I’ve talked at great length about my girls, their tats and other things, but surprisingly said little about my boys.
I was extremely more connected to my girls, I will admit that. I got to wondering why that was.
Perhaps it is the fact that boys are just different. As boys they of course have different needs, different from me and different from each other. As any parent can attest, all children are unique. I had mostly sisters and I was the eldest and always in charge. I never really understood my brothers much, plus the youngest two were young enough to be my children, the youngest is only 5 months older than my oldest daughter. So I didn’t have a great deal of experience with boys.
Perhaps it was the fact too that I had the luxury of being a stay at home mom with my girls, whereas when the boys father and I divorced they were still young and I had to go to work. It’s not ideal, but that’s how it was.
I remember how much I’d struggled to support them. There was no child support because we had joint custody. His custodial obligation was to maintain insurances and pay for any medical. At least I didn’t have to worry about that. We lived a block away from one another “for the kids” sake and my home was the one closest to the bus stop so they managed to be at my house more than their dads.
My eldest, Ry, was the most affected by the divorce. He was totally devastated and embarrassed. He had always been so proud that of all his classmates, we were one of only a couple of parents not divorced and he liked that. He was only seven then when he became aware of the difference and he would be nine or ten when we divorced. Even though it was I who left, he didn’t forgive his dad for not being man enough to keep me. We all lost.
It wasn’t until he joined the Marines that he learned to forgive and let me be a part of his life again. God Bless the Marines.
Oh, I did things with him, took him on camping trips, track meets, fishing, hiking, mountain climbing and school functions but it wasn’t enough. There was still this enormous emotional chasm. But I didn’t give up. I bulldozed myself into his life. I did all the things a dad should do with his boys because that’s how I am and his father didn’t. That was the only leverage I had. Thank goodness I was such an outdoorsy person. He was outgoing and popular but after a time, he separated himself from his closest friends.
Now Ian is a total opposite.
He is not sporty or terribly coordinated. He was also very shy. So shy, he couldn’t even talk on the phone! Terrified if anyone spoke to him. I know, you’d never guess that by the above pictures. He spent most of his time hiding behind my “skirt”, afraid of his own shadow. He’s also ADD and fortunately not ADHD. Bright but inattentive or so it would appear. I don’t think a complete diagnosis was ever made clear, but he was delayed developmentally. Today I’m inclined to think it may have been a form Asperger’s.
Ry had a fourth grade teacher that I thought should have retired long ago. She didn’t make over him like all his previous teachers had, so he liked her the least. Ian was to get her the following year. We dreaded it.
It was she that identified he had a problem. I knew about dyslexia and other learning disabilities and had been around children with ADHD but this was different. She suggested we have him tested. She said he couldn’t sit still for a minute, homework was a chore and half the time it appeared he wasn’t paying attention, yet he was learning. He tested grade 15 in reading, spelling and comprehension but double entendre’s escaped him. He was unable to get jokes yet was extremely intuitive. Science tested out at about grade 8. He was at grade 4 in math which was at grade level and grade 2 in physical abilities. In second grade, his teacher said his delayed motor skills were affecting his learning, but we didn’t know what to do about it. His father was not into any sport other than cycling which he did rarely and that was only because his dad’s business was bicycles. This new teacher loved him though and he bonded with her and at years end they both cried the last day of school. I’m guessing he challenged her and made teaching interesting rather than mundane. That’s the teacher you want for your special needs child.
After that, we kept getting pressure to medicate, which I was totally against. Ritalin was relatively new on the market and I didn’t want my son to be a guinea pig. As it is, they did find years later many young people succumbed to it’s negative effects including drug addiction*. “the government classifies the psychoactive drug (Ritalin) with cocaine and morphine because it is highly addictive.”**
Ian and I bonded more for the same reason his teacher had, his needs demanded more. I was also closer to Ian in many other ways as well. He was extremely affectionate and we liked the same things. Both boys have amazing voices but only Ian seemed to like singing. I like singing. We connected further when I told my acting coach how shy he was and she suggested letting her help.
She started out running lines with him in the back of the room. Eventually they worked their way to the front. Not all at once of course, but a little at a time. He was 12. Eventually, he got so good that after playing a scene from Moonstruck where he was Nicholas Cage, she yelled at the rest of the men in her class and said,
“That is how it’s done! This kid at 14 convinced me he wanted to take me to bed and, I know he didn’t mean it.” Everyone was silent. But, that’s acting and he was darn good at it.
Both boys could be quite funny. Ry more than Ian but it was rare they were funny together.
