A House Without Boys
by Sharon O’Donnell
I think the house must be curious by now. “What happened to the boys?” I can almost hear it ask -- the three boys who have lived here for such a long time. Well, the oldest went off to college ten years ago, believe it or not, and then the next one left three years after that. And it was bittersweet when they left for college, but I was relieved and thankful to have my youngest home with me for quite a few more years. But the years went by, and my ‘baby’ left for college in August. And my husband and I came home to an empty house. That is, besides our beloved almost 15-year-old long-haired dachshund.
Yet, there were no boys. Our oldest son lives in a different city five hours away, and our middle one has his own apartment, works out of town frequently, and is engaged to be married next year. Then the youngest left. And I wondered if even the house itself might be confused and perhaps a bit forlorn. After all, in 2007, I wrote a humor book about our lives in our home – a book about raising three sons and what it was like to be the only female in my house surrounded by guys. It was called House of Testosterone and was filled with anecdotes about sports, bathroom humor, school days, Scouting, roughhousing and noise, brotherly love, and even the boys going to dances and their first plays. But it’s ironic that our house was ever called a house of testosterone because there is so much silence here now.
And I think of the walls and floors and ceilings, and I can’t help but think they are somehow aware there has been a change. Something’s not right.
There is the kitchen where I made countless numbers of meals, trying to make things the boys liked and were also healthy for them. Where I’d give them baby food while they sat in their high chair, banging the tray and smearing sweet potatoes on their foreheads and dropping it on the floor. Where they would come in the side door after school, ready for a snack and to tell me what had happened that day, usually mostly about recess. Where they’d drop their backpacks on the floor after middle school, eager to shed the day’s weight and relax for a bit before starting homework. And there at the kitchen table, much of that homework was done: spelling words, multiplication tables, capitals of countries, types of clouds, and projects like baking cookies in the shape of states. There was the rush out the door in the mornings as my husband or I hurriedly handed lunches to them, as our dog barked at them until they exited. There was the holiday baking with excitement in the air, and the boys would linger around me in the kitchen, gleefully telling me about the church Christmas program or their Santa lists. The kitchen island was where their birthday cake would sit as they blew out the candles, surrounded by friends and family singing Happy Birthday. And the kitchen was where the boys would ask, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” or ransack the pantry or fridge, looking for their favorite treats. Surely, the kitchen must be wondering now what has happened to the boys.
The bathrooms must be wondering where the boys are and why I haven’t had to clean around the toilets nearly as much or as diligently as I had to when they were here. I can still see each of my boys in the tub when they were babies, sitting in the little ring that held them up, grinning up at me. Then later the tub in their bathroom became a shower instead, and sweaty sports uniforms were thrown on the floor or in the hamper as the boys took showers after games and practices. On school mornings, the bathroom door was often where we, as parents, had to bang on it repeatedly, shouting over the water in the shower, “Hurry up, you’re gonna be late!” And as the first scraggly hairs appeared on their faces, the bathroom sink was the place of many shaves, as they grew from boys to men.
Their bedrooms were where I’d read them books when they were little and say their prayers with them, too. This is where we’d talk at night, and though the conversations decreased from when they were little boys to when they were teens, this was still the place I’d check in with them to make sure everything was okay. This is where their insecurities and worries would sometimes surface, and we’d discuss these things. This is where there was a lot of laughter and video game playing with friends, but the bedrooms also saw some tears. And let’s not forget all those sleepovers, especially birthday parties, with the room filled with sweaty, pre-pubescent boys.
And then there is the family room filled with memories of cartoon-watching, particularly Scooby-Doo cartoons, Barney videos, Sesame Street, Gullah Gullah Island, and Dragon Tales. It’s the place where we’d gather to watch the happy and sad news of the decades, and processing it all together. I will never forget the nights and days we gathered there after September 11th, 2001, and how we hugged each other and cried. On the flip side, I will also remember forever watching the exciting baseball games on TV as the Boston Red Sox finally won the World Series, after 86 years of coming close but never winning it all. As Red Sox fans, we reveled in all of the late night, improbable wins (and yes, we let the boys stay up to watch) and celebrated together. Never giving up and continuing to believe even against the odds were lessons we all took from that. I’m sure the family room remembers the yelling and jumping up and down when David Ortiz hit those homeruns or Dave Roberts stole that base or Pedro Martinez threw another strike. The family room is where we first brought our little long-haired dachshund to when we brought him home and how we all took turns holding and cuddling him, creating lessons about nurturing and love; we never knew how a little dog can take over and rule a whole house until then. A boy dog, of course. Named Fenway, of course. And 15 years later, he still rules the house; but, he is sad these days, too, because, he misses the boys and perks up when the return home.
The family room was also the place where most of the boys’ toys were when they were little, and where they would roughhouse on the carpet. Boisterous with occasional laughter, tears and screams. The sound of brotherhood. Games of ill-advised indoor basketball or soccer, resulting in a few bruises and several broken items through the years. And yes, the family room is where the Christmas tree was, where the boys would come down to on Christmas morning, filled with excitement to see what Santa had brought. When my oldest son, now 28, spent Christmas with his girlfriend’s family for the first time several years ago, he said he’d miss coming down the stairs Christmas morning and “rounding that corner.” ‘That’ corner is the one into the family room where the tree and presents and excitement were. I remember being glad that my son had that vision so instilled in his memory. There were also before-the-prom photos taken there of nervous boys on the verge of manhood in their rented tuxedos. My middle son is now engaged to his prom date of his junior and senior years, and I remember how they stopped by the house before going so we could take some pictures there in the family room. I knew then that they had something special.
And don’t forget the front porch where many Christmas card photos were taken – or rather attempted. Being in photos has never been a favorite thing to do for my sons. And the garage with the sports equipment: a hockey net, basketballs, batting practice tees, footballs, roller blades, water guns, hockey sticks, and the baseball bags that my middle son used to leave sunflower seeds in, resulting in squirrels coming into our garage and holes in the bottom of the baseball bag.
Yes, it all happened here.
They haven’t forgotten you, house, you know. They’ll be back -- not quite the same, but you will recognize them and know that they are yours. But still, when my husband and I go out or away somewhere, it’s tough to get used to coming back to our house now – our house without boys.
Empty Hallways with Their Room Doors Closed