When my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, we agreed that we wouldn’t find out the baby’s sex. There are few true mysteries in life, we mused, and we wanted to experience what seemed like the uncovering of a great secret. I felt certain I was having a girl up until the moment Michael announced, “It’s a boy!” I did not feel surprise or disappointment—dare I admit I felt somewhat relieved. We named him Xavier and put our ‘girl name’—Zora—in our back pocket, imagining we’d use it for #2.
And when we were given the opportunity, with #2, to find out its gender, we again were in full agreement—except our position had changed. Excited but overwhelmed by thoughts of adding to our family, we understood that there would be many surprises ahead. We brought Xavier to the ultrasound, and while Michael tried to keep him from pressing flashing buttons and pulling electrical cords, we waited for the tech to tell us we were having a girl. My second pregnancy differed greatly from the first—terrible nausea, fatigue, bitchiness—so I was certain we’d have little Zora. I needed to know for sure, I thought, so I could prepare myself, really wrap my head around what it might mean to have a daughter, to mother a girl.
And then the tech said, “It’s a boy,” taking time to show us the evidence.
Michael carried Xavier to the car, and we held hands as we walked through the parking lot. “A boy,” I said quietly. “Brothers. Are you disappointed?”
Michael said he wasn’t, except that he’d hoped to use our girl name. “Maybe we’ll get a fish,” I said.
When we met Elias, almost four months later, I was reminded of how newborns are familiar strangers. Yes, we’d been attached to one another for nearly ten months, but until your child is born, they are an imagined thing, a space for projecting hopes and dreams and expectations. I’d thought #2 would be easier—even more so because I was getting to know another boy and not having to navigate the terrifying world and space that girls occupy.
Whatever prompted such fear, such trepidation? The answer begins with me. Growing up XX is not easy—I never wanted to play princess; what if my daughter did? I hate pink—would she? Barbies make me throw up a little bit in my mouth. Girls are mean, fighting over friends and then boys.
You hide being smart. Then you learn to hide your boobs, too, but then sometimes you push them up and out and hope they are noticed.
You wait for your period, and when everyone else gets it first, you lie about getting it, but then you get it and wish you’d never get it again.
You try to figure out who to be and you aren’t short on options—there’s your mother or your sister or the new cover girl or the popular girl at school or the girl at school who wears lots of dark makeup or the one who plays soccer on the boys’ team because there is no girls’ team—and none of those options are the right fit because the only right fit is for you to carve out, but you find it hard to believe that will be enough. Good enough.
Truth is, I find myself—at age 38—still wondering if I’ve found the right fit. I have a master’s degree and fulfilling work, an amazing partner and loving friends. I’m raising two healthy children in a city that continually makes “best of” lists, year after year. As an adult, I have discovered a love for a physically active life that includes yoga and bike rides, running and swimming. Becoming a mother three years ago brought clarity and affirmation to my life that I had yet known and has helped me to arrive at a deeper understanding of what is and what is not important.
At every stage of my life, there will be messages hanging around the periphery of my world—am I mom enough, feminist enough, career-oriented enough, authentic enough? Am I “living my best life”? Have I figured out “The Secret”? When will I start my happiness project?
Sheesh. When I look at my boys, I think, it will be less complicated for you, surely. I imagine their intelligence, competence, or strength will never be questioned because of their gender. I think of all the ways in which they will not be patronized—no politician will look to court them, hoping for “the man” vote; their bodies won’t become fodder for ideological rhetoric; what they think will always matter more than what they wear. I’m oversimplifying, I know, but it does sometimes seem like boys can be boys and girls…well, it depends on the situation.
So, even though Zora will likely never be a reality for our family, I do think that maybe a daughter would have been good for me. Maybe she would have taught me what it means to be a woman. Maybe the responsibility of being the first role model in her life, the woman she would both dream and dread of becoming, would have benefitted us both. In guiding her through the many firsts a woman endures, I might have had the chance to revisit some moments in my own life with a new perspective.
But I have sons. So far, it doesn’t appear that my job description differs because of this. My daily tasks include early morning cuddles and early evening book reading. I kiss boo boos and wipe away tears; I answer the question “why?” no fewer than 100 times a day. When Xavier tells me he can’t do something, I am quick to correct him and tell him he can, but maybe he just needs a little help. For my boys, I feel a responsibility to make good decisions, take risks, model compassion and empathy and love. I strive to be strong and empowered, a woman they can look to for guidance, a woman to whom they will listen and show respect.
Let them learn to never ever question all of which a woman is capable—let them know that potential is boundless, for all.
And anyway, the joke’s on me: Xavier once informed me that pink is his favorite color, and the boys ask me to paint their toenails when they see me painting mine. Such preferences and requests make me smile, knowing that what matters most is that children—no matter their gender—feel safe while exploring who they are and who they want to be. Hell, I’m an adult and that’s all I’m ever looking for.