During my twenties, I knew I lacked the maturity for motherhood. At almost thirty, no hint of an imminent transformation presented itself. I finally made decent money and planned a trip to Jamaica. My restless husband awaited my decree of readiness. One night, after several glasses of wine, I said okay. The next day I changed my mind, but it was too late.
A doubtful contender for motherhood, I visited the parenting section of the library frequently. Little by little, I came to terms with my changing body and gained confidence in my future parental abilities. I cancelled the trip to Jamaica and assured myself I could manage children as well as any other administrative position I’d conquered. Besides, surely I’d be blessed with a daughter. Had I not done my time playing army and touring car dealerships as the sister of three brothers? My mother, eager for a granddaughter and more female companionship, mailed me a tiny pink sleeper laced with dainty rose petals. I fingered it daily while daydreaming of nursing Meg, as I would call her. I envisioned a lifelong friend.
When the leaves fell in late October, I pulled a light blue sleeper from the third drawer of the dresser and buried the pink one under the stack of yellow and green. I dressed my newborn son, Jacob, in the blue sleeper and nursed him as he melted into my heart.
In stores I closed my eyes to the little girl dresses, Mary Jane shoes, and Easter bonnets and instead purchased jeans, cowboy boots, and baseball caps. I bypassed the dolls at the toy store and walked directly to the fire trucks.
Each afternoon of my second pregnancy, I pushed the stroller down to the beach at the end of my street and sat on the break wall while my little boy threw rocks into the ocean for an hour -- or two. Caressing my growing belly, I watched his tossed stones disappear into the sea and pictured him walking beside a stroller carrying his baby sister, Caitlin, dressed in the lacy pink sleeper.
When the trees budded that May, Jacob walked beside the stroller from which his new brother, Jordan, smiled upon the world, and me, who loved him in spite of his male equipment.
As the years passed, my days of peaceful walks and dreaming the time away disappeared.
“Will you pitch to us, Mom?”
Dirty dishes and clothes baskets filled with grass-stained jeans played second fiddle as I took my pitching position in the middle of the front lawn. I covered first, second, and third base, too, as the small feet of my sons and the neighborhood boys further etched the base paths into the grass, so unlike, I imagined, the lush lawns of houses with little girls.
We visited parks and nature trails, where my two free-spirited sons swung from the highest heights on jungle gyms and made forts of brush and mud. I scrubbed dirt out from under fingernails and plugged my nose after trips to the mudslide. At the pool, one son scaled the fence in hopes of petting the puppy running freely on the other side while the other discovered the diving board, without my watchful eye. At the library, one picked out books on dinosaurs and rocks; the other chose stories of Vikings and war ships. Though I read them Black Beauty, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Trumpet of the Swan, they preferred Hank the Cowdog, The Indian in the Cupboard, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
On Sunday mornings, one boy sat on each side of me in church—at least, initially. On more than a few occasions, one or both spent part of the service out in the hall with strict instructions not to further misbehave or I’d have to kill them in front of God and everybody.
As I cooked up play dough, my swollen middle brushed against the front of the stove. Once again, the rose-petal sleeper took a prominent place in my thoughts, and I added a touch of red food coloring to the mix. I watched as my sons molded the light pink dough into cars and guns and snakes. While I collected wild flowers with Jordan or coached third base at Jacob’s baseball practice, I mused about the new life harbored in my womb and prayed for a little girl named Michaela. In my thoughts I took her to dance class and braided her hair.
After the Easter bunny came that April, I placed a sky blue sleeper on Ian, my new son, who smiled at me for the first time on the night of his birth. I passed the little pink sleeper off to the lady down the street.
When my father in Wisconsin cleaned out his basement, he shipped me six boxes of Barbie doll furniture that my grandfather had built me in my childhood. I stuffed the boxes in the attic for a granddaughter to play with someday. Maybe.
Jacob, Jordan, and Ian grinned when I walked into their classrooms to help or pick them up. They hugged me after I tended their scraped knees and mended their broken hearts. They instinctively reached for my hand when we crossed streets. Sometimes, they kept their hands in mine well beyond the crossing.
As time went by, I drove to six baseball practices and six games a week. My van smelled like a locker room. I camped in a tent in both the heat and the cold. I sat through three sets of guitar lessons and I ran laps with all three sons during the weekly three-mile physical education marathon.
