Circumcision Decision…The Debate Lives On


I was reading Lisa Belkin’s NY Times blog, the Motherlode, which recently covered the ongoing circumcision debate in this country.   Not surprisingly, there are some strong feelings on this subject on both sides of the issue, and I guess I can understand, although I must admit, I draw the line in equating what we do in this country to newborn boys and what happens in other countries to young women and it’s reasons. They are not equivalent in anyway. But that is a different, and more horrifying post. I just had to say that, because certain groups have tried to group the two things together to lend weight to their argument against.

The circumcision decision came for me over 10 years ago. And it was influenced by everything but personal preference. In our household, we have 4 boys and, well, we swing both ways (couldn’t resist the pun. It won’t be the last either, so consider yourself warned). Like so many of our destinations, the journey we mapped was anything but straightforward.

Can I start by saying that I had always just assumed that, if I had boys, they would be cut.  That was the cultural norm to me. I remembered my brother was and I was of a generation where all my personal experience took place in a heavily circumcised society.  Well, I did indeed become a first-time mother to sons. They are sons who are, how to say it…Uncut. Intact. In their natural state. In their original packaging.

This is not due to any driving need to make a political statement. It was largely a matter of circumstance and until recently, still a bit foreign to me. It has certainly led to a couple of interesting moments for us as we’ve negotiated basic bodily care, and I fully expect that there will be one or two more delicate moments before the privacy door closes on me permanently, as I expect it to during their teenage years. Physically, being the mother of sons who seek an owner’s manual to their body has been a bit of a journey into uncharted territory for me. But I bravely shouldered my Mom backpack and walked into the land of male parts.

So if it wasn’t my intention, then just how did it happen, you ask?  Preemies, that’s how.  Triplets and a high-risk pregnancy that led to my boys and their sister being born at just after 29 weeks and less than 3 pounds each.  Due to their medical issues, the very first of them came home after 6 harrowing weeks in the NICU (my other son was not stable until several weeks after that). The choice to circumcise them was not even raised until then, and in the end, my answer was no.

The reasons for my refusal are visible ones. If you ever look closely at the arms and legs of my oldest children, they still bare the faint scars of countless I.V.’s , cut-downs and several other invasive procedures that were required at a time when their lives were on the line and their successes were measured in mere grams of weight gain. When the moment came that they were medically stable enough to be circumcised, I simply couldn’t bring myself to put them through one more single, unnecessary procedure. They had already struggled through so much discomfort and risk that I said no and took my intact little males home with me.  And I rested with the decision in an uncomfortable way; even knowing I wouldn’t have done it any differently for the next few years, until gradually it became normal to me. Meaning, I looked at my sons’ physical state long enough that my own cultural norm started to change.

And then, 3 years later, I had another son. Born to a different father. A father and a whole other family to whom circumcision was the cultural norm.  And when this son was born. I said no again, and I said no in the face of, dare I say, stiff opposition (you were warned). I said no against my own personal preference. I said no because of an already existing hypersensitivity to the fact that my sons would not completely share the same DNA and in the face of that, I wanted them to share as much as possible otherwise, most especially in this most personal of appearances. I said no.

As time has rolled on, there is no doubt that several family members would rather they looked different than they do, but I believe these concerns are likely more about the fear that they would stand out somehow, be too different than their peers in the locker room perhaps. I too have worried about the reception their respective male parts would receive from future peers and girlfriends. But I’m happy to note the statistics seem to indicate that they won’t be greeted into future beds and gyms like John Merrick or Quasimodo. According to sources quoted in Belkin’s article the procedure is “on the decline in the United States (down to 56 percent, from 80 percent in the 1960s), Jewish families excepted. And I pacify myself too with the knowledge that if any of them that are so traumatized by the state of their Johnson, they can sign up for plastic surgery of the Wang.

