18 May My Never Daughter
Though it’s still too early to tell for absolute certain, during a recent ultrasound at St. Peter’s, the doctor guessed that my second child would also be a son. His guess three years ago about my firstborn son Henry was spot on.
First, I felt relieved that the baby was healthy. I was excited to know the baby’s gender so I could say “he” instead of “it.” Those feelings were closely followed by a crying bout while I mourned for the daughter I’d never have. (My husband Cory has been clear that he doesn’t think we can handle more than two children.) I didn’t realize how high my hopes were for a baby girl until it hit me that I’d neverhave one.
I’ll never brush her hair and use the barrettes I kept from my childhood. I’ll never show up to her ballet recital with a proud bouquet of flowers. I’ll never doll her up in a ruffly Easter dress. I’ll never buy her first bra. I’ll never wipe her tears away after a breakup, telling her she might kiss some frogs before she finds her prince. She’ll never try on my wedding dress. I’ll never tell her how to stick up for herself, to go ask for a raise, that she’s beautiful just the way she is, and to eat all the chocolate because you only live once.
I hadn’t realized how many of my imagined parenting moments had to do with raising a daughter. As one of two girls myself, I suppose that’s only natural. My role model only raised women.
Immediately following this sadness, I felt awful, awful guilt about what I’ve learned is called “Gender Disappointment.” Because while this loss punctured my heart, I honestly am happy about the boy, too. A healthy child is nothing to be sad about. I love him.
Being brothers will be the tightest bond of their lives, if Henry’s relationship with his little bro is anything like mine with my sister. Our closest moments as adults have had to do with feminist issues, women’s fears, relationships and body talk — not stuff that flows as freely across the gender gap.
The other morning, Henry hit me with something new, though. Completely on his own, he came downstairs wearing a plaid, short sleeved button-up shirt and a cut-off striped sock on one arm, carrying three bottles of nail polish. He politely asked, “Mom, do my nails, please?”
I know what you’re thinking. But my friends with little boys have knowingly shared tips, like that Jamberry nail wraps come in baseball and camo print patterns. After I carefully painted Henry’s nails orange (his favorite color), green and yellow, he went straight for his toy guitar and was the very picture of punk rock; a look I used to proudly sport. And that’s when it hit me.
The clothes I’ve saved for my someday child are actually men’s clothes. My grandfather’s corduroy jacket and Navy peacoat, Dickies work pants, army boots, JNCO jeans and tiny tees with Paul Bunyan and the Jolly Roger on them that I found at secondhand stores in the little boys’ section. Though I love hot pink, I despise housework. I don’t understand football and I scream when I see a spider, but I’m hardly submissive or passive. I never fit cleanly into a cookie-cutter gender role myself.
Sure, Henry loves fire trucks and the greatest belly laugh I’ve ever heard come out of him was right after he pulled our cat’s tail. He loves driving play cars, knocking block towers over and pretending to poop on people. He’s “all boy,” as they say. But he’ll also snuggle up and ask for a story, give uncomfortably long kisses, smell flowers, and sometimes he’ll put his face right up to mine and say, “I love you, Mom.”
And if Henry’s got a tendency toward a style like Stephen Tyler, Johnny Depp or David Bowie, I’m going to let it fly. There are dudes who look better in eyeliner than I do.
My own mom, though exasperated at her crushed dreams of a little princess dressed in Laura Ashley, did let me express myself through fashion at an early age. She recalls an outfit I wore around Woodstock, Vermont: A sweatsuit paired with a shawl. I intend to carry on the tradition of full acceptance of self-expression, however it may manifest itself in shades of pink and blue.
But Henry and his little brother definitely have to be at least 13 before they can wear any makeup.