When it came time to pick names for the Fab Five we found it to be much easier than we had expected. We simply wrote down all of the names that we even remotely liked then went through making various combinations with the names on the list until we settled on those we liked best. After a few name-choosing sessions, we had it all figured out and had settled on the names we loved. In hindsight we reasoned that it was probably so easy because we needed so many names and we got to choose all of our favorites. Piece of cake!
Except for when it came to name the boy.
There was a lot of pressure in this call – knowing that we only had one boy in the mix and knowing that there was almost ZERO chance of bringing another baby boy into the world in our future, we knew we had one chance to get it right. And so it was a really, really tough decision…at least we made it that way. He was our only boy and we wanted him to have a strong boy name. But not overly strong. But it couldn’t be feminine at all, no way, not our style. But it had to have a nice ring to it. And it had to work with “William” because that is a family name and it was a must that the full name included it. And it also had to sound good with Jones and it had to work when you said the first, middle, and last together at the same time. But it couldn’t be too trendy or…….did I mention it had to be a strong name?
Set that aside for a moment and rewind with me back to March 2004. Casey and I are in our doctor’s office for a regularly scheduled sonogram, but this time it was the big one – we were going to find out the sex of our first baby. And as you of course know the results, it was a girl. In a few short months she was introduced to the world, our little world at the time, as Eliot McKenna (we had a hard time deciding on her name as well) and I experienced firsthand the very real feelings of love at first sight! Casey of course already had a nearly-nine month relationship with Little Miss E by the time we first met her and so the maternal love was already deeply connected by that time. But for me, a head over heels heart explosion detonated the instant I looked into her eyes!!
I don’t have a sister, just one older brother, and was generally pretty shy around girls growing up until I got to know them. I didn’t really know a whole lot about the mysterious ways of the opposite sex by the time Eliot was born. I think Casey would even admit to you that in spite of her steady influence over the prior 10+ years, I was pretty clueless in all things girl/woman/X-chromosomed. But when Eliot was born, something inside me clicked and I can honestly tell you I never once feared her “girl-ness”. I feel like I always knew just how to love her, how to interact with her, and how to teach, discipline, and nurture this crazy little force of estrogen that had invaded our world and I still feel like I have a pretty good handle on things with her today. (I know, I know…check back with me when she hits the teen years, has a real crush on a young punk, I mean boy, wants to study abroad, blah, blah, blah…I’ll probably be a complete wreck in those situations, but we’re dealing with the present here people!!)
Alright, fast forward back to Jack…that’s who this blog post is supposed to be about, right? Well it is and there is a point of telling you all of this about Eliot and the names. The point is to illustrate for you a contrast: whereas raising Eliot and the rest of the girls has come as natural to me as breathing, raising Jack has been as challenging as it was picking out his name. At times, it has been as confounding as you would think it would have been for me to raise 5 girls. And as natural as it has felt for me to raise Eliot and her four followers, raising Jack has been every bit as UN-natural.
“Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.” John Wayne
I don’t know what I expected out of my boy when he was born…well that’s not true – I know exactly what I expected. He was supposed to be tough…and strong…and adventurous…and a little crazy like his oldest sister. He was supposed to be born with John Wayne’s swagger, Michael Jordan’s killer instinct, and Clint Eastwood’s ability to roll his own cigarettes while handling a six-shooter. A bit much?
Ok, ok…given the fact that I am 36 years old and I still don’t possess the characteristics of the aforementioned American heroes, maybe my expectations were a little high. So how about this – he was supposed to be born with a hint of their character traits and a strong desire to gain what he was lacking. Still no good?
I must admit, Jack has fallen far short of these otherworldly expectations, and that is of course a good thing and obviously in line with reality, thank the Lord. He has been laid back (some of the time), happy (much of the time), and sensitive (way more of the time than I would like). He’s been funny, whiny, goofy, rough and tumble, shy, gregarious, and loving. We have called him Big Bad Jack, Happy Jack, and Mr. Giggles, but most often we call him Jack-Jack or Jack Jones…there’s something about Jack-Jack that works for him. Though lately we have been calling him Jack the Playa now that he has taken to calling his sisters “his girls”. We have been delighting in (and slightly troubled with) his now frequent, smooth-talking seductions such as, “Where my girls at??” and “It’s bedtime…just me, my stuffed hippo, and my girls. Out!” Not sure if he’s been watching hip-hop videos or what, but I don’t think we should let this new language of his go on much longer…
The thing is, it is not easy to define Jack. He is a mixed bag – emotionally arrested one moment, boyish charm oozing out of him the next; cluelessly rough and tumble with the girls today, helplessly prickly and sensitive tomorrow; happy-go-lucky this morning, as smooth as day old, cheap coffee this afternoon.
What gives?? Boys are supposed to be the easy ones to raise! Everyone always shakes their heads when they hear about all those girls in my life, but no one…NO ONE…ever…EVER…warned me about any difficulties in raising a boy! Quite the contrary as a matter of fact. Aside from the “warnings” that come with toothy-grinned laughter about the usual “boys will be boys” behavior, everyone either directly states or implicitly remarks that boys are not just easier, but EASY to raise. No one……again: NO ONE…warned me that there would be days when you swear your son is going through menopause or that there would be times when you would rather deal with a rabid jackal than deal with your son’s intractable disposition!
With six kids under the age of eight running around our home we know very well that every child’s temperament is uniquely their own, but surely we are not the first and only family to experience first hand the trauma of a male child’s first few years of life. Surely someone else out there and more likely many more people out there have experienced similar difficulties with their bouncing baby boys. Tell me we are not alone in this!!!