Never did it occur to me that every mom didn’t have fourteen boys playing basketball in their driveways, three more upstairs building Lego contraptions, and two others wrestling on the living room rug. I rarely noticed the looks of sympathy as I walked through a grocery store with three boys screwing up behind me. I traipsed through natural history, science and industry, and air and space museums. I smiled and thanked the man at the art museum who gave me a discount when I showed up with my three boys and a couple extra in tow. Rain at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park didn’t faze me; I had remembered the rain ponchos.
I taught my boys to cook, to garden, to use chlorine bleach in the white load, to chew with their mouths closed, and to write thank you notes. I didn’t say a word when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied them crying while I read of the dog’s death in When the Red Fern Grows or when Beth died in the movie Little Women. If they noticed they were the only boys in a theater filled with weeping mothers, daughters, and granddaughters, they never said.
Despite my efforts to incorporate less stereotypically “manly” things into their lives, some classic “male” attributes remained constant. I repeatedly explained that it wasn’t necessary to fart, burp, or discuss bodily functions at every meal. I often found myself drawn into races down ski slopes when my first choice would have been a leisurely run. And I was talked into skipping Phantom of the Opera for tickets to the Alamo Bowl.
I did, however, pass on boat shows, rattlesnake roundups, and paintball games. I was often alone, sometimes gratefully, while my husband taught such skills as oil changing, lawn care, carpentry, and car washing. (Apparently, there is an art to the latter.) Sometimes, I was present, but still alone, like when on a hike we came upon a waveless lake amid hills engulfed in a quiet fog. Not fifteen seconds had elapsed before my family of men broke the serenity with a boisterous game of rock skipping. Then there were the countless times when a lovely dinner at a restaurant turned into a sports event. A tightly folded paper napkin works great as a mini football. Thumb-tips placed together with index fingers held upright? Goal posts, of course.
On days when the testosterone flew too wildly about my house, I planted myself on the doorstep of a friend with daughters only. No one there played soccer with balloons in the living room or washed the car with the best bath towels. No one there tromped through the flower garden in search of errant golf balls or leaped over four full steps of clean clothes in need of a trip upstairs. No one there disregarded what I had to say simply because I didn’t have a penis. In the company of those of my gender, I filled myself back up and then headed home to my household of men.
When Jacob turned eighteen, my heart turned over. Watching him one Friday night as he laughed with his friends at the high school football game, I questioned whether I could survive not seeing him everyday after he left for college. When I noted the confidence in Jordan as he led his scout troop, I marveled at when he had grown up to become such a fine leader. When Ian, with the aroma of too much cologne trailing him as he paced the kitchen, asked my opinion regarding a girl at the sixth grade dance, my eyes flooded. How quickly my years of raising boys had passed. What would become of me when they left to build their own lives?
Over a bottle of wine -- or two -- I laid my heartache on my husband. Certainly our sons will marry and go off with their wives’ families forever. That’s what men do, isn’t it? Who will carry on the tradition of making Swedish coffee bread at Christmas? Will any of them invite me to Christmas dinner? Surely their wives will hate me. If only I had a daughter. A daughter would never leave me out in the cold. She would be my friend for life.
On a day when my future plight particularly depressed me, my youngest son came into the kitchen, where I stared out the window at the leaves fluttering from the trees. He stood silent beside me for a time before touching my arm and saying, “You want to come out and shoot baskets with me?”
I looked at this boy, his concern for me engraved on his face, and I figured it out. How silly of me to have thought I’d be alone after raising three kind, caring men. The rock-skipping and other male-exclusive events I’d silently observed had prepared me for the changing unity of our lives. Standing aside didn’t mean being apart. They had always known I was there. Now I knew I always would be, too. Family -- and friends --for life.
As I pulled my hair into a quick ponytail and followed my son outside, I also decided that there had been a reason I wasn’t blessed with a daughter to dress in the pretty pink sleeper, way back then. Someone knew I’d be much better at shooting baskets than braiding hair.
I thought of this long buried away piece recently, for come July that oldest son of mine and his wife are having a baby. Yup, I'm gonna be a grandma.
My husband and I have a few projects going to get ready for second son's big wedding shindig in June. While putting new boards on the picnic table, we also dug around in the attic for a few things. Found this stuff and we're working on getting it back in good order.
So here is the question. Am I going to need toys like this for that new grandbaby?
Or will I finally get to pull out those boxes of Barbie doll furniture?