Boys at the riverWhen I was pregnant for the second time, part of me really wanted the child to be a girl. I come from a family of three girls. I am a girl. I understand girls. So it was natural for me to long for someone to dress up in pretty clothes, adorn with sparkly jewellery and whose golden hair I could plait. When I found out it was another boy, there was a momentary sense of “Ah…” While I was trying to overcome this muted disappointment, my wise mother gave me a book. It was called What Little Boys Are Made Of: Loving Who They Are and Who They Will Become and it’s filled with delightful 1950s-style paintings by Jim Daly of boys with torn pants playing in the garden with dogs and reading comic books.

That book was a godsend. It snapped me out of my feelings of being hard done by and woke me up to the reality that I was being blessed with a boy. The book reminded me of what I knew deep inside me already: Boys are wonderful. Boys are full of adventure and want to conquer the world. Boys are future leaders in the making. Boys love climbing and sliding and getting wet and dirty. Boys learn by doing, by experimenting, by trying. Boys are “nature’s answer to that false belief that there is no such thing as perpetual motion”. What an awesome privilege to shape a little life to become the kind of men the world so sorely needs – secure, confident, full of integrity and caring.

Of course, we all know the little rhyme that inspired the book in the first place:

What are little boys made of?

What are little boys made of?

Frogs and snails and puppy-dog tails

That’s what little boys are made of.

Boys book cover cropped

But the book is filled with other quotes too, like this one from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: “There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.”

That certainly rings true. Boys love adventure and quests and heroes. I’m making sure I fill in all the blanks as far as children’s literature is concerned, especially those books that appeal to boys, like Tom Sawyer, Jack London’s Wild Fang, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Peter Pan by JM Barrie and the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis. (If you’re looking for a good guide, try the recommended reading list at the back of Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys. This is also a great book for learning how to make paper jets and tree houses, by the way! And understanding the rules of cricket, Mom.) Right now I’m busy reading The Wind in the Willows with my eldest son Samuel and he is loving it. Toad is such a likeable, but rather silly character and his daring escape from jail as a washerwoman is at once ridiculous and heroic.

Last week I was at a children’s party and a mom was expressing her misgivings about having a boy (her firstborn is a girl). “I just don’t know boys,” she said helplessly. I reassured her that as long as she was willing to learn a thing or two about trucks, pirates and dinosaurs, she’d be fine. I can say quite frankly that I could not tell the difference between a digger, an excavator or a grader before I had boys (or a stegosaurus and a diplodocus either, for that matter). I didn’t know what a poop deck was or which side of a ship was port, starboard, bow or stern. And the learning continues unabated – a few days ago I added the word “halberd” and “truncheon” to my vocabulary (very important words too, if you’re dealing with castles or defending law and order).

In fact, you could say that my education into boyhood is only just beginning, with Samuel now six years old and Matthew four. By the time we’re done raising them, perhaps I could write a book about it. Or maybe I’ll just be gearing up for becoming a grandparent. Do you think it will be boys or girls? I wonder…