Living with boys


Last summer while visiting friends at their family home in the Dordogne (France), I met an incredibly fabulous couple from Boston and their three little boys. In a wide-ranging conversation, the mother Susan mentioned the habitual state of … well, the state of their toilettes, as we would say in French (“bathroom” in American English, “loo” in British English).  Have you seen that slomo, easily found on YouTube, of what happens when a man pees in standing? 


I leaned over to Susan and locked her gaze in mine. “I live with five boys and they all sit,” I said. “Furthermore, this was taught and reinforced by my husband, not me.” Susan screamed. When her husband Stu looked over worriedly from where he was preparing a salad in the kitchen (yes, Stu was awesome in the kitchen), Susan waved smilingly and called in a slightly higher-than-usual voice, “Stu, we have something to discuss later.”

Now you can put your macho clichés away pronto because if you think that the fact of sitting has an effect on anyone’s masculinity, I would guess you are wrong. I mean, who is ever going to see? The only real evidence will be in the (absence of) smell. Still, because we know that some of you do indeed cherish this cliché, which allows you to continue to pee in standing, we do tell our boys that they can stand in the locker room and in the woods, and even in your house (dear reader).  Just not in ours.

Of course, the effect of asking a boy to sit is an empirical question, and I am a scientist.  I have not studied this specific effect, but I have been trying to collect data on our clichés about males over the years, and I call tell you that the following trends seem to be supported by my data collection:

Males cannot find lost objects, even when they look

I have a lot of evidence for this.  Unfortunately, I have not written it down.  However, I am committed to raising boys who will be good husbands, and one thing a good husband is is someone who will look for something that he needs, then maintain his cool when he inevitably cannot find it, and then actually find it.  According to my observations, it takes me 10 seconds on average to find something that one of my boys claims he has been looking for for 25 minutes.  Of course typically only 5 minutes has elapsed, which explains his frustration, which further explains his inability to find the object.  Most importantly, I have noticed low levels of perspective taking (of the order: “where would someone else put this if they moved it?”) and an inability to lift objects that might now be on top of the "lost" object.

Males cannot see crumbs on the kitchen counter

My research also shows that when cleaning the kitchen, the male visual system does not detect crumbs on the counter. This is why counters are never wiped, which further explains why the boys in my family claim to have “taken care of the kitchen,’ when in fact they have not. Since often there are also dirty pots and pans in the sink when the kitchen has ostensibly been “taken care of,” we might hypothesize an attentional rather than visual perception hypothesis according to which attention is not sustained in the kitchen long enough to either clean the crumbs or scrub the pots and pans. The attentional account is confounded with the motivational account according to which the desire that the counters or pots and pans be cleaned is very low.

Males have trouble buying requested quantities of food

Unless I am able to specify the actual amount of a foodstuff that I need in grams, when sent to the store one of my boys (most specifically my husband) is likely to return with an undesirable quantity.  If I need some butter, I often receive several pounds.  On the other hand, we are 6 people in all (five boys) and when I suggest that my husband buy meat for a dinner, he often returns with barely enough beef or lamb to feed one of our cats.  Why this is, I do not know, but I think this explains the success of internet shopping.

Males fail to see objects that should be moved or put away

My friend, who we shall call Lara, has been conducting research on this topic for some time, using her husband, who we shall call Marco, as the subject.   Ok, so it is a case study.  The research method involves leaving Marco’s washed and neatly folded shirts on the stairs and counting the number of days that elapse before he picks them up and carries them upstairs.  When Lara and her children can no longer use the staircase, Lara inevitably moves the shirts.  So far these tests yield the finding that Marco never sees or moves the stimulus piles.  Thus there is no variability in Marco’s responding and thus Lara need not perform any analyses on her data.

Do not get me wrong.  I wouldn't trade any of my boys for anything. However, do note that I am doing my best and if you marry one of my sons, you already have this in writing.