Once Ian was singled out as “different”, Ry pulled away from his brother and even became his arch enemy adding insult to injury by parroting his peers, which only brought Ian and I even closer together. This he regretted later. Kids called Ian “dummy” even though he was smarter than they were and the popular kids especially picked on him. To make their life easier we sent them to different schools. Ry could do his sports in public school and Ian would go to a private school for awhile. There he actually fit in and found friends. He could do his artsy things and not have to worry about being compared to his brother. It took a load off Ry as well. I don’t think he meant to be mean, he didn’t know or understand his brother’s special needs, but then neither did we. Today they are fine.
To be fair Ry had begun to have his own issues to contend with. His deciduous teeth had not fallen out on their own and his adult teeth were crowding in on top. Some refer to it as “popcorn teeth”. It was one more nail on the coffin for him. By ten he began the process of tooth extractions and years of orthodontia and the once gorgeous, confident kid felt like a freak. Add the physical pain that went with it and his inability to eat comfortably, he withdrew from his friends and hooked up with a neighbor kid from the wrong side of the tracks. His home life was a revolving door for drinking, drugs and who knows what else, so the company his mom kept left much to be desired. But, his friend liked to fish, so they went fishing all the time.
I felt like I never saw him, but it kept him busy and it gave him so much joy plus he was good at it. The “kid” was basically a good kid and he was always polite, so I figured maybe being around us could help him but I still sensed trouble, not right away but eventually. Because of that I kept my mom radar up and was always on alert. As signs were realized, my greatest fear was affirmed. Drugs. Mostly, but not just pot. For all my intent, it was a friend of ours who actually spotted it first.
We then put him on notice. No more friend. Drug tests would be at random intervals and he wouldn’t know when. At first he balked and angrily fought me on it and yes I hit him well, slapped him. I was in a rage, frustrated and devastated but not certain at what or at whom. I had always vowed I would never do anything out of anger, yet anger did get the best of me. When I saw Nick’c mom from “Fear The Walking Dead” go after her druggy son, I understood. The emotions are complex, I felt helpless but mostly I felt so guilty. I’d let him down with the divorce and I felt guilty about Ian. I think too that out of all that his parents suddenly unite against him. He eventually acquiesced. In truth, I think he was actually relieved. I felt so sorry for him. So many things had gone wrong – his teeth, the friends he no longer had, a brother he didn’t understand, his broken family and he’s lost and perhaps afraid. Everything that could be wrong in his life, was and he was overwhelmed.
Finally and I believe it was God’s intervention, but he met a classmate at school that brought it all together. They started lifting weights and Ry started going to church with the boys family. All Ry ever talked about was how this couple had married young and were still married and what an amazing family they were. More guilt. We didn’t exist for him. I remained guarded and I was jealous but I would swallow my pride because at least he wasn’t on drugs.
My heart couldn’t have been more broken. I wanted him to feel that way about us. I wanted us to be a family.
I knew he wanted to go to college but I couldn’t afford to send him to school and his dad said he couldn’t afford it either. Rys grades were good, but not good enough for scholarships although they might have been had he not gotten waylay-ed. His friend, the young fishing friend joined the army and Ry races home one day and announces he’d joined the Marines.
Interestingly, I believe all that history made Ry a better Marine. He wanted to do something that was punishing yet redeeming. At least that was how I saw it. When he completed his training, he came out forgiving and loving his family more than I could have hoped for. He said, the Marines taught him that family comes first. He still loves his surrogate family but he now included us in his world.
Ry was not a big guy so he had to fight to get and stay in. His DI’s told me at his graduation that they had not expected him to make it, but he did where others had failed. They said he had inspired them and everyone else in his platoon. I could not have been more proud. I remembered his track coach saying the same thing. “Not the best but certainly the most enduring.” His drill instructors bestowed upon him their own globe and anchor, the highest honor a recruit could receive from his superior officers. He was applauded for his tenacity and determination.
Because he had scored so high on the aptitude tests, they singled him out for embassy duty. In the meantime the Iraqi war had begun and we thought he’d have to go. For sure they would send him to Iraq. Surprisingly they didn’t.
At one point he said he was unsure he’d make the cut because of the drug incident. After several interviews and psychiatric evals they asked the big D question. His saving grace was that he didn’t lie. We all worried and waited. Finally, he got word. They told him normally that would have prevented him from being accepted as a candidate but they appreciated more than anything his honesty. They had conferred with his DI’s and other superior officers he’d worked with and came back with his acceptance. Next step was off to Quantico for the CIA training all MSG’s must pass. His training was grueling but he made it. They outfitted them all with variations of the same wardrobe, looking pretty much like clones. Boy did he look handsome though. They ran more background checks but now of the entire family before his selection was complete.
Ironically, my brother, who also works on high security clearance projects was due for his series of background checks. So our family and friends were hit with simultaneous scrutiny. Our closest neighbor approached us one day and teasingly asked us, “What in the hell have you all been into?!” This is one occasion where they do check. No worries, we’re good. We cleared them all. He would later get pulled from his post in Kiev to secure the grounds and guard the president for the NATO summit. What an honor!
