The good son // Baraboo children’s photographer

I have a book on my bedside table called “The Good Son,” about how to raise well-adjusted and non-sociopathic boys. Which probably says more than I care to acknowledge about how I feel about parenting my sons.

Even a decade into this adventure, I don’t feel like I really know boys. My sons, 7 and 10, set off nearly every day after school with a gang of boys from the neighborhood, armed to the hilt with Nerf guns and wooden rifles. The older one, in an intentionally gravelly voice, will yell, “Let’s get ’em boys!” and they’ll be gone.

Let’s get whom? Where are they going? As the old Tom Waits song goes, “What are they building in there?”

I spy a flash of their loose-limbed running out the dining room window. Someone crouches behind the neighbor’s hedge and pokes out the blaze orange end of their rifle. Someone else flails dramatically to the ground in a mock death scene.

It’s all in good fun until my younger son brings home an actual BB gun that he traded another kid for his harmless water pistol.

And then I go back to the bedside book and start to wonder what I’m doing wrong. And if my sons are just boys being boys, or pre-pubescent criminals in the making. And how I can ever tell the difference between roughhousing and aggression. And if I’ll ever be able to send them out in the world to make smart and kind decisions on their own, without bringing home an instrument designed to put an eye out.

Then I look out the window the morning of the first snowfall, and see my 7-year-old, who left his breakfast on the table to sneak out and brush off my windshield.

Nobody asked him to do it. And as the snow kept falling on him he kept brushing, a futile effort to keep up, and a successful effort to keep doing the right thing.

Finally I hollered out the door to come in, and let me give you a kiss. Which I did, taking his soft cold cheeks in my hands and smooching him until he wriggled away with a “Maaaahhhhhmmm…”

Let’s get ’em boys, indeed.