Not so long ago I asked Sam what he wanted to be when he grew up. It was part of the process for converting his Statement of Special Educational Need to an Education Health Care Plan. It’s a question I have asked children many time before, often with hilarious results, but, seeing as the previous question had been ‘where would you like to go when you finish at school?’ and I had been met with a blank look, as if the very idea of there being a life beyond the school years, that they might one day finish, was beyond comprehension, I didn’t have much hope of a sensible answer. It was part of the form though, so I steeled myself and prepared to write down everything he said.
And, as is so often the case with my eldest child, he surprised me. Rather than reeling off a load of old nonsense about Lazy Town or the latest (or not so latest, he is very fond of Pasha and Abby) results from Strictly, he gave me the joyous beam of confidence and roundly declared, “I want to be a man.”
Sam is delighted by his slow transformation. Not so delighted by the spots, it has to be said, but chuffed nonetheless. It started before I’d even realised. There I was, lying in bed, silently bemoaning the fact that Sam was not, and that he was, in fact downstairs and playing loudly (in a successful bid to wake the rest of us dirty rotten layabouts up), and I slowly wondered to myself what the terrible noise he was making was. In a bolt of realisation that shot me from my slumbers (although didn’t force me out from under my warm duvet) I realised that it was his voice. It had changed. Without us really realising it had deepened and Sam was experimenting with a kind of ‘how low can you go’ game. Along with the deeper voice have come hairy legs, the need to shave and bodily changes that are rapidly leaving little boy-hood behind and, as his mother, a kind of bittersweet pang at the passing of an era. My tiny boy is leaving. He is becoming the next generation, and I, therefore, must be old. No longer a Young Mum.
And along with the changes come the aspiration. When he made his declaration we left it at that. It was soon followed by a desire to have the entire collection of Eddie Stobart lorries, and, when I went to the EHCP transformation meeting there was a whole load of other things he had told everyone else, when they, too, had asked him the same question. As we sat and gulped, and swallowed down the rush of emotion that came with such a statement I found myself asking a question. Well possibly two, or maybe three.
What did he mean, when he said that? He will grow up, but I wonder what he means by being a man? Does he mean that he will go out to work, like daddy? Drive a car, have a home and put a wife and family in it? Does he see himself taking on the role of provider? The man who sustains and keeps his family safe?
And why, when he said that, did we feel such emotion? Why is it so difficult for us to see him being a real man? A real grown up? Is it because he will in all likelihood always need to be helped? Is this somehow not compatible with being a man? Is it because he is, by the nature of his difficulties, less powerful, more needy, weaker?
And what about his sexuality? Interested in girls he most certainly is. But, somehow, we seem, as a society, to be uncomfortable with the very notion. When he was a baby, someone talked to me about men with Down’s being sterilised. I can’t remember exactly what it was they said, so full was I of anger and outrage that someone should even contemplate doing that to another, that he couldn’t be expected to exercise some responsibility for himself. The whole idea of boys like him turning into men with needs and desires seems to strike some people with horror.
I look at my son and I think about all the expectations we have of him, who he should be, in which box he should sit, and stay. I look at him, and I say, ‘You know what Sam, you be whoever you want to be,’ because feminism isn’t just about the girls.
When my son grows up he wants to be a man.