Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sugar and Spice, part II

"Is it a girl or a boy?"

This time around, I don't hesitate to respond.

"A girl," I say with a satisfied smile. Most of the time, the person who asked knows that I already have a little boy, and I let them wrap the warm blanket of simplistic assumptions around me: 'How wonderful!' 'One of each!' 'Think of all the shopping for pretty things!' and 'No need to go for number three!'

Just after we found out we were expecting a girl, I would protest a bit at such remarks and insist that we would have been perfectly happy either way. Lately I've given that up, and whatever anyone chooses to say I nod and say warmly, "I know, we're excited," and leave it at that. They mean well. They've said nothing that I haven't said myself many times before I became a mother. I no longer add what I really think: that people don't come in two models, pink and blue; that the child I'm carrying is an individual, and thus a mystery that knowing their gender ahead of time can't change. I certainly don't admit what I've admitted here before: that having a girl intimidates me just a little bit.

There's a contradiction there, and I've spent the last months turning it over in my head.

I haven't met my daughter yet. The endearing kicks in the ribcage, the startlingly realistic 3D images on the ultrasound, they feel intimate but they tell me nothing. Nothing will teach me anything about her personality before I hear her cries, before I lull her to sleep in my arms, before I gaze into her eyes. How that personality will evolve as she grows will remain a mystery for even longer. Will I recognize my "baby" at five? At fifteen? At thirty? Le Petit is three, and while he has personality traits that I insist were there from the beginning, he still surprises me. As a parent, I want to avoid constraining him with assumptions from the past, for if I do, he loses the chance to explore and change with confidence, and I lose the chance to see him as he truly is.

Make few assumptions. Let them be who they are. Let that change over time. I don't have a parenting manifesto yet, but if I did, it just might start there.

Enter the gender card, and thus the contradiction: becoming the mother of a girl opens the door to thousands of assumptions, both positive and negative, from fears about "mean girls" and an aversion to Disney princesses to hopes about sharing rites of passage into adulthood and motherhood. I imagine myself stringing sparkling beaded necklaces or planning sewing projects with her. I dream (before telling myself not to rush too far ahead) of a daughter who might -- just might! -- consider attending Mount Holyoke, my alma mater. I imagine late-night calls when I listen, as only a mother can, as she makes important choices in her life. I wonder if we'll shop together for shoes; if she'll be ashamed of her frumpy American mother or, on the contrary, initiate me into the secrets of being chic and more authentically French.

Nonsense. All of it. I sweep it aside as best I can. She'll be who she is. It was easier to say this before le Petit was born, when I assumed that I knew nothing and that his father would just have to fill me in as we went along. Maybe this time around my husband feels the way I did back then. Yet when I remember my own experience -- an imperfect and perilous guide for any parent -- I wonder just what understanding it could possibly bring. I was a misfit, but no tomboy; my own mother chided me for throwing a baseball "like a girl." I loved sparkly things and art projects. I excelled at math. I dreamed of being a princess. I dreamed of being an architect. I climbed trees but rarely knew how to get back down. Of the millions of variations on "girl," I was but one. Unique. No guide for anyone.

I'm not sure where I'm going except to say that my goal, in these last few weeks before I give birth, is to leave some written trace of this: I'm excited to meet my daughter. Not because she's a girl, and not despite it. She will be cherished and welcomed with all my heart. She may read this and understand some day why fabric and beads and mother-daughter art projects were foisted on her at some point in her childhood, and why application to a certain women's college in rural New England was mentioned repeatedly when she turned 16. And she will hopefully forgive the baggage I carry. As two women, we will share many things, and that excites me. But I will try not to let it blind me.

And now, while no one is looking, I'll secretly look over the pink pajamas in the baby girl section of the store. Me, the girl who always hated pink. There are still some things I can't explain or justify.


paola said...

Oh yeah I got all that about 'one of each' and being able to stop now that I have 'the pair'. I was even congratulated for having had one of each, as if I had any choice in the matter. Secretly, I probably would never have even chosen to have a girl seeing Noah was such a great little boy, but that was of course before Zoe came along.

Most of these comments came from people I didn't really know that well ( or knew at all) and so I figure they are those 'safe' comments you make when you don't really know the person you are talking to. The pregnacy equivalent of talking about the weather, I guess. Still, whatever the reason for it, it did get pretty annoying,

Jac said...

