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Finding Her Inner Boy

In hindsight, i'd have to admit that I was a rather prissy little girl. I was sweet and shy around adults, polite and well behaved at school, whiny and sullen when I didn't get my way.

My girlfriends and I filled our days with Barbies and babies and imaginary boyfriends. We had a chest full of old gowns that turned us into princesses and magical fairies. We spent hours at my dollhouse, carefully arranging the furniture and setting the table with tiny dishes for dinner parties.

We played outdoors and even at times consented to getting our hands soiled. But anything typically "boy"  -- bugs, belching, and bathroom talk  -- was regarded as offensive.

I grew up to be a somewhat prissy woman and thought that I was destined to give birth only to girls. Indeed, I really wanted only girls. I looked forward to immersing myself in all those wonderful activities and illusions again. I felt I couldn't even raise boys properly.

And then I gave birth to two of them. No Laura Ashley wallpaper, frilly pink dresses, or games of beauty shop for me. I had to play with trucks, not dollhouses, and get dirty, not dressed up.

As luck would have it, my sons turned out to be, as my mother called them, "all boy." They didn't play in the mud; they bathed in it. They didn't merely wrestle; they pummeled each other. And though I outlawed toy guns, anything that even remotely resembled a firearm became one.

Challenging though it was, I had no choice but to adapt. Eventually I got used to the dirt, the noise, the roughhousing, and the endless fascination with bodily functions. I became respectably accomplished at throwing and catching and developed a pretty mean hook shot, nothing but net. But I drew the line at things that were gross. I had to force myself to look at  -- and certainly refused to touch  -- crawly, slimy, dirty things.

Then, when my older boy, Mickey, turned 6, we had a science birthday party that, at his insistence and his father's doing, included a worm farm. The two of them went to the bait shop to buy two dozen night crawlers, which were unloaded into a big tub of dirt. Ten minutes into the party, one of Mickey's friends came to me complaining that Sammy, my 3-year-old, had removed some of the worms.

"Sammy," I said. "Put the worms back."

"I can't get 'em," he said.

"Why? Where are they?"

"My pocket."

"Well, pull them out right now," I demanded.

"I can't. They too squishy."

What could I do? The party must go on. Kids were whining for worms. I held my breath. I reached deep down into his pocket. I wrapped my hand around a huge wad of slimy worms and pulled them out. My head spun for a second, but I didn't get sick. I just looked at the dozen giant worms squirming around and sliding through my fingers. Then I dropped them into the bucket and watched as they separated and burrowed their way down under the dirt.

After the party was over, I tossed all the worms into the garden. When Sammy came out late that afternoon, up from a much-needed nap, he wanted to play with the worm farm again. "Where the worms, Mommy? Sammy want worms," he said.

"Mommy put them in the garden, honey," I explained. "They're good for the plants."

"They my worms. I want worms!"

"Okay," I said, sympathetic that most of the attention that day had been directed at his brother. "I know where they are. Let's go dig them up."

We marched off with our shovels and dug until we'd found at least ten big fat ones. We filled the tub back up with dirt and put the worms in. Together we plucked them out and let them slither around in our hands and through our fingers.

At that very moment, as Sammy and I sat there playing with worms, my fingernails blackened with dirt, I felt thoroughly content. I wouldn't have traded that wormy moment with my son for anything, even my longed-for tea parties and Mary Janes.

Not long after the squishy-worm incident, I was outside gardening by myself when I heard a quiet shuffling in the bushes. I knew it could be only one thing  -- a lizard. I crouched down and waited patiently. There it was, small and brownish, scampering into the leaves. I reached out and grabbed it by its tail. I held it up high and watched it wiggle around, trying to escape. Suddenly, the lizard dropped back into the dirt and disappeared. I was left holding half of its tail.

Cool! I thought. I can't wait to show Sammy and Mickey.

Julie Brown is a safety educator for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.