I was thirty-five when I had my first child. This means I had thirty-five years (give or take) to fantasize about who that child would be. I had lists of baby names when I was in elementary school and dreamed of bringing my daughter home from the hospital and cooing over her every expression. A closet full of adorable dresses was a given, as was a bookshelf full of Nancy Drew mysteries and the entire Little House on the Prairie collection. I knew that we'd be thick as thieves and she'd share her secrets with me.
There wasn't a thing about her and her life that I hadn't considered, except the chance that "she" might be a "he."
When I got pregnant, a rudimentary understanding of probabilities would have prepared me for the possibility that I'd have a boy, but it never occurred to me that I wouldn't get my XX chromosome swaddled in pink. I am certain my husband, who generally has a better grasp of reality than I do, understood the odds, but he doesn't like to crush my dreams, so he kept his mouth shut. (I was also a very hormonal pregnant woman, which may have had something to do with it).
To say I was stunned when my doctor's assistant told us we were having a boy would be an understatement. To my credit, when I heard the word "penis" I managed not to break down sobbing until the woman waving the magic sonogram wand left my husband and me alone in the examining room. But once the door shut, I lost it. What the hell was I going to do with a boy? I had no interest in cars or trains. I was incapable of building anything and preferred Dirty Dancing or Steel Magnolias to football. With the exception of Farmer Boy, the Little House series was out.
This was NOT what I had planned. I had planned on tea parties and pigtails, dammit, not mud pies and ripped jeans.
To help ease me into my new reality, my husband suggested we hit a local store to pick out some baby clothes. This was a well-intentioned, but seriously misguided idea. This level of shock was not going to be fixed by a cute hoodie and a pair of miniature corduroys. This called for vodka (which I couldn't have), a box of chocolate (which, given the amount of weight I had gained even in this early stage of my pregnancy I shouldn't have) and a long, long phone call with my oldest friend (which I did have, and, God love her, she got it).
Has anyone else felt this way, or was I alone in my sense of disappointment? Polls have found that people do have preferences for the sex of a child, which suggests that someone out there knows what I'm talking about. I'm not saying that people aren't happy to have whatever children they have - but do parents have expectations that they have to realign when they discover that they're bringing home a son when they expected a daughter (or vice-versa)?
For my part, I knew how lucky I was - I was able to get pregnant, my baby was healthy and I had the resources to take care of him. It still took me about three days to pull myself out of my funk. I ate that box of chocolate, cried on my husband's shoulder and used piles of Kleenex. (I did not, however, have the vodka.)
But, I was going to be a mom. I was going to get it together. So I did. And I started dreaming about my son.
I bought Legos, jeans and polo shirts, and covered the nursery with car decals. I found books about pirates and things that go zoom and learned who Bob the Builder was. (I still find him a little creepy). People gave us camouflage swaddling blankets and Ugli dolls instead of Raggedy Ann. We ditched the list of girl's names and agreed on a name we loved for our little guy. When he was born, I had the rush of instantaneous love that everyone only tries to describe....
The biggest surprise of it all, however, is that having a boy is better than I could have ever imagined. My son and stepson can fill the house with teeth-chattering amounts of noise, but my son idolizes his big brother and his big brother adores him in return. Their need to wrestle (and my husband's need to join in) baffles me, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I've replaced the books of my childhood with funnier ones about bugs, aliens, bodily functions and monsters. I still suck at building things, but I've learned the proper name of nearly every construction vehicle in existence and take great pride in my boy's ability to name them from the backseat of our car while speeding along the interstate or puttering around town. I've discovered a love for ripped jeans, dirty hands, and miniature tool boxes and don't mind that, although I give him every opportunity to bake cookies and play with dolls, my son prefers race cars and climbing on things to more sedate pursuits. Even though I am completely outnumbered in every way as the lone woman in our house, I don't long for pigtails or pink dresses. Instead, I safely packed away that first pair of cords and hoodie as a reminder of everything that was perfect and small and surprising about the first year of my son's life and each unexpected joy since. Maybe I finally learned what a great philosopher, Mick Jagger, knew all along -- you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.