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There are many (many) life lessons that parents should share with their children, like never in a bazillion years text while driving, be kind, floss every day and always send a post-interview thank-you note. But there are some nuggets of knowledge that are exclusively for boys—things to say to your son. There are certain boyisms I want my two sons to avoid, specific XY traps that I really want them to steer clear of. Here, my sweet boys, pay attention:
1. It's totally fine if you stink at sports.
Contrary to popular belief, sports are not a boy requirement. You don't have to be baptized into the cult of Sunday Night Football. You don't have to pick a favorite team. You don't have to be Varsity anything. Some guys love sports and some don't. If you love it, make being an awesome teammate your goal—not winning the game. (And please wear sunscreen when you are on the field.) And if you don't love sports, I don't care. But please don’t let my blasé attitude toward uniform-wearing activities make you think I'm a-okay with you sitting on the sidelines of life: I'm not. Staying active and healthy and socializing with buddies is important—very important. But you can find your own path to that.
2. No one wants a picture of your penis.
Seriously. It's never (ever, ever) a good idea to take a picture of your business and text, Tweet or e-mail it to any person, ever. Heck, don't even snap a picture and *not* send it to anyone. That picture will be there, on your phone or camera, just waiting to be discovered. You'll lose your phone or you'll forget your camera and a stranger will find it, giggle and the next thing you know, your penis will have its own Facebook page. Maybe you won't lose your camera. Maybe you'll simply forget the picture is there and accidentally download it to the computer. I'll fire up the slideshow feature on the Mac and there your penis will be—on screen, in the middle of the family vacation picturefest. Spare yourself. Spare me. Spare the world.
3. Don't stop dancing.
Guys, a lot of them anyway, seem to drop their dance-around-like-it's-nobody's-business tendencies as they age. As little boys, you sure know how to rock out. The bums are shaking, the first are pumping, new moves are invented and perfected daily. Pure joy + the absence of self-consciousness + an iPod = beautiful thing. Please, try your very best to hold onto some shred of that. I know it can be hard. (It's hard for some girls, too.) It doesn't feel "manly" to race to the dance floor when "Call Me Maybe" comes on. I get it. But, I have to tell you, nothing is manlier than a guy who is secure enough to take it to the dance floor and leave his are-they-watching-me worries behind.
4. Learn to cook and clean and wash those stinky clothes.
Honey, you will thank me for this one. Not only will you feel empowered being able to, you know, feed yourself with some level of yumminess, keep your future home vermin-free and remove the stank off your own clothes, you will impress the heck out any future loves. I fully realize that if I gave this advice to my fictitious daughter it would be considered thoroughly sexist. It's true. No one has ever been overly impressed with my ability to use a stain stick or scrub a toilet. For men, however, understanding these basic life skills plunks you into the dreamboat category. Fair? No. Reality. Yes, sir. What are you waiting for? I can usher you to the mop right now.
5. Always aim carefully when you pee.
I think it's safe to say that I have never missed the toilet when peeing. Boys? Well, you are another story. Urine on the floor. Urine on the seat. Urine pooling (pooling!) under the toilet. Urine on my dang wall. It's nasty. Open your eyes, open the toilets seats, pee into the bowl, flush, shut seat, wash hands. Repeat this Every. Single. Time. you use a bathroom.
6. Don't be a bully.
No one likes a bully—no one. Don't be the guy who uses his physical strength or power to intimidate or hurt someone else. Don't be the guy who uses cowardly texts or e-mails or Facebook to ridicule, humiliate or poke fun at someone else. Don't be the guy who carelessly throws out taunts to make others laugh. Just don't be that guy. Instead, be the guy who never stands by, silently watching a fellow human be tormented or threatened. Be the guy who calls out how not-cool bullying is. People love that guy. I love that guy.
7. I honestly do not care if you touch your penis.
It's yours. It's right there. I know you will touch it. That's totally cool. However, do not scratch it in when you are in the presence of others, do not cup it on my living room couch, do not take it out in public (unless it's behind a tree and you really, really need to pee). You know those times when you are all by yourself in the shower or in your bedroom? Have at it. I'll be sure to always walk loudly and knock.
