"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.