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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

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Boy Crazy

When I was pregnant the first time, I knew I was having a girl. I had grown up in a family of girls. My mother had grown up in a family of girls. What other kind of baby was there?

I was honestly shocked when the midwives handed me my son, penis and all. I wasn’t disappointed, just taken aback. How could a boy child have formed in my womb? What did I know about little boys?

Eighteen months later, I was pregnant again and peering at a sonogram. I was eager for official permission to go on a pink rampage through Target. “It’s a boy,” said the technician, pointing to a small blurry bit next to a large blob that she assured us was our baby. I was excited to see the blob, but truthfully, a little disappointed about the bit.

My husband had now fathered three sons, including his first from his previous marriage. His only sibling, his brother, had one child, also male. Since gender is determined by the father’s chromosomes, I decided to do a little digging around the paternal family tree. A discussion with my father-in-law revealed that there hadn’t been a female born into my husband’s line since around the time of the Civil War. Apparently, the family had lost the recipe for girls somewhere on the wagon trail between Virginia and Arkansas.

This information helped settle the question of whether or not we would have a third. There appeared to be no point in trying for a girl. We were through. Still, when Number Three crashed our party, we did harbor a faint, secret hope. Very faint. I chose not to learn the baby’s sex in advance just so I could pretend he was a girl, until presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

We greeted this evidence in good humor. “I guess this is what I get for being boy crazy all my life,” I quipped to visitors. My obstetrician, an old-fashioned guy with great “horse-sense”, assured me we’d have to go through another two or three boys to get to a girl. We asked for a referral to a good urologist.

My moment of reckoning came one day as the children were merrily catapulting themselves and each other off the family room sofas and armchair. I was trying to do something in the other room that would best be accomplished unaccompanied by the sounds of squeaky springs and crashing bodies. I stormed in.

“I have HAD it with jumping off the furniture!” I declared, loudly (alright, shouted).

“From now on, there will be NO MORE JUMPING OFF THE FURNITURE.” And even as I said (shouted) it, I felt my mind split from my body and stand to one side, saying, “Are you crazy? You have three boys. There will always be jumping off the furniture.”

Today, I am at peace with being a mother of sons, furniture acrobatics and raised toilet seats notwithstanding. Boys are wonderfully uncomplicated. Their physical exuberance is made more manageable by their number — boys seem to do best in herds. And I love my uncontested status as Queen Bee and Household Goddess. A girl would tip the balance of power out of my favor.

Patrick mourns not having a daughter, and I think if I were to mysteriously turn up pregnant with a notarized penis-free sonogram, he would cheerfully apply the don’t ask, don’t tell rule to the obvious questions thus raised. But only rarely do I feel a pink pang.

I had one this weekend, out of the blue, when it struck me that I had no one to pass beauty tips onto. I'm talking about hard-earned wisdom here. Like the miraculous properties of foundation undergarments and hot rollers. Not to mention self-tanner. These are secrets I had to learn all on my own, a bag of tricks that was not in my own mother's dresser drawer, she of the burned bra, the naturally curly chestnut hair cropped short, and the flawless golden brown skin. I remember her bag of tricks contained one ancient blue eyeshadow compact from 1972 and a small bottle of rouge she'd probably had in the sixties. I had to go out into the world and initiate myself into these mysteries. And with me they will stay. Unless one of the boys goes into cabaret.

Other than fingernail painting parties and roller sets, which the boys tend to resist after age three, I don't feel I am missing out on much in the way of shared activities. All the boys have had dolls and tea sets right along with their trucks and action figures. Last week, we started reading Little House on the Prairie, one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books that were such a big part of my girlhood. I worried that the boys might not be as enamoured of Mary and Laura as I was, but so far there have been enough horses and creek-crossings and the promise of Indians to sustain their interest.

One thing that is difficult for me to get a read on is their apparent lack of interest in girls. I'm not sure whether I should go sign up with PFLAG, or if little boys just develop differently in this regard from little girls. My six year old, in particular, disdains all contact with female peers. By the time I was six, I had been married in neighborhood weddings probably fifty times. Usually, I had to chase the groom for a while, but I was a fast runner.

It seems to be around the time they enter school that my boys begin to distance themselves from things they perceive as feminine. But you know, they can only get so far. A few years back, I gave my eldest an Easy-Bake oven I found at a garage sale. There wasn't anything pink about it, and what boy doesn't love to mix up cake and cookies? However, we had to go to the toy superstore to obtain mixes and utensils. We were on our way to the check out line when we passed a child-size playhouse.

"Hey," I said to my son, "that looks pretty neat."

My son drew himself up haughtily, clutching his Easy Bake set in its hot pink packaging. "That's a girl's toy," he sniffed icily. "I don't play with girl's things.

Sure thing, slugger. Whatever you say.


Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

i love it. this is for sure one of the best you've written.........

1:24 PM  
Blogger littlepurplecow said...


3:12 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I've been jealous of my sisters with their daughters only till they became teenagers! I could have never done it. Now I patiently await granddaughters. Even better.

3:27 PM  
Blogger lia from luebeck, germany said...

What a delightful post! So glad you know the benefits of having boys at home. My husband had six (Italian princess) sisters and two brothers... Need I say more?

3:31 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Good luck with the Easy Bake Oven. My experience is that even though my wife and I tried to raise our kids as gender-neutrally as we reasonably could, our girls liked frilly pink things and our boy liked stuff that could hurt you (or at least make a big mess).

Indeed, this anecdote summarizes our experience: when our oldest child (a girl) was four, I was comparing notes with a female colleague who had a four-year-old son. I mentioned that we had bought our daughter some toy tools (or some typical boy toys) and that she had no interest in them at all but that she loved the pink Barbie limo we got her. My colleague then one-upped me. She said, "This past holiday season, our main gifts to our son were a truck and a doll. He plays with the truck all the time. The doll he plays with only by running over it with the truck."

As I said, good luck!

8:40 PM  
Blogger jen lemen said...

oh dear. you should come over and share all those beauty tips with madeleine. so far all she has is fergie as a role model, god help us. i have been known to wash my hair with dawn dishwashing detergent in a pinch. that should explain everything.

i'm raising carter + the two boys from next door--collectively known as the Gay Future of America. with an easy bake oven, they'd be in heaven. madeleine's the one who'd be thinking about how to blow things up in it.

love this post!

7:38 PM  
Blogger Carmen said...

this is one of my favorite posts among the various blogs I read. It's hilarious. Funny that I enjoyed it so much, because I'm the mother of 2 girls...
I always thought I would have just boys. I never thought I was "girly" enough to raise a girl; in fact, I have very few beauty tips to pass on. But like you, I've learned that we are better prepared than we think to do the job given to us. Raising my girls is good fun!

5:49 PM  

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