Four sons later, I've learned 'nothing'

I remember stomping around the kitchen when I was 8 or 9 years old, exclaiming to my mom that I would never, ever understand boys. "They're weird," I told her. "And they do dumb things."

Fast-forward 30 years, and here I am – the mother of four boys, ages 5, 8, 11, and 14 – back in the kitchen, still thinking boys are a bit weird. I'm no longer stomping around, but I have to

admit that I still don't get 'em most of the time, although I'm really, really trying.

When my husband and I were first married, I used to ask him tenderly, "Honey, what are you thinking?"

To which he'd reply, "Nothing." That used to really tick me off. How could he just sit there and think "nothing"? I'd wonder.

But now that I've raised so many boys from the ground up, I realize that boys – and yes, men, too – are in fact completely capable of thinking nothing. A man can sit, swinging back and forth in a hammock, his wife nestled in his arms, thinking of nothing but the fact that he is in a hammock with his wife. He's not writing out a grocery list in his head, fixing everyone else's problems, or noticing that the deck needs a good cleaning.

Men can drive their cars, mow their lawns, sweep their garages, watch a ballgame, and even fold the laundry without planning next week's meals, redecorating the house, or trying to solve world problems.

It's amazing, really.

When it comes to getting stuff done around the house, finally figuring out my boys' affinity for this "nothing" has helped me immensely.

If I ask them to do one thing, like "clean up your room," it will get done. But asking them to clean up their room and put away their clean clothes means I'll find them, an hour later, stretched out on their unmade beds in their (still) messy rooms, lying on top of all those clean clothes I wanted them to put away.

My question: "What are you doing?" is always answered with "Nothing."

And they're not lying.

But this talent for thinking nothing is not all I'm trying to understand about all these men in my life.

When my boys and their friends are outside jumping on the trampoline, they can't just jump; they can't do the simple up and down thing. It must be a competition.

They must compete for who jumps the highest, who's the most original, who lands on his feet best, who's able to stay on the longest. You name it. One of them has got to be alpha dog, the one at the top of the heap.

Even taking turns is determined by taking off their socks, balling them up, and then hurling them as hard as possible at the current jumper's face. When two socks hit the jumper's face at the same time, the winner is the one who hit him the hardest.

Of course, if your sock leaves a mark, you automatically win. And you win not just your turn, but the awe and respect of all the other boys playing.

Inevitably, someone always gets hit too hard in the face, and tears erupt. Still, when I suggest they use a Nerf ball instead of their dirty socks, they all look at me as if I'm the weird one.

Anyway, as fast as the tears start, they stop. By the time I'm on the scene asking what happened, they tell me, "Nothing."

And they're completely serious. Everyone has moved on, they're all best friends again, and they've already resumed throwing dirty socks at one another. No grudges, no pouting, no rehashing, and no passing around enough blame to last the rest of the day.

In my experience, boys can never leave any puddle undisturbed, any dirt pile unconquered, any toilet seat down, any rock unflung. They must always be jabbing, poking, stabbing, punching, and teasing one another, as well as moving their lips and making some sort of nondescript noise during their every waking hour.

And whenever I ask, "What are you doing?" they'll always respond, "Nothing."

And they're not lying.

When they tell me, "Mommy, you look so pretty," that's all they're saying. There are no games involved. I don't need to second-guess their motives or wonder if they're really trying to say, "Mom, what you're wearing makes you look fat."

When my boys are telling me about their day, they lookstraight into my eyes. And when they're talking, they're not thinking about something they'd rather be doing, arranging play dates, or replaying their favorite Nintendo game over and over in their minds.

There's so much about boys – and, yes, men – that I don't get. But I must also admit that I could use a bit more "nothing" in my head every once in a while.

So now, when I snuggle with one of my boys nestled deep in my lap, I try to just sit there and focus on that: snuggling. I try just to enjoy the moment, the smell of their hair, and the joy of their enthusiasm as they spill out the events of their day to me.

I'm not planning out their lives, thinking about when I can get them in for a haircut, or about what we're having for dinner that night. I'm just snuggling.

They've taught me this.

Now when they ask me, "Mommy, what are you thinking?" I'm getting better and better at answering, "Nothing."

And I'm not lying.

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