Recently, I overheard some people — who were sitting way too close to me at the beach — talking about camping. One of them said, “When I bought my RV . . .” and I immediately thought, Those are words that will never come out of my mouth. Nothing against RVs, but owning one just isn’t in my future.
I started to wonder what other phrases I would never utter. “My daughter” immediately sprang to mind — and zing went my heart. Some context: I have three sons. They’re very close in age, so when they were little, most days it felt as if I were managing a pack of dogs rather than thoughtfully rearing children.
And then I’d visit my sister or a friend or see a stranger in the park with her little girls and, oh, how peaceful it all looked: these ponytailed angels playing quietly in the sandbox or entertaining themselves for hours at the kitchen table with nothing more than Elmer’s glue and a box of elbow macaroni.
In contrast, I spent my days screaming for the boys to get over here or stop fighting or stop running or be nice to your brother or get off the roof because it’s an 80-foot drop. I’d look longingly at little girls and wonder what I had done wrong in my life that I didn’t get one of these darling tutu’ed prizes. Zing.
In those days, the zing was powerful. It was a yearning so intense I could almost feel it in my uterus. I mean, aren’t all women supposed to have a daughter? When I was pregnant with my first son, my uncle remarked: “I hope you have a girl. All women should have a daughter first.”
But I had a boy. And then another. And another. I didn’t find out the gender of the first two before they were born, but I was pretty sure the third baby would be my last, and I needed to know if I would finally have the little girl who would complete my family in the way I had dreamed.
It didn’t happen. My third son, as it turns out, was born with a light inside him so bright it blocked out the sun. He woke up every morning with a huge smile on his face. He gazed at me adoringly even when I yelled at his older brothers in a way that would make most parenting experts twitch. Once, when he was about 10, I asked him what it was like to be so happy all the time. “It’s really, really great,” he said, grinning. He brought a joy to my life so intense, it made me lightheaded.
As the years rushed by, as they do, the zing got fainter. I could celebrate the births of others’ daughters without feeling zing-y. I could see baby girls in their pinks and just feel happy they existed in the world.
I realize now I wouldn’t have been a good mother to a girl. And I’m not saying that as self-consolation. Once the little girl phase is over, there’s that whole business of trying to raise a young woman in a culture that isn’t always kind to females. I would have wanted too much for her. I would have wanted her to be all I thought I wasn’t: confident, ambitious, self-possessed. I would have wanted her life and her choices to be improvements on mine, and that pressure wouldn’t have been healthy at all.
I once asked a colleague who had grown up in a family of three boys how his mother had handled them when they were small. “My mom screamed for 20 years without stopping,” he replied. And how did they feel about her now, I asked worriedly. “We’d do anything for her” was his answer.
I can only hope someday my boys will say the same. And if they want to leave out the screaming part, that’s fine, too.
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