MY HUSBAND AND I are talking about having another kid and let's face it -- we're really talking about having another boy. We have three boys already, and it's pretty clear that my body doesn't do girls. I'm not willing to keep this up forever to prove myself wrong.
Everybody presumes I feel bad about this. When our last kid was born, about 30 people asked me if I was disappointed. Relief was the big thing I remember feeling when Carter was born. Doctors started laying down the law about booze only with this last pregnancy and newspapers carried frightening stories about the perils of pregnant tippling. For many of us who went through pregnancies in the dark ages, our little sips of wine are exactly what got us through. Maybe our kids will have to try harder in school, but it still seems a fair trade-off. Since I had imbibed occasionally, I was especially fearful about the amount and quality of this baby's limbs. Fortunately, my uterus does not read the paper, so it did its usual thing and produced a healthy baby boy.
I get the drift from my friends that they think raising boys is harder than raising girls, but I have no way of knowing.
I do suspect there is a difference.
I romanticized about what raising a girl would be like. I dream about ballet lessons, clean hair and shirts that don't have the Incredible Hulk on them. I dream of encouraging her to be president, marry a househusband and learn to fix her car. I envision long chats about interpersonal relationships and the bra sizes of her friends. I have 14 Ginny dolls in a bag at the back of my closet waiting for just such a little girl.
I am trying hard to find common ground with my boys, but it is tough. They have shown no interest in my Ginny dolls. They like music sung by young adults who put safety pins in their noses. They like to watch games during which people bleed or their bones are broken. Their idea of high fashion is anything with an NFL sticker on it and month-old socks.
The other night at a PTA meeting a woman rose with a hit list of complaints from her daughter. I was really impressed. Not with the list, but with the fact that her kid talks to her.
My boys don't talk to me. I set lots of traps for them, but they refuse to fall in. When they get home from school I have a homemade snack on the kitchen table. I pour myself a cup of coffee, which I always end up drinking by myself. They arrive with about eight friends and three soccer balls, eat everything but the paper cups and dash out, knocking over our cheap ladderback chairs.
On the few occasions they come home alone, I employ psychological come-ons to get them to spill the beans. Years of failure have taught me that "How was school today?" or "What did you do at school?" produces the predictably uncommunicative responses. I have tried:
"I bet something at school today really made you mad."
"What color was your teacher's face most of the day?"
"If you could change one thing about today, what would it be?"
On a good day they'll tell me what they had for snack.
I set up individual time with each kid to create an atmosphere for soul-baring. These heart-to-hearts usually take place in the car, which is the only private location I know.
I start by relating a small problem I have had and ask my son to help me with it. He is perfectly delighted to tell me my business. I thank him warmly and ask him if he has any problems he'd like me to help him with. "Nope" is always the reply. A stupid mother might take this to mean that everything at school is going well. But when you have three boys, nothing is ever going well at school.
The way you get to learn about your child's school day is through the school conference. This is a totally demoralizing experience for the parents. You are forced to try to feel comfortable perching a 40-inch behind on a 15- inch chair. The teacher never sits on one of those! Reentering the classroom almost always produces "classroom stomach" in even the most successful of adults. It's the old fear of "getting in trouble in school," and when you have three boys it is an accurate prediction.
When the teacher has called you in, there's no chance that it's because she'd like to adopt your child.
When she tells you that the kid is making obscene noises that disturb the class, you know exactly what she is talking about. He has perfected an imitation of passing gas by copping air with his hand under his armpit.
When she tells you he makes loud slurping noises, you nod knowingly. It's that game he's devised of letting saliva drip down his chin, and then sucking it back into his mouth.
When she tells you he is not tidy, you know in a few moments you will be pulling two- week-old egg salad sandwiches out of his desk.
When she tells you he is not thoughtful in the bathroom, you know he has been playing the urine olympics at school too.
And she hasn't even touched the topic of his schoolwork.
It's tough to deal with the boys at home too. We have tried to be affirmative-action parents. Our boys do domestic work, had dolls as babies, and are not allowed to play with guns. This hard line has not produced the desired results.
They do domestic jobs exactly like most men I know. They load the dishwasher so full nothing gets clean. They tidy their rooms by taking clothes, books and plates of half-eaten snacks, and putting them in the laundry basket. They use the toilet sponge to wipe off the kitchen table.
The dolls they were given were to teach them to be kind and loving. As toddlers it was cute to see them occasionally push the dolls under their shirts to nurse their pretend baby like they saw Mom do with the real baby, but mostly what they did was color the dolls' faces with magic markers. They played CHiPs with them, running over them with their tiny motorcycles.
There are few sights more nauseating than that of a 3-year-old with a 3-foot submachine gun terrorizing babies and adults, so we have stuck firm to our decision about no firearms in the house. On most afternoons there is a pile of weapons outside our front door as the neighbor kids come in to play. Nobody is upset, because they enjoy making their own guns. Tinker toys, toilet paper rolls and uneaten celery from lunch are all pressed into combat.
And I may not have been the daintiest of girls, but I don't remember having belching contests with my friends.
Brothers are bonded together in pain. They love to hurt each other. They are constantly leaping on each other from tall places and attempting to redirect the appendages of their bodies. The mother is the only kill-joy who doesn't think they are having fun.
Personal hygiene is not valued by my sons. There is always that sinking feeling when you bravely enter the kids' bathroom and discover the toilet paper roll is empty.
My 9-year-old informed us last week that he has never used soap in the shower.
My 6-year-old left his toothbrush at the beach last summer and only told me yesterday.
I don't know when they changed their underpants last.
Boys never use Kleenex. It is one of the reasons their shirtsleeves never wear out -- the material is being constantly reinforced.
I don't know at what point they cut their own fingernails, but I don't do my husband's so I trust they'll pick it up one of these years.
I know there are lots of mothers of girls out there ready to smash my illusions with horror tales of raising daughters, but I beg them not to. A mother of three boys needs her fantasies.
I mean, would my little girl really ever spend a whole afternoon catching flies with her hand?