8. You will allow me the mother-son dance if you get married.
I don't care if you and your spouse-to-be (of either gender) want an out-of-the-box ceremony and reception. Skydive your vows? Sure. City Hall? Fine. Full-on medieval costumed affair? Regrettably...okay. I could not care less if you abandon (almost) all wedding traditions. However, you, my friend, will dance with me the day you get married. End of story.
9. Don't knock anyone up.
You don't have to be married to make a baby, though, quite honestly, I'd prefer it. But there are some knocking-people-up rules you must obey: You are only allowed to impregnate a woman who A) wants a baby, B) you are head over heels in love with, C) is awesome, D) you are 100-percent committed to, and D) is NOT a teenager—or under 25, for that matter. You know how you prevent such things? Always use a condom. Always.
10. You are not your job.
Because we live in a sexist world, I'd imagine that it's pretty hard for man to resist being defined by his job or career. Followed by your name, it's often the first thing you tell people when you meet them. Yes, your future profession will say a lot about who you are—but it won't say everything. And, by golly, it shouldn't be everything. My wish for you is that you will love your job some day but understand that there's much more to life than the way in which you earn a paycheck.
11. Be a good guy.
When you grow up, I will not be two feet away from you reminding you to hold doors for others and to say please and thank you and excuse me. I won't be able to shoot you the stinkeye when you interrupt another person. I won't be able nudge you to make sure you give your seat to an elderly person, a pregnant woman or someone with a disability. Unless you want me to shadow you from now till forever, make all of these good manners a habit...STAT.
12. No means No.
Never try to interpret what a "no" means. Accept the answer and move on. Swiftly. And, P.S., any answer—or non-answer -- out of a drunk or impaired girl's mouth is always No. Always.
13. Never stop giving kisses and hugs.
Small boys love to snuggle and give kisses and big, giant bear hugs. Never lose that. It's always cool to show your love. Plus, when words are hard to come by, a hug can speak volumes. Cheesy to say? Sure. But it's true. Your friend is upset. Hug. Your spouse is sad. Hug. Your brother and you had a massive fight. Hug. Your dear sweet mother is peeved because you neglected to call her back in a timely fashion. Hug. And squeeze.
14. Yes, you are available to babysit.
While I in no way want you to make babies at a young age, I do want you to release any possible fear of them. One of the best qualities in a man, IMO, is ease and comfort with kids. Don't wait till you make one to hold one.
15. Always check your fingernails before leaving the house.
My best guess is that you secretly dig ditches with your bare hands in your bedroom when I think you're sleeping. I don’t know how else to explain the extreme amount of filth that resides in your fingernails. Please never leave the house like that. Clean them and trim them regularly, because even if you are spit-shined everywhere else, icky nails scream serial killer.
16. Make nice with her parents.
Don't embarrass me, kid. Introduce yourself to your date's parents, shake hands, smile, yes-sir and no-ma'am them, compliment their daughter (or son!) and their home. Maybe even make them laugh.
17. Life is not a Victoria's Secret catalog.
Most women do not wear matching bras and panties. Real boobs fall into armpits when you lie down and are not identical. Nine times out of ten, cleavage that cradles one's chin is fake. Real live women are not Photoshopped. Stretch marks are a fact of life. The average American woman wears a size 12 or 14. Those ladies in magazines and on runways: They're a size 0 or 2. Women have body hair that, on occasion, is not groomed to perfection. A lot of us wear Spanx. And we are all beautiful. So there.
18. Know that you are no better than anyone else.
I know you know this, but here is a friendly reminder: A woman can do every stinkin' thing you can do, which includes having a successful career. Same goes for any and all ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations.
19. Call me.
We will not always live under the same roof and I will miss you desperately. I know you will be entrenched in the adventures of a newly independent life and calling your mom regularly won't be the tip-top of your to-do list. I get it. But seriously, call me. Texting is for friends. I want to hear your voice—weekly, at least. Love you!
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.