I suppose that is the source of this discomfort.  We really fear that one day, they will look down at this universal source of male pride and feel inadequate.  But I’ve been given reason to believe that they see something entirely natural when they look down there.  You see we had one more son after this. He, unlike his brothers, is cut. His birth mother made the circumcision decision soon after he was born decidedly in favor of.  I wondered, when he joined our family if this would mark him as too different. But by then I was piecing together a family from so many different sources that all pretense of sameness had to be abandoned.  That worry soon passed anyway when I saw how loved and accepted he was by his siblings. They would be brothers irrespective of physical differences.

An incident during a diaper change was what made me relax completely about it.  One of my older sons noticed finally that he was different. It took awhile, 9 year old boys not traditionally being interested in diaper changes, but when I say noticed, I mean he pointed at the baby’s little circumcised specialness and said with great giggles and hilarity, “He’s naked! There’s nothing on his. He has no foreskin” I smiled too, amazed at this inside view of the male mind, however young, and how he viewed the issue. “Is that how you think of yours,” I asked,  “as clothes for the penis. Like a little jacket?”  Giggling with boyish delight at getting any chance to hear the word “penis,” he said, “Well, yeah.”  So obvious I guess when that’s what you’ve always known. Boys live in a very different world. It’s been interesting to walk through some of it with them.



Why I Love the Game…


Baseball.  I love baseball. I could easily have the Ken Burns documentary on the subject as the soundtrack to my life for long periods.  I don’t watch a lot of it on TV necessarily (I don’t watch a lot of anything, which is how I KNOW I have lots of young children),  but I love the experience of baseball.  It’s spring. It’s childhood. It’s Bull Durham. It’s Field of Dreams and a League of Their Own. Mostly, it’s my father and the last time I remember my own childhood feeling safe and without crises.

Baseball has carried on for me a lost history as I watch my oldest son use the old little league mitt my brother used. Now he too is wrapped up in all my memories of my father, who loved baseball and basketball like it was air and painstakingly showing my brother how to break that mitt in, which was an exotic mystery to me involving mink oil and a ball being rubberbanded into it and then being placed under his mattress.  They are both long gone from me now, but my oldest son’s use of this mitt carries them onward through the history of the game.

Having children has brought me all new things to love about baseball.  Like T-Ball, which is a chaotic and hilarious game played by tiny athletes who demonstrate a cartoonish skill and are  ushered around the field by men who demonstrate the extreme patience of people who could herd cats. But mostly, it has brought me Coaches.

The Coaches rock my world.  They have been a boon to me and my children in ways I could not have predicted.  They have stood in for me when I needed the boys to have a man. Lectured them on homework and responsibility, taught them sportsmanship and how to stick with something that needed work, how to take take correction and think on their feet. They have taught them lessons from the Guy Handbook and how to be part team. And I have enjoyed watching every second of it.

When my first sons were born, there were many things that I knew they would need that I wasn’t sure I could find ways to provide.  I didn’t know when they were babies that these men would be my avenue to exposing them to the kind of character I wanted for them. Now, I get to watch these men being men in the best way possible. Being engaged leaders and mentors. They willingly spend their time instructing, teaching, encouraging and being role models in the most fundamental sense of those words.  And by doing so, they hand down the secrets of the Guy Rule Book.  These are men who understand at the heart of it all that children don’t just grow up by accidentally and they respond to this understanding with active intention. They are leaders by nature, positive and proactive, and my boys learn from this that being a man is about engagement.

I have seen this spirit of mentoring be absorbed down into my boys as they begin to take the first steps into the knowledge of themselves as young men. I hear them emulate the words and phrases of encouragement that they were given towards the younger boys in their home and this has been particularly valuable to me since our boys live across 2 separate families. It has built bridges across one of the most painful and hated divides that exists in our home. The one that echos with the phrase “half-brother”. They have watched their coaches put their younger, special needs brother into the rotation at the practices and their team mates root for him to do well, and this year they have had the chance to attend his games and give back.  To cheer for him in return, as he has done for them over these past few years.  And all this had shown them better how to be the kind of young men and older brothers they will need to be during their lives together.

So, on this journey, I am Moses – destined to chart the course, but never to see the promised land of manhood. And that’s why God made Coaches Virginia…

I see great things in baseball…It’s our game–the American game… It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us….”
~ Walt Whitman (as quoted in Bull Durham)