We're expecting a girl too (after a boy) and I've been getting the comments as well. But truthfully I am excited to have a girl, a "pair", one of each, etc. I don't mind the comments. I wasn't a girlie girl AT ALL (still not) so I'm not particularly excited about tea parties and ruffles, and I don't think I have any pre-conceived notions of what she will be like because she is a girl (I mean, I hope she will be a little less rambunctious than my son, but I would be hoping that if she were a boy too). I just think a mother-daughter relationship, if it can be negotiated well, is a special thing and I want to experience that (much the same as a mother-son relationship is a special thing and I am so happy I get to experience that with DS).

I also think (and I'll only say this here, and never IRL) that expecting a girl is a relief for me because whenever I struggle with the feelings of how I could possibly love another as much as I love DS, I remember that DS will ALWAYS get to be my best boy, and this little girl will always get to be my best girl (since we're pretty set on stopping after two). It lessens the betrayal I sometimes feel I am heaping on DS by having another. I know that's not really logical and your heart expands to love them all (blah blah) but on an emotional level I find that has really been helping me as I near the finish line (5 weeks!) and I wonder about how our life is going to change.

caramama said...

"Of the millions of variations on "girl," I was but one."

I think that is one of the most beautifully eloquent sentences I've ever read. The whole post was lovely and perfectly describes the mixed emotions that many of us have.

@Jac - I know exactly what you mean.

Melba said...

As a mom of two girls, I have to say it - I love having girls. Mind you, I believe that no matter what I had, be it two boys or one of each, I'd say that I love it exactly how it is.

I thought this post was lovely too.

Oh, and good luck on evading the Disney Princesses. I really mean that! They can be quite nauseating. This morning my 3 year old and I played princess games on their website during the baby's nap. I got me an overdose.

Sylvie said...

What will she be like? Who knows. But she will be a girl with a wonderfully tender and insightful mother. Lucky girl!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Thank you all! It was important for me to write this out, and means a lot to be understood... especially since my husband, supportive as he is, doesn't at all understand my navel-gazing on this.

@paola and @jac -- it's funny, because I agree with both of you! On the one hand, le Petit is so special and wonderful that I find it easier to picture another little boy... but at the same time, I am glad he'll still be my "little guy" now, because a girl kind of takes a different place.

@Melba -- I guess what I hate is the lumping them all into the "princess" basket and selling them together. I mean, I totally dig Bella of 'Beauty and the Beast,' but Ariel, of 'The Little Mermaid,' not so much. I guess the whole giving up your voice for a man thing is too insulting to my feminist sensibilities.

In France, they assume that moms want boys and dads want girls. Which I find funny because in the US (if I remember right, and to the extent I ever even considered the question when I was still living there) they assume the opposite. What are your experiences?

paola said...


Must say I haven't noticed. However, Italians do say that boys are more into their mums whereas girls more into their dads. Don't know if this is a general thing elsewhere. My girl was so totally indiffernt to her old man till about a month ago ( she is 3/9 months). Now she can't get enough of him. And its about bloody time too!!!!

Cloud said...

Yes, the assumption here in the US is that dads want boys. We have two little girls, and a lot of people ask us when we're going to "try again" for a boy. Whatever. We're done, and happy with our two girls!

We've been able to keep the princess crap to an acceptable level so far- mostly because Pumpkin (who is 3.5 yo) finds Disney movies too scary to watch, so she only hears about princesses at day care.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I had my girl first, then a boy. What I remember most about that time, 2 decades ago, was not that it was 'one of each' or any other gender-fulfillment, but mostly a deep feeling of filling out four corners of a square. And I remember imagining also "I've had one child, ergo I know what my offspring are like." HA! Each one is/was/shall always be such an individual. At first it was a shock to have a new baby with such different needs & behaviors from his sister's (nursing, sleeping, EVERYthing!) Then as that notion sank in, I realized how affirming it was to have these 2 wonderful individuals. And then when they starting developing their own sibling bond,separate from me, I thought I would burst with joy.

Best wishes for this happy time!

hush said...

Chiming in late - trying to see your "Game on" post that showed up in my reader, but alas I cannot find it now - will try again later.

In the US, yes, most women want at least one girl and most men seem to want a son or two. I base this perception upon a few women acquaintances who have 2 or more sons, and are DEVASTATED because they felt it meant they'd never get to plan a wedding, be in the delivery room, or have a tea party etc. One calls herself "the dreaded mom of boys" - seriously. Pretty silly/sad if you think about it.

But I do have to admit, in several larger families I've known, it tends to be the second daughter who as an adult seems to step up and care for elderly parents, are very doting as aunts, and are generally all-around well-adjusted people. So maybe girls are a better long-term "investment" if you can think of children as assets without either laughing or sounding too cynical.

My DH is Italian-American and really really wanted a daughter, and finally got her and now feels done. Personally, I didn't care either way. Anyway, best wishes to you & yours!!