Photo: Jessica Lin
“Hi, Hulk! How are you today?” I ask in my most polite Spider-Man voice, jauntily angling the plastic superhero toward the Hulk figurine that my three-year-old son is holding. “What did you have for lunch today, Hulk? My sandwich was really yummy.”
“Bang! Smash!” shouts Oliver, using Hulk as a full-body weapon to knock Spider-Man from my hands and send him clattering to the floor.
This is how playtime goes down with my son—somehow, I always forget that superheroes get impatient with small talk and that action trumps words. As a self-professed girlie-girl, I never imagined myself the mother of a boy, let alone two.
It’s impossible to express how much I love my boys, yet I still find myself in the throes of a sort of culture shock. Almost four years in, I still don’t enjoy wrestling, I don’t know who Green Lantern is, and I am uncomfortable using my fingers as a pretend gun. I still feel the pang of gender disappointment. I wanted a girl—actually, I wanted two.
When I was pregnant with Oliver, I was utterly convinced that I was having a girl. I was so convinced, I named her Lucy. I was so convinced, I could picture her soft blonde curls, bright blue eyes and sweet dimpled cheeks. I daydreamed about painting our fingernails, finding innovative uses for glitter and playing dress-up in her array of carefully selected costumes. So when a little boy was placed in my arms after six hours of labour, I was incredibly surprised. Of course, I immediately fell in love with Oliver’s chubby cheeks and tuft of golden hair, but I was shocked and didn’t quite know what to do.
Now I know we’re supposed to be post-gender. I shouldn’t want to impose my daydreamed stereotypes on my kids. Though I may identify as a girlie-girl, I’m most definitely a staunch feminist and liberal. I fully support little boys playing with dolls and little girls digging with dump trucks. I love how traditional gender lines are increasingly blurred. Intellectually, I don’t want it to matter, but I still struggle with accepting the reality of my kids’ gender.
I still long for a little girl with whom I can quietly have tea parties. A little girl I can dress in shades of pink and fun polka dots and frilly tutus. A little girl who can grow into a woman and become a close friend. This is something I never got to experience with my own mother, who died when I was 14. When I was growing up, I yearned for the chance to know her as an adult. I didn’t have the opportunity to have an adult friendship with her, and I never will have that with a daughter of my own either.
When a blood test early in my second pregnancy revealed that we were, in fact, having a second son, I didn’t cry, as some moms do. But I did feel, in the pit of my stomach, a heavy sense of disappointment.
But a second boy it would be, and as I started to share the news, I realized I wasn’t the only one fixated on having a girl. Friends, acquaintances and strangers alike seemed downright crushed when I revealed that I was having another boy—even my father said he’d hoped for a granddaughter. Everyone had an opinion. It was tough to listen to my pedicurist tell me how her friend was taking no chances: She was heading to the States, my pedicurist said, where, for the right price, her husband’s sperm would be selected to ensure a daughter. (Is this really a thing, I wondered, as I sat before her, my belly swollen with a boy?)
Why, as a culture, do we not celebrate a family with two or more boys and no little girls? Why do we feel that a mother needs a daughter? Yes, I wanted a girl, but I never dreamed of going to the lengths of my pedicurist’s friend.
What surpasses my desire to have a daughter is the ultimate truth that human life, regardless of gender, is something to be cherished and celebrated. I’ve fallen in love with my children as individuals, for the little, hilarious, wonderful people they are. I’ve fallen in love with Oliver’s repeated assertion that he will be a T. Rex when he grows up and his generosity with precious, highly coveted jelly beans. I’ve fallen in love with nine-month-old Sam’s complete fascination with every single thing that his big brother does and how, by his estimation, peekaboo is never short of totally hilarious.
I wouldn’t trade my boys for a million little girls. (I might, however, need to invite Hulk and Spider-Man to a special action-packed tea party.)