‘Better luck next time," my mother whispered into the phone after I confessed the ultrasound results: I was having another boy. I suspect her immediate response was part disappointment, part shock. For months she had predicted I was carrying a girl. When she saw the pale mint green color I chose to paint the baby’s room, she pointed to the walls and smiled, "Girl." When I installed a new light switch plate with a baby surrounded by a field of flowers, she insisted, "Girl." And even when I moved the foam filled pastel print balloons from my son Levi’s room to the new nursery, she still thought I was carrying a girl.
I had tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter to me as much as it mattered to her. After all, I considered myself quite liberal. Levi wasn’t quite 3 years old and our experiment at raising him gender neutral had so far been a success. We didn’t own any sports-themed toys or clothes. We dressed him in tie-dyes and bought him pretend kitchens and strollers. I was proud of the way Levi loved his Marlo Thomas CD and DVD from the 1970s series "Free to Be You and Me."
I was raising the kind of boy I could fall in love with if he wasn’t my son.
Fast-forward three years. I am now the parent of two boys. Levi and Bennett are certainly more masculine than gender neutral. Although they both love tie-dyes, their shirts need to be emblazoned with baseballs or bugs. Playing with strollers is no longer cool. Even my best attempts to explain that there are no such things as girl and boy movies are met with the same looks I would give my mother back when I was an all-knowing teenager. Recently, after washing off my makeup before bed, Levi told me that I didn’t look like myself. "This is me!" I yelled gesturing to my damp skin. "Not all women wear makeup."
Although I have tried to teach my boys not to conform to gender roles, I am beginning to realize that I haven’t always provided a good example. Perhaps it was actually more about me. I never enjoyed sports. One time in high school I almost failed gym by working harder on my tan than my tennis serve.
I started to wonder if my dream of raising my boys gender neutral and of having a girl are really one and the same.
As my husband and I get older and confront what might be our last chance to have a third child, I find myself getting giddy about the possibility of having a girl. Given that both of my pregnancies were high risk because of some predominantly male birth defects, our neonatal and genetics doctors agree that we would be justified to enroll in one of the new gender selection treatments. We look at each other excited: American Girl dolls, ballet recitals, pink rooms.
"Wait a minute," I catch myself saying to my husband, "What about our liberal gender neutral stance? What about pale mint green?"
I look into his eyes afraid that I am seeing my pink dream die. He reminds me that our dreams have already been fulfilled. We are raising our boys with as many choices as possible. We have allowed them to be themselves, whatever that may be. Liberal is really more about liberating them to make their own choices, whether it is Barbie or baseball or something in between.
I finally tell my mom there won’t be a next time: I won’t be having a girl. Whatever the word "boy" means, I now realize how lucky I am to have two of them.
Marla Davishoff is a licensed clinical social worker who lives with her husband and two sons in the Chicago suburbs. She can be reached at MarlaDavishoff@comcast.net.