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“Mom, can you sleep in my room tonight? It’s thundering so loudly,” said the little boy, looking at me with sad droopy eyes.
I knew he would fall asleep in a minute if I cuddled him. But then the “discipline” drum rolled in my head, and instead I said, “You have to be brave. You are a big boy, aren’t you?”
He nodded, hugged his camouflage bear ‘Justin’ even tighter, and reluctantly walked back to his room, teary-eyed. For the next one hour, I felt restless and guilty. Should I be hard on him so he can grow into a tough young lad? Or should a mother’s heart give in and comfort him? I tried to divert my attention to the ‘Shark Tank’ episode playing on the TV. But then finally, when I couldn’t take it any longer, I got up and went to check on him. Did he manage to fall asleep? I opened the door as softly as I could.
“Mom”, I heard his innocent voice. For some reason tears filled my eyes. I got into his warm blanket, put my arms around him, and patted him gently to sleep. But even after several minutes I noticed his eyes were still wide open.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, wondering why my usual magical touch was not working.
“Mom, last night I had a nightmare that ZORRO bit me,” he said sounding terrified, and snuggling closer to me. So that was what was bothering him!
“Who is Zorro?” I asked, assuming he is some imaginary evil creature.
“He is a mean-looking big dog, that lives in Dadi’s building. He barks too loudly and has the very sharp teeth,” he whispered, as if Zorro would hear us.
“But I’m not scared. Because boy’s don’t get scared.” I held him tight.
“No he won’t bite you, love. But I want to ask you a very important question. Who told you that boys don’t get scared?” I asked, calmly.
The little boy thought for a moment. “Mom, no one told me that. But everyone knows that a boy who gets scared or cries is a sissy. Even you tell me to be brave all the time na? Arey, we are like superheroes. Only girls can cry,” he said, with full conviction.
Obviously he truly believed this, because these are the ‘cliched statements’ that he has been conditioned to, in the past 8 years. Advertisements, cartoons, society reinforcing the same ideology time and again!
“Well darling, tell me the truth, aren’t you scared of Zorro?” I asked him, looking deep into his eyes.
“Yes mom, maybe a little, but don’t tell anyone,” he said embarrassed.
“Listen to me. Boys and girls are built exactly the same way. They have the same feelings. It is normal for boys to get scared sometimes or to cry when they are upset. That does not mean that they are not brave. If you hide your fear or sadness in your heart, it will grow and become much more! Do you want that to happen?” I tried explaining to him.
“No mom, now I will always tell you, because you make me feel so much better. And by the way, thank you for coming here,” he said planting a soft kiss on my cheek.
“Don’t let Zorro bite me,” he whispered, before falling into a peaceful slumber.
As I continued to pat him lightly, I thought to myself. Why is this world so hypocritical? Why should boys — who eventually grow into men — feel, (or rather be made to feel) humiliated if they are scared or if a tear escapes their eye? Why are they then looked upon as ‘weak’? Why do we bring them up with this shallow dialogue: “Ladka hai toh strong bano, lallu nahin!” Don’t they have a right to express their emotions too? Whatever happened to gender equality? Or is that only about fighting for women’s rights? Today, we have confidently entered a so-called ‘mans space’ by working, earning, and living our dreams. When will we allow them to comfortably share our emotional space?
When it comes to sadness we women have so many outlets for release. We cry (a lot), we communicate (again a lot), we have our monthly cycle, basically we get to express! But if our men do the same thing, we think he is a wuss! Or loser. Such a mumma’s boy!
The other day I went to a wedding, where the married couple were going to move into a separate house, and live on their own. So then why was the bride shedding buckets of tears, during the vidai, while the groom stood silently beside her? Wasn’t he as sad to leave his parents’ home? Of course. But no, he cannot. In our society this attitude is so prevalent that even at a funeral, where two siblings lose a parent, the daughter can openly grieve, but the son has to stay strong, and quickly wipe away the stubborn tears that naturally come into his eyes. Why should he go into the bathroom and howl his heart out?
And when it comes to fear, we always look up to men, our overgrown superheroes, for protection. First it is our fathers, then boyfriends, dear husbands come next, and lastly our beloved sons! How convenient. Why should we expect the husband to hold us in his arms while watching a horror movie? Maybe, they are scared too? But no, man will ever admit it. Why don’t we destroy this ridiculous image of the eternally macho man? There is no such thing. If it becomes acceptable for men to express their emotions, maybe they wouldn’t get so frustrated from within, which sometimes can manifest into anger, aggression and even suicide!
Suddenly it thundered loudly and the little boy clung to me. I looked at him, his innocent big eyes closed tight, and his dimpled cheeks. Right then, I felt a twinge of pain in my heart. Soon, he will grow up. And then he won’t ask me to comfort him anymore. I won’t feel his little fingers clasped into mine tightly. And then I realised that I am so glad that I came back to hug him, and help him get over his fears. After all, superheroes have feelings too!