It was supposed to be one of those rare weekends when my husband and I would get a brief break from parenting our three small children. Lord knows we love them, but we were in serious need of some alone time, quiet and a full night’s sleep. While our children stayed with my parents we sought refuge in the trees and lakes of a nearby campground. After much debate about which campsite was the most private, we set up our tent and flopped into our chairs by the campfire, eagerly anticipating the novels we held in hand. Ahhh. Finally. Some rest.
Minutes later a car pulled up to the site beside us and out crawled three teenaged boys.
“Check- check – check it out!” one of them rapped as he surveyed the site with his baggy pants falling down to his knees and his baseball hat twisted to one side.
My husband, Imran, and I looked at each other. Then we watched, mouths agape, as the boys unloaded the car. I was horror-struck when the middle-aged man accompanying the boys drove away, calling out, “Have a great time!”
I think one of the boys might have heard my muffled groan because he peered at me through the trees and waved. “We’re from Montréal,” he said. “It’s our first time camping alone!”
“Wonderful,” I replied, as my heart sank and my dream of a good night’s sleep evaporated.
The boys proceeded to set up their camp, swearing in a combination of French and English. Imran and I went for a hike and didn’t return until suppertime.
“Whatcha gonna cook?” one of the boys called out.
“Ah man, just eggs? We’ve got barbequed pork chops, potatoes and corn on the cob. We’ll bring some over.”
Half an hour later they came to our campfire with a pan overflowing with food.
“Just make sure you bring the pan back,” they reminded us.
When the meal was over and the dishes done, we were faced with the challenge of putting up a tarp to shelter us from rain. Seconds after my husband took out the rope, one of the Montréal boys was over at our site helping to toss it over a branch and showing us different knots to tie.
I was humbled (and not just because the kid was better at tying knots). I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, but I had judged the teenagers from the moment they stepped out of the car, simply because of their age.
That night we went to bed as the boys talked in low voices around their campfire. There was none of the loud music or partying I had anticipated. Only an air of mutual respect and shared appreciation of the outdoors.
Today there is a growing awareness about teenage boys falling behind in school and life. Apparently boys are significantly more likely than girls to drop out of school, abuse drugs, be medicated for hyperactivity, commit crime or face violence. This imbalance doesn’t bode well for anyone. During my Master’s research in the Caribbean I saw how men were more likely than women to be uneducated and unemployed. I also saw how many took out their frustration and fears on their wives and girlfriends. For the sake of us all, we need to figure out what it is that our boys need. Experts speculate it’s more male role models, a system of education that understands their brains and unique learning styles, and a culture that finds a way to keep them safe but at the same time value, rather than bemoan, their need to move their bodies, take risks and solve problems. But that weekend in the woods I realized there’s something else that boys need.
Being the mom of three young kids (including two boys), I often rely on the help of strangers when we’re out in the world. I need people to hold the door open for me or pick up the shoe that my child flung off when I wasn’t looking. We live near a college and my kids and I spend a lot of time at a park nestled in between the campus and our neighbourhood. It’s not uncommon to hear complaints from neighbours about noisy college parties or the smell of pot wafting through the park. But the Montréal campers inspired me to look a bit closer. I realized all of the help male students have given me over the years. Young men have helped me carry my stroller over a huge frozen puddle, chased me down to return a toy my child dropped and even pushed my older kids on the swings when I was busy with my youngest.
I know teenage boys (and girls) have the power to keep their mothers up at night and shatter their hearts (not to mention their windows, cars and resolve). I know too that many boys are suffering. But the Montréal campers taught me that despite all of that, despite the statistics and our fear, a mighty force for good can be found in today’s male youth. Craig and Marc Kielburger or Ryan Hreljac are examples of the astounding things modern boys are creating, but even better are the everyday boys in our neighbourhoods, homes and campgrounds.
Image credit: © Creatista | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
About Kelley Powell
Kelley Powell has a Master’s degree in international development and has worked at a home for impoverished women and children in India, on a domestic violence research project in Laos and with the Canadian government’s family violence prevention unit. She met and married her husband, Imran, in Laos and is now happily at home with their 3 children, aged 7, 4 and 2. She teaches yoga and meditation in Ottawa and specializes in teaching parents, pregnant women, children and teens. When her children are napping or at school, she leaves the dishes in the sink and the toys on the floor and she writes. Her publishing credits include The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s and New Moon Girls magazine. She is currently seeking a publisher for her young adult novel. Kelley is a partner in Satya Communications, a freelance writing company that creates compelling articles, reports and communication for a variety of clients.