Category - Little Boys
Essay by Susan Cheever

Little boys love in the enchanted land of in-between. They are big and little, bunny cuddly and lion wild, fearless in playground battles as they strut from slide to swings, but frightened of the monsters who live in the darkness under the bunk bed. They are too silly to sit still for a haircut, but as serious as King Solomon about the rules of a soccer game. Their favorite game is playing being men. My son likes to shave his smooth cheeks - with a blunt kitchen knife. "Please, I'm working!" he says when I interrupt his games of small soldiers. He loves to get mail addressed to him.

In the morning, my son can explain as persuasively as any grown-up defense lawyer why he should have to go to school. He already knows what they are teaching that day. The third grade educational system is too rigid for real learning. He's sick. Then in the doctor's office he's a baby again when the pediatrician suggests a shot.

Little boys love anything to build and anything with a motor and anything that makes a lot of noise. A bunch of flowers or yo-yo trick makes them beam rows of pearly baby teeth. My son puts each tooth carefully under his pillow for the tooth fairy, and treasures the prize she leaves behind. "Are you the tooth fairy?" he asked me last year. "What do you think?" I said, but I couldn't help smiling. "You are!" he was delighted to have guesses a grown-up secret. Then he understood what he had lost and changed his mind. "No, you're not," he said, "or else where are all the teeth?" I didn't answer. Now he writes a note for the tooth fairy asking her not to take the tooth when she leaves the dollar.

At five, little boys are tricycle-riding toughs, but still burst into sobs when they skin a knee in a four-truck pileup. They crow with pleasure at three scoop of ice cream in a cone or visiting kitten. They sleep with their teddy bears. They love caps, baseball caps worn backwards, oversized caps that hide everything but a smile. They love all animals, from a puppy dogs to lizards that slither away in the summer grass. Little boys are so small that they sometimes look like a grin on legs, but they're big enough to inspire poetry. "Oh glorious to be a human boy / Oh running stream of sparkling joy / To be a soaring human boy," wrote Charles Dickens. Cupid is a little boy, a naughty boy whose antics drive us all crazy, crazy with love.

When my little boy is afraid of the dark he jumps into my arms and cuddles next to me. He gives off a feeling I call "the sweetness" because there is nothing else as sweet on earth. I love the way his neck smells and the way the hair grows in a cowlick at the top of his head. The next day, he'll spend hours waiting with a net trying to catch a frog, and laugh happily when the frog gets away. Last summer, we caught a frog in my mother's pond. At the end of the afternoon, a snake darted out of the wall and struck the frog. My little boy screamed. My daughter and I skewered the snake with a garden pole and saved the frog.

As soon as he could write, my son made a sign for his door: NO GIRLS ALLOWED, it said. Seven-year-olds are all boy, whizzing around on their two-wheelers, and worshipping the guy gods of sport. They sleep with a teddy bear and a baseball mitt. With their friends they are already a fraternity, bumping shoulders, comparing lost teeth, and laughing too hard at bad jokes. They are rough, they wrestle and chase each other. If they get hurt, they don't cry until they get home. Little boys have their own code of behavior: they fiendishly loyal, they love with abandon, and any betrayal sends them into heartbroken tears.

By nine they are little men, mastering the manly gestures that will punctuate their grown-up days; they chosen the knot of a tie, push a hat back on their head. They glance at their watched to remind you that it's getting late. They don't want to talk about feelings anymore. They sleep with a teddy bear, a baseball mitt, a pile of comics, and a book.

Sometimes they will help a girl with her books or a computer problem. They have a man's gallantry and a boy's innocence. They will sit still by the edge of a lake waiting for a fish that never comes, but at bedtime their stillness has vanished. They are merry cherubs again, asking for a last glass of water, for a last bedtime story, for a last sweet kiss.


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