House of Testosterone: One Mom's Survival in a Household of Malesby Sharon O'Donnell
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Every woman has asked herself the question What was he thinking? at least once in her life. When you are the mother of boys, it seems like this question is on a continuous tape loop in your head. Humor columnist Sharon O’Donnell knows this feeling. In House of Testosterone, she chronicles her adventures raising three sons and reining in her über-male, forgetful husband, Kevin. She shares her stories of welcoming her third son into the world, resisting the gravitational pull of the “guy zone,” and running a household immersed in a world of sports, bathroom humor, and laundry. O’Donnell’s spirit shines through as she struggles to find some “me time” or survive another comical family vacation.
These entertaining episodes of child- (and husband-) rearing lovingly illustrate why Sharon calls herself “Lady of the House of Testosterone.”
"A witty, intelligent primer on how to survive and succeed in a houseful of male hormones." -- Missy Chase Lapine
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt
A Son Is Given unto Our House (Ditto . . . Ditto Again)
Sure Signs You’re a Mother of Boys
Your weekend schedule includes more total hours of Little League sports than it does sleep.
You have to arrange two weeks ahead of time to take a bubble bathand then must lock the door and scream, “I’m in the tubask Dad!” every three minutes.
You can get your sons to eat broccoli just by telling them whoever eats the most, wins
The Third Child In the beginning there was just a man named Kevin and a woman named Sharon living in the House of O’Donnell, and both enjoyed equal rule in this house. Then came the blessings of two sons, turning our reasonably tranquil abode into a veritable House of Testosterone, quickly known throughout the land (or at least the neighborhood) as a place of chaos and confusion. I don’t recall officially abdicating my throne, but I was definitely losing power in my household. And then came son number three.
When I found out I was pregnant with our third child, I told my husband, Kevin, the news via e-mail. Yeah, you’re damn right I was chicken. We’d been debating whether or not we should try for a third one. Since my biological clock was ticking, I was for it, while he was hesitant, viewing a baby as just one more college education to save for. To have or not to have, that was the question. Whenever we talked about the issue, Kevin rolled his eyes like one of those Vegas slot machines, but instead of fruits scrolling up in the windows, I could tell he was looking at dollar signs: $$$$$. This made it difficult to reason with him about the advantages of having another child.
I figured with an e-mail I could at least get in all I wanted to say before he started screaming or passed out. He’d be sitting there at his desk, and bam! suddenly, there it would be in bold type, amid all those other e-mails from clients. This way he’d have ample time to think about how to respond to the news. Maybe he’d even rush home with roses in his arms (ha!).
The “whether to have a third child” question had first popped up in our home about three years earlier when our two sons, Billy and David, were six and three. Since we had two boys, it was only natural for me to daydream about having a little girl, but another boy would be all right with me, too, even though the thought of having to keep up with boys’ hand-me-down clothes for the next decade made me feel slightly nauseated. One night as we were cleaning up the kitchen before bedtime, I finally got up the nerve to ask Kevin, “What do you think about having another one?” He paused a second, then looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. “But where would we sit in restaurants?” he asked. I waited for him to finish his thought, but then I realized he actually was finished. That was the entire thought. I tried I really tried to figure out what in the heck he was talking about, but finally I had to ask what he meant. “All the tables and booths and stuff are for families of four,” Kevin explained. “If we have another child, how would we all sit down in a restaurant together?” I froze in the middle of loading the dishwasher, the absurdity of his response paralyzing me for a few moments. Even if this imaginative but dumb reason had appeared in some physician’s top-ten list of why not to have kids, it didn’t apply to us because we hardly ever went out to eat unless I begged or hinted that TV dinners were the only food left in the house. Then, deciding to play his game, I offered, “Well, I guess we could always opt for the drive- through.” Oddly, this seemed to appease Kevin, and he nodded thoughtfully, perhaps mentally calculating the cost of a lifetime of Happy Meals.
I dropped the topic for that day, sensing he was not in the right mind frame for such a serious discussion. He knew that I wanted another baby, but he also knew the further away we got from the diaper bag routine, the harder it would be to start over with the sleepless nights, the potty training, and the loss of free time.
Yet there was this part of me that just didn’t want to accept the idea that I’d never hold another one of my babies in my arms, feel it flutter inside me for the first time, hear another first laugh. I wanted to experience those magic years again.
And certainly, part of me really wanted to have a girl. Let’s face it the odds were stacked against me every day of my life. Three guys versus me. I had just about reached the point of waving the white flag, but I was still hanging in there. A little girl would be nice, but I admit I was much more adept at handling ball practices than ballet lessons. I was pretty good at jump shots but awful at standing on my tiptoes and twirling around. I had no idea how to tie a bow in someone’s hair, yet I could wet down cowlicks and shave sideburns. I’d have to learn how to be a mother to a daughter, buttttt I was willing to try. It became my dream to have another female in the house.