Ry is now out of the military. With the GI bill, he was able to graduate college and is now a father of three, two of his own and a foster child they will be adopting. He also has a child recently diagnosed with mild autism, smart like Ian but with learning issues. He is three and Ry loves him to death. Fortunately, he married to a young lady who is a teacher that just happens to specialize in children with special needs. I think now too, Ry not only because he is older and wiser and remembering his own shortcomings dealing with his brother, he will no doubt redeem himself with his son. Until the adoption is formalized, I cannot include a family picture as foster children are protected by HIPPA.
Over the years Ian has bounced around living with various family members. His dad, sister and us and for a brief time attempted to live on his own but failed at it miserably. When he came to live with us for awhile, he and I did dramas at church. Our church loved hearing him sing so he was frequently asked to perform and occasionally we’d sing duets together. Despite his trepidation, he always came through magnificently. At 33, he is now finally on his own for the first time in his life. He is attending Full Sail University off and on and still has difficulty staying on task but he’s doing better. He was studying gaming and digital animation but may reevaluate his major in that. It’s the learning that challenges him the most. He has an on and off again girl friend who seems to be extremely patient with him and seems to be motivating him to find his niche. His mind still wanders but he’s exploring art and finding he does it well. Even so, he’s an awesome young man. They both are and I love them immensely.
Ryan doing the Lewa Marathon while stationed in Nairobi, competing with barefoot Kenyans. The group picture is Ry with a Peace Corp group he met and with fellow Marines that also love to run. He also got to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro while stationed there which is 19,340 feet high. He says it was grueling and at times wasn’t sure he’d get to the top, but he did. Of course.
Ian and I at High School graduation and a before and after moving out on his own and getting fit. The last being Ian today.
12 thoughts on “The Difference in Boys”
That was a fascinating and very honest post. Perhaps I found it particularly interesting because I also have a couple of sons who are very different from each other in terms of their personalities, aptitudes and opinions. I’m glad that despite the various issues that arose in the past, things seem to have arrived at a good place now.
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Trust me, there were times I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. There were moments where I wondered how our lives had gotten to that point. I so wanted them to get along and as you can see there were moments where they did, but they were rare. I think as a parent, you will always wonder what you could have done different along the way, in truth some things you just have to let play out.
As I worried out loud, Ian would reassure me, “Mom, it’s not your fault!” That was always kind. Ry was our “Mr. Independent” and Ian’s Kindergarten teacher said of Ian, “He marches to the beat of a different drummer”. And so it was. Thank you for your kind words.
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You’re very welcome. I enjoyed reading the post. I love a story with a happy ending. 🙂
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A very interesting read, Jo. Very well written, and heartfelt, and honest. You gotta love writing like that. Love the photos.
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Thank you Keith. Aren’t they cuties? Of the two Ian changed the most. He has lost some weight now and we noticed that he looks like the Kardashian son. Somewhere we have a picture of the two side by side. Spooky. Thanks again.
I was struck with how “blonde” they were. Everyone looks like someone else, you know.
My father was a towhead, if that means anything to you. His nickname as a child was “cotton top”. Then my ex’s family was Norwegian and his mother was also very blonde. Darek and I had dark hair but apparently had the male blond gene. Tina’s hair was fairer when she was young. It got darker after “the pill” when she got married. It was funny but her boys were fairer than the daughter who came out looking a lot like me. I was surprised at how different they were too. It’s the same with their dad and Ross.
This is good. They sound like fine boys.
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They are pretty special.
I enjoyed reading this piece. I’m so glad things turned out well for both your sons and for you. It’s never easy raising children. We have a son and a daughter. They’re very different also. I think our son doesn’t totally understand why his sister doesn’t think the way he does. I hope one day he’ll realize they’re just different. They’re both in their late 30’s now. She’s a working actor in Chicago and he thinks she should now find more secure work. I hope one day he’ll come around. He’s a law librarian. Congratulations on so successfully raising your sons. 🙂 — Suzanne Joshi
My brother and I had that vinegar and oil combo but we are now good friends. When someone is in the arts and entertainment field it is often very difficult for others to understand what motivates us. It is never regarded as “normal” work. Many think it’s nothing more than exhibitionism. It is not an easy occupation to pursue. It comes with so much rejection and you have to be tough and somewhat thick skinned. I put my dreams on hold for so many years because of worrying what others think but, it’s wonderful when family and friends support you. Keep cheering her on. After watching my dad die regretting so much he could have done or wanted to do, I decided to go for it. People should do what they love. Only then can they be happy. When that is not enough, it’s time to move on.
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