enters the store. He grabs a loaf of deli-rye. He's sweaty in his dirty-shirt, holding the loaf his large hand dwarfs as he waits behind us--to the side actually, where the line must form in the tiny, overstocked store.
Two more elderly women come in. One, wearing serious sunglasses that wrap around the sides of her gray head, has a pull cart. My younger daughter moves our grocery cart aside so she can pass. Maybe the lady takes the bus, I think, watching her for entertainment as we wait. She clucks her tongue as she looks at the bags of rolls, finally decides on the smaller one and heads into the line behind the construction guy.
The other lady is heavier, wearing a zip-front housedress in bright pink with huge, appliquéd flowers at the neck. She drove up in a burgundy colored Cadillac and got out slowly. Her rubber-soled shoes make a squishing noise on the vinyl floor. She lingers around the sweets tables, tossing a box of donuts, a chocolate cake, and two packages of cinnamon rolls into her cart.
Finally, the woman in front of us has made her decisions. She grabs her bags in knotty, arthritic hands. I see my middle son outside the window. He cups his hand around his face, peeks in through the shaded glass. The frail old woman struggles with the door, and my son notices, moves to hold it for her. My throat constricts with pride. He lets it fall shut behind the woman whose narrow face beams, her eyes sparking with delight. I see her thanking him, see him nod and head quickly away like a rabbit to its hole.
The girls and I begin to pile our goods up on the counter. The people behind me watch. The construction guy wishes I didn't have so much. He wants to go home. The lady with the pull cart checks her watch, probably hoping she won' t miss the bus. The heavy lady in the housedress looks at the treats we picked, her eyes following each one like a hungry dog. They're all wondering why a woman with two girls is buying so much.
The store clerk smiles and the lines above her upper lip go away. They come back when her mouth contracts. She punches out a complete card--one square for each two dollars spent--and has me pick from the rack behind the counter. I choose a sweet bread called Swirl of Honey.
The store clerk begins to bag the items. I think of the boys, irritated they didn't stay to help. Then my youngest son appears outside the window. He's wondering what's taking us so long. When he comes in, I say, "Tell them to get in here and get a bag." The people behind me watch. And as he leaves, I shuffle sideways, look out the window at them near our snazzy '92 Suburban I parked in the shade around the building. The back windows now say "wash me" in the caked-on dust.
A moment later, the boys file in. First the youngest, who I hand a bag. Then, the middle boy who gets a bigger one. Then my fifteen-year-old, who dwarfs me. The old ladies watch, their eyes twinkling with memories of their own sons. Even the man has a smile for my reluctant boys. Maybe he can relate. Maybe my boys aren't the only reluctant ones. Maybe most need reminders. Even my husband doesn't always help carry in the groceries without a prompt.
The store clerk smiles and her lip lines go away. She packs rolls into the top of a bag that holds three heavy pies and says to my son, "I wanted to get this one extra full just for you."
His baby dimple etches into his narrow cheek, his shoulders broad as he walks away carrying the full bag in one hand as if it's nothing.
The store clerk turns to all her customers in the line behind me. "Even big boys are fun to tease. Did you see him blush?"
The ladies are grinning now. Even the construction guy cracks a smile, winks at me before I turn and head out of the store.
In the car on the way home, I tell my boys they made those ladies' days. To my fifteen-year-old I say, "The store clerk liked that you blushed."
"I didn't blush," he insists.
I recount the whole story, realizing the joy my ornery sons brought to those people in the store.
The boys begin cutting up, calling their sisters the teasing games that mean they care.
At a string of derogatory pet names that come from my older son's mouth, the baby girl of our family is unfazed. She grins and says, "I don't understand why he calls me that stuff, then plays two-square with me."
I laugh at the dynamics, reminded of my own older brothers. "He plays two-square with you because he loves you, then calls you those names so you won't think so."
In the rearview mirror, I can see that dimple etching into my son's cheek again.
The boys begin talking to one another now, saying "shut up" so the first "u" sounds like a short "i," and "ask me" without the "k." My older daughter doesn't get their curse-word jokes. She thinks they're making fun of the way she used to leave the "k" off the word when she was little.
"No," I tell her. "They're using a false speech impediment to say the a-s-s word."
"And the shh word too," my middle boy says.
They begin their round of inventive sentences again, getting away with the huge crime of cursing right in front of their mother.
"I'm refusing to laugh at this," I say, draping my hand over the smile they know is there.
I don't have to play the heavy all the time, I think, justifying my smile.
My middle son helped that lady with the door. My husband would have done the
same, even if he doesn't always get the groceries.
Boys will be boys. Sometimes, I can let them, and they'll still grow up to be good men--I hope. For now, they're ornery boys from the old snips and snails rhyme. Boys the ladies love. Especially me.
Sheri McGregor is an internationally published journalist with business, health/medicine, psychological, women's and general interest credits in publications including Oracle Corporation's Profit Magazine, Sunset Publication's Select Magazines, Reader's Digest's Walking Magazine, InfoWeek, and many others. With a good eye for trends, she provides ad copy and marketing materials for companies big and small. Her love of people and interest in what makes them tick shines through in her public speaking. Essays drawn from the chaotic rhythm of her life flow freely--and serve as her therapy. McGregor is also a published novelist. She is probably at her keyboard, pounding out another story right now.... Websites: SheriMcGregor.com, MothersWhoDream.com