Just once I wanted to buy a Barbie instead of a Power Ranger or G.I. Joe. Or perhaps one of those pink castles with the princess in the window or the little refrigerator with the plastic vegetables. However, my husband’s main objection to having another baby was making sure there was plenty of college money set aside for each child. Admirable, but just too darn much like the financial analyst he is. We’d done a good job with saving for our first two, but we would have to start over saving for our third. No doubt it would have been easier to stop at two. But my own parents had “started over” when they decided to have me, their fourth child, when their youngest at the time was eight years old. If they’d decided differently . . . would I never have been born? Sure, I knew having another one wouldn’t be easy, but it was going to be worth it.
We also had a few living-space issues we’d have to work out if we had a third baby; the playroom would need to be converted into a bedroom, and all the junk in there would need to be relocated.
There were other times when the problem of having enough space in the house entered my mind. Once, when we had a tornado warning, I rushed the boys into our small downstairs bathroom in the center of the house, which experts say is the safest place to be. As the three of us sat there with pillows piled around us, crammed into the tiny area, I wasn’t thinking about the weather. I was mulling over ways to fit a third child in there during such emergencies. I had begun looking at every event in our lives from this third-child perspective.
Then there was the proverbial “the clock is ticking” problem. When we started talking abut the possibility of a third one, I was thirty-six and still had time, I thought, but I didn’t want to wind up on the cover of the National Enquirer with the headline “Sixty- Year-Old Gives Birth to Triplets!” That same year, when I went in for my annual gynecological exam, I had to see the new doctor, a man in his late twenties, who also happened to be very attractive, which can be rather embarrassing in that situation. I sat in a chair as he looked over my chart. Then he turned to me and said, “Soo- o-o . . . I guess your childbearing years are over.” He posed it partly as a question and partly as an indisputable fact. I had a powerful urge to reply, “Yep, that’s right. Just put me out to pasture with Old Nellie. We’re off to the glue factory now.” I swore I could feel my ovaries drying up as I sat in his office chair, my eggs being zapped by a microscopic laser gun with a neon light flashing “Game Over!” Instead, I smiled at his absence of tact and answered, “I’m not sure if we’re done probably, I guess.” I was wallowing in indecisiveness. Inside I was in turmoil as images of Billy and David as babies swirled through my mind. I kept thinking, No more watching the first steps, hearing the word ma-ma for the first time. Something inside me was aching, empty, and this was the moment that Kevin now refers to as “the decision maker.” He often says it was the doctor’s comment about my childbearing days being over that made me decide what I wanted for sure.
He might be right. Honest to God, I felt like such an old has-been mare when I left that doctor’s office that I almost neighed. I was determined to prove to that doctor it was too early to write me off in the baby-making department. I could envision him putting a check mark on my chart in the box labeled “Done having kids.” I wanted to remind him of the Bible story about Abraham and Sarah, who was, like, a hundred years old when she had a baby, and that was before in vitro fertilization.
Kevin considered suing the doc for prompting me to lean toward having a baby, but he couldn’t come up with anything that would stick in court. “Maybe if he could be made to pay the kid’s tuition,” Kevin would wonder aloud. Money again.
Still, our indecision about this as a couple was frustrating. There were times when things got incredibly hectic and noisy at our house, such as when David was four and his infamous temper flared up while seven-year-old Billy squirted glue on the carpet as he worked on a school project that was due the next day. Amid the chaos and the screams, Kevin would joke and imitate my voice, saying, “I want a third one!” One time, after another similar incident, I looked at Kevin and said, “You don’t understand how I feel. You can have a baby when you’re seventy if you want to. I can’t.” He jerked his head toward me, his eyes wide. “I don’t want to have a baby when I’m seventy!” he bellowed.
“Yeah,” I pouted, “but the point is you could if you wanted to. Nature’s not fair.” Just to be on the safe side I started taking vitamins containing folic acid because I knew it plays a vital role in reducing birth defects. When Kevin was ready, I wanted to be ready. And so the discussion went back and forth for over a year, until one glorious day when another couple we knew who’d also been contemplating the “third-child question” told me they were expecting a baby. This, I knew, was major ammunition for my cause. As soon as I told Kevin about our friends’ impending blessed event, I saw the look of resignation in his eyes. It was time to buy the latest baby names book.
I became pregnant on the first try, just as I’d done with the other two (let me just say to that doctor who thought my childbearing years were behind me na-na, na, na-na!). I was pretty sure by the way my body was feeling that the deed was done, but I kept my suspicions to myself. Kevin, of course, lost all track of the days on the calendar and didn’t have a clue. Finally I took a pregnancy test, and as I watched the plus sign gradually appear before my eyes, my heart started beating really fast. I dropped to my knees beside the bathtub and cried from sheer happiness, praying to God to be with me, please, as I carried this child and for the baby to be healthy. And to please minimize the stretch marks.
Then I sat down and typed the e-mail. I punched “Send” and waited. About thirty minutes later I heard the garage door go up, signaling Kevin’s early arrival home from work. When he came around the corner into the study where I was, his face was pale. Beyond pale actually. I put my fingers on his wrist to make sure he had a pulse. His chin quivered a little as he said, “I got your e-mail.” Then he reached out and hugged me, though I heard him mutter under his breath, “I’m gonna kill that damn doctor.”
Meet the Author
SHARON O’DONNELL is a freelance writer and an award-winning newspaper columnist. Her website, www.momsofboys.org, is an information and support site for mothers of boys. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, three sons, and their male dog.
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