We didn’t have a girl.
We didn’t know until I lifted that slippery, squinting, brand new baby from the birthing tub that Thomas was a Thomas. But I had hoped that he would be. There had been strangers’ predictions based on my body’s shape and friends’ earnest guesses and even a 50/50 raffle at the coffeeshop where I worked, and though those odds were stacked slightly in favor of a boy, it wasn’t a given.
Meanwhile, I had been thinking of my own adolescence, the swiftly shifting alliances among the girls I knew and trusted, the tears I cried on my mother’s shoulder, the loneliness, the unbelievable insecurity. I wallowed in the challenges that would come with raising a girl to eat healthy food while still being unafraid to indulge on occasion and to love moving and strengthening her body without becoming a slave to it, not least of which because I still had some scars that itched from such battles with balance. And if she wasn’t like me, if she instead sprang into the world confident and beautiful and beloved, then of what use could I be?
And even then I felt like I was letting down feminists and The Goddess and Womynhood. Why wouldn’t I want a girl? I live in a country where a daughter would have far more opportunities than a half-decent marriage and work in a sweat shop. I’m well-educated and liberal, as is my husband. We are responsible about money and respectful of others and very much in love. Presently I work at a farm and freelance as an editor while my husband teaches high school English and volunteers at a local brewery; were our positions switched, no one would bat an eye. We both cook and wash dishes and putter in the yard. We both change diapers and bathe our son. We would be as excellent at parenting a girl as we are with a boy (however excellent or not that may be). And heaven knows, as we are always being told, the world needs more Strong Women, more Woman Leaders, the kind of women grown from girls raised by parents like us in the quiet neighborhoods of small towns like the one in which we live.
It’s the eternal guilt. The guilt I’ve carried since first labeled “gifted” and praised upon a pedestal. I have been given the gifts of cleverness and a willingness to please. I have been given the gifts of parents who are still together and a peaceful childhood and no serious illness or disaster. And so I ought to do better, to make something of myself, to serve as a role model for the daughters I will raise and inspire. Except that I haven’t.
We didn’t have a girl. We have a boy. A boy who, at fifteen months, loves dogs and dancing to records and shoes and birds. Who can imitate a truck or a chicken. Who loves eating and sweeping and making strangers smile. And every time I tell him he is strong or brave, I ask myself if I would say that to a daughter (I would… I hope). I also tell him, as I would a girl, that he is sweet and snuggly and clever and safe.
My husband says he’d like to have a girl next, though he isn’t strongly inclined either way. Mina Pearl, we would call her, or Amelia Acacia. Maybe she will have blue eyes like her mother, brown like her father, grey-green like her older brother. She’ll have curly hair; all three of us do. And she’ll have a brain and a body and inclinations she didn’t ask for, all of which she’ll need to learn to live with.
But maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll have, as I like to joke, “a pack of boys.” And maybe that’s okay, too. Because I will raise them (as best I can) to be the kind of people who will stand up for gender equality, who will respect and admire a woman as they will a man, who will recognize greatness, no matter the anatomy in which it’s housed. Maybe they will have daughters for me to spoil and inspire a generation from now. Maybe my sons will be gay or bisexual or transgendered or some other description I’ve never heard or that’s not yet been dreamed.
Maybe I will have a girl or two, and maybe they’ll all be that way, too.
Maybe it doesn’t matter.
I want my children to be competent. I will try to teach them to bake bread and start a fire and to love Walt Whitman. I imagine my husband will focus on teaching them to ride a bike and play the banjo and make authentic Italian gravy from scratch, just like his grandma makes. We will teach them all we can, and probably some things we didn’t intend.
That’s the goal, anyway.