Hold on a minute…I think I need to dial it back just a little. It seems I have maybe laid it on a little thick. No, Jack hasn’t been that tough to manage. He has his moments and he has his moods and he is way more touchy about things than we would like, but then again he is only three years old. For the most part, he is a happy-go-lucky, silly, funny, little boy with a charming smile, a classic little boy giggle, and a loving and happy constitution. He is an awesome little man who in no way compares in temperament to a rabid jackel…most of the time. He is my son and I love everything about him!
Can you see how conflicted I am here?!!?
So why the angst and the anxiety about his behavior? Why do I get so twisted up when Jack rips off an ear-piercing scream at the prospect of putting down his pink (yes, pink!) stuffed puppy so he can come eat lunch with the family? Why the frustration in watching him fall to a heap in a fit of tears when one of the girls bumps into him?? Surely this is normal behavior for a boy of his age and surely this is a thing that will pass soon enough.
So again, what gives?
Ok, I’ll admit it. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I am fairly certain I know the answer. I have come to the conclusion that the biggest challenge I have faced in raising Jack, the one thing that I can undeniably blame for my frustration and relative agony is this: me.
Yeah, I think that’s it. No, I don’t just think it, I KNOW that’s it. In fact, I alluded to it about half way up this page – you know, the whole thing about John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and handling a gun and all that. That was kind of a giveaway, don’t you think? I admit it, I am the problem here. Jack is awesome; I am so not awesome that I hereby renounce any and all claims I have once made, continue to make, or may make in the future about my level of awesomeness being above the level of awesomeness assigned to dead fish. Not cool, Ethan Jones, not cool at all…
“Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.” C.S. Lewis
Alright, dramatics aside, I will cautiously and hesitantly maintain that there is at least a tiny bit of justification I can muster for my total not awesomeness. Like I said, I’ve given this a lot of thought so there is a possibility, however remote, that my justification may actually hold water so stop rolling your eyes, bare with me a minute, and keep reading.
So here is how I see it. I have heard that life is tough, unfair, and sometimes unbearable for girls and women; I’ve read it, discussed it, witnessed it, fought it, and taken various stands against it. I believe it to be true just as I believe the earth revolves around the sun. And just as I cannot feel the earth move on its orbital path, I cannot feel it when little girls are mistreated and women are disrespected in the workplace or classroom. I cannot feel the undoubtedly gut-wrenching frustration girls and women feel when trying to live up to impossible ideals put forth by magazine covers that depict impossibly thin models, or by “child advocates” who criticize working moms for not staying home to raise their kids, and by political elites who claim that career stay-at-home moms have “never worked a day in their lives”. But the fact that I don’t feel these injustices doesn’t mean they aren’t real and for girls and women in today’s world, I believe them when they say that this life is hard, sometimes impossibly so.
But when it comes to men and boys and the life that they face, I know it’s real – life is hard for boys and men, sometimes impossibly so. I know this because I’ve lived it; I’ve faced the challenges and the struggles and the unfairness, and the impossibly high standards that boys and men face in today’s world. I have faced them and succeeded at times, but much more often I have faced them and failed. Too many times than I care to count I have failed to live up to the standards of boys and men as set forth by: 1) society at large 2) Hollywood 3) preachers 4) magazine covers/articles 5) the ‘ol boys club 6) women 7) other boys and men 8) teachers 9) coaches 10) bosses…….I could keep going if you like………..
So there it is, my excuse. My excuse for being frustrated with the capricious nature of my son’s interactions with life is simply that I know intimately well how tough life is going to be for him and I want him to be ready. Don’t get me wrong, I know that life is at least equally if not more challenging for girls and women and I want no less for my girls what I want for Jack – success, happiness, balance, fulfillment, joy…and I’ll work no less for their success as I do for Jack’s. But when it comes to Jack and boys and men, I know the unrelenting pressures of life; I feel them everyday, I’ve lived them for 36 years, and those experiences make me acutely aware of all that life is going to exact from him.
And so I micro-analyze everything about him and about his readiness. I want him to overcome. I want him to be prepared; I want him to be well equipped; I want him to be able to handle life at its toughest; I want him to live up to the impossibly high standards set for him by others in spite of my understanding that those standards will be impossible for him to achieve…
And that right there is exactly where I have gone wrong…
Jack is not John Wayne. He is not Michael Jordan or Clint Eastwood and he never will be. He’s just Jack and he is just a boy. And although he was fearfully and wonderfully made, knitted together in Casey’s womb by his perfect and loving father, he is not perfect. And just like his dad, he never will be perfect and he never will live up to the standards set for him by others. In fact, if Jack tries to live up to any standards other than those set for him by the same perfect and loving creator who made him, he will fail. This isn’t something I’ve been told or read about and it isn’t something I believe; it is something that I know because I have lived it. I’ve faced the challenges and the struggles and the unfairness, and the impossibly high standards that boys and men face in today’s world…and I failed to meet them. And it wasn’t until I stopped trying to live up to those impossibly high standards and began to live for the standards set forth for me by Christ that I experienced real success, real triumph, real joy, and real fulfillment.
So Jack, consider this my letter of apology to you. I’ve fallen for the world’s traps so many times before so I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t and for that I am sorry. God has a design for you, a plan, and a mission for your life and it is my job to help you find your way, to guide you, if needed, over and through the obstacles that will cross your path, to help you become the man that He designed you to be, and to get out of your way when the time is right. This is the one and only standard that I hope you live up to – the standard set forth specifically, intentionally, and willfully by God the Father. Follow the path that He has laid out for you and your success, happiness, fulfillment, balance, joy, and peace are guaranteed………I know this, I’ve lived it.