As I sat down on the exam table for my twelve-week ultrasound and pulled up my dress I asked the technician, “Any chance you’ll be able to tell us the sex?” She patiently explained that it was unlikely, but possible– though even if she could make an educated guess I shouldn’t go shopping for any sex-specific baby clothes. I nodded eagerly as she lubed up my rapidly growing belly.
“So you want to know the sex?”
Well, let’s be honest: If you can tell that early, you’ve got a boy.
The news rocked my world. How could I be having a boy? Me- the girl raised by a single mother (a former Miss America who made her living in the beauty business), who attended an all-girls’ school for eight years, who writes about femininity, who is a girly-girl who always has her nails done and hates to leave the house without a “face on”- a mother to a son? I immediately panicked because I hate dirt and have no interest in things with big engines. Of course, I know this is totally stereotypical, and not always an accurate assessment of boys’ preferences (I confess to hoping that playing Broadway music while pregnant would shape those preferences)… Yet I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of a manicure buddy.
Of course, like every new mom, I wouldn’t change a thing about Little Man.
I’ve joked from the beginning that we’ve saved a lot of money on clothes and jewelry by having a boy (and when I read articles like this recent piece in the NYT on kindergarten style I *know* this is true– though I do admit to having a particular weakness when it comes to the boys’ clothes at Janie and Jack). But lately I’ve started thinking about this in a much deeper way and I’m grateful to have a boy, and even a bit jealous of his future life. I often think about how much time, and money, he will save. This morning I put on a facial masque before taking a shower, where I then took the time to shave. After showering I moisturized (face, body, hair), though today I skipped drying my hair (rainy day in Boston), a process that usually adds 15-30 minutes to my getting ready routine (though less now that I am losing hair in clumps at four months postpartum). Add to that the application of mascara, a hint of blush, gloss, and tinted moisturized– de rigeur for leaving the house. I’m hoping to sneak in a manicure and an eyebrow wax later in the day. Clearly, being a woman is expensive, and it can hurt.
Of course I understand that it is not a necessity that I do all of these things all of the time, but nothing that I do is unusual for the vast majority of American women. And, sure, being a man is sometimes painful as well (the day he was circumcised has undoubtedly been Little Man’s worst day– and probably mine as well!), but over a lifetime it’s more painful, more time-consuming, and more costly to be a woman.
For much of the 1990s parenting experts and the popular press fretted over girls and their costly futures (think Reviving Ophelia), but the new century brought a new concern about boys as the “fairer sex” began surpassing them in the classroom. Books like Raising Cain helped solidify the worry, showing that there are higher rates of violence for young men today and a more uncertain job market in their futures. As a sociologist who has studied gender I always was aware of these issues and concerns, but I never took them personally.
Until I started to grow a penis.
My Amazon cart began to change a bit as I expanded. Instead of orders dominated by titles on girls and athletics and beauty pageants, books like Michael Thompson’s It’s a Boy! Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18 began to sneak in.
So much of life in our competitive culture is required to be strategic and performance- or outcome-based, it is tempting to apply the same approach to parenting. With hopes of producing the best boy ever, we might set out to cultivate the best of traditional male attributes (smart, strong, steady, and uncomplaining), but then perfect him by adding the quality of emotional literacy and subtracting violence and excessive aggression so he can be successful in life. Many parents speak about parenting as if it were a giant school project: if you just start soon enough, read the right research, and do the right things, you can get the particular end product you have in mind. (Page 25)
In other ways, I had a lot to learn. I learned the hard way to put a wipe over aforementioned penis during changes (I’ve been told that this area is easier to clean for boys, but having no basis for comparison I can’t really say). I fretted over autism (the rates are higher among boys) until I consistently got a social smile. I will continue to worry a bit about ADHD, which is more often diagnosed among boys than girls (notice I say “diagnosed” because it’s unclear if the actual incidence is higher among boys as well– or at least that’s how I understand the literature).
That’s one of the reasons I was excited to receive a copy of the new book Raising Boys with ADHD: Secrets for Parenting Healthy, Happy Sons. One of the lines in the Introduction really spoke to me: “It’s your job as a parent to help your son identify his purpose, develop his talents, and learn how to get along with people.” (x) Books like this help parents by providing concrete, practical advice on raising children, especially those who may have particular needs. For instance, I loved the idea of writing a letter to your child’s teacher each year to tell him/her about your child and how they best learn (examples are even provided on pages 19-21)– a suggestion that may appeal to many (so long as you limit your letter-writing to the beginning of the year and not make it a weekly occurrence, of course).
Like many mothers out there unfamiliar with the terrain of boyhood I expect I will turn not just to books but also to my husband, who knows a lot more about having a penis than I do, despite the fact that I so successfully managed to grow one (even now when Carston gets a bath I often leave the cleansing “down there” to John, explaining that he knows how hard you can actually scrub before it hurts). While I am doing my beautifying rituals and listening to showtunes Daddy can teach Little Man about dirt and engines, along with probabilities and marginal tax rates.
In the meantime, when I put my books and worries aside, our house is filled with the mingled laughter of baby belly laughs, Mommy screeches, and Daddy giggles. I only have to watch this video (especially around the nine-second mark) to know that my son has a wonderful role model.