I knew that I wasn't in any trouble, but I felt that uncomfortable nervousness I always had when a man was near. Our school principal, Mr. Manske, was welcoming our 6th grade class to a new year. He had a pleasant, casual manner, but I was sitting in the front row just feet from him, and from my knees on down, my legs felt numb and cold. I tried to talk away my rising panic, but it grew more powerful than any words I had.
I began to shake my feet back and forth, to wake them up, but Mr. Manske noticed. Smiling, he looked at me and said, “Am I making you nervous? Maybe there's something I should know?” The kids in the class laughed, but I jumped up and ran out of the room, embarrassed and angry at myself.
Why was I like this? I was 11-years-old, and every time I was around a male, I wanted to run. I had no father, I had no grandfather, I had no male cousins and no men in my house. I had been raised by my grandmother, and a mother who worked two jobs, sometimes three, to support me and my three sisters. I had never been around men.
Men made me nervous. They were an unknown and a mystery to me in a way that I had no curiosity to discover. I was comfortable in the midst of women. In both 7th grade and 8th grade my teachers were both males. I avoided contact with them, as a child avoids anything that makes them apprehensive. I did my school work with minimal interaction.
In high school, to much relief, my mother enrolled me in an all girl school. My four years there were as relaxing as being at home. By my junior year, I had a high school boyfriend who was more like a best friend. His kindness and gentle manner made him into one of my closest friends for over 15 years.
It's not that I didn't like men, I just grew anxious around them. For me, women were easy to understand and from a land that I was familiar with. I didn't have a map to know my way around a male.
When I married my husband 20 years ago, we were anxious to start a family. Within three months, I was pregnant. I had an undeniable feeling that we were having a girl, and I daydreamed about the closeness we'd have. At our first ultrasound, we were told we were expecting a boy. I was thrilled, but surprised more than anything at my reaction. A boy somehow felt right.
We had our second child within two years. A boy. This time, I fell in love with the idea of being the mother of boys. When we were expecting our third, I knew I would be expecting too much from the universe for another boy.... but I had come to feel comfortable around boys. When we found out that our third baby was male, I cried with the pride of having another son.
I have been a mother of three boys for 19 years. I live in a house with four men. I can see with retrospect, that it wasn't the pride of sons that overjoyed me, I would have been happy with any sex child. What I see now is that in an innate wish for inner healing, my psyche knew the gift that these children would bring. I had the opportunity to see that a man has his start as a boy, and though this may sound basic to many reading this, it wasn't to me. A boy is someone's baby, and through these babies of mine, I would come to understand that men are not a mystery, but someone's treasured child that has grown up. Like any other child. They can be funny or serious, smart or foolish, outgoing or introspective, they can be anything that I've seen women be.
I think back to that little 11-year-old girl in the 6th grade classroom, and I want to put my arm around her and assure her, “There is no secret to men. They are just boys who grow up. What I am telling you, is that they are just like you. You are going to find this out in the most wonderful way.”