I’ll never forget the moment S. and I learned we were having a daughter. We were in the darkened ultrasound room, watching as the technician performed all sorts of small miracles, measuring our baby’s heart, brain, arms, legs, the amniotic fluid, the placenta. We were hoping to find out the sex of our baby that day but weren’t counting on it, by any means, when finally the tech told us that we were having a little girl, and that she was perfect.
The look on S.’s face was priceless, and indescribable. Until that point all of the old wives tales pointed to the possibility I was having a boy and so the surprise of finding out our baby was a girl – well, it was like learning I was pregnant all over again. Quite quickly, though, a solemnity settled between the two of us. A daughter. I am not certain if the same sort of feeling would have occurred if we found out we were having a boy – I am fairly certain it would have – but the responsibility of this child suddenly became very real for the two of us.
I’m not arguing, by any means, that a raising a girl is any more challenging or fascinating than raising a boy (I mean, how would I know?), but I do know it feels like a tremendous honor we’ve been bestowed with, one to be cherished and cared for greatly. Occasionally we mentioned some gender-specific thing we are grateful we don’t have to deal with – for instance, it’s unlikely (possible, but unlikely) we will have to struggle with whether or not to let her play football in her teenage years. Circumcision is another discussion we avoid altogether, for a time. But these small concerns are almost immediately countered with other, faraway questions like, at what age will she be allowed to get her ears pierced (if she’s interested)? Wear makeup? Date? More of these questions come from S. than from me, which I think is natural. Fortunately we don’t have to deal with them until much, much further down the line.
I spend some of my time on the internet these days perusing pregnancy boards, although I’ve never found one helpful enough to actually join. Between these boards and the reports my mother shares with me about her friends’ grandchildren, I’ve come to the realization that a lot of people spend a lot of time making up rules for their as-yet unborn children. There are going to be a whole lot of children born in 2011 who aren’t allowed to watch television, ever enter a McDonald’s, consume sugar or meat or cow’s milk – children who will spend their days listening to NPR and reading the Great Works, apparently. My mom tells me of the different rules all of her friends have to follow with their grandchildren, most of them similar to the above, and these conversations leave me feeling bemused, and a little ashamed – while I certainly have no intention of feeding my kid from McDonald’s on a regular basis (I couldn’t even say where the nearest one is to us) or encourage hours of television every day, I also can’t imagine telling either grandmother she can’t give a cookie to her grandchild, or spoil her a little bit. I don’t, I realized, have any particular rules in mind for this child. I assume rules are something S. and I will establish together, over time, as we get to know our daughter and her various quirks and eccentricities.
As I thought through this, though, I did come up with one rule – one steadfast and determined rule that is going to take more work from me than it will from most other people in her life, and it is this: I do not want anyone close to her disparaging their own appearance in front of her. No “I’m fat” and no “I’m having a bad hair day” and no “I’m ugly”…you get the idea. Oh, I know she’ll hear all this talk the moment more of the real world intrudes on her but I am hoping it’ something she never hears from her parents, her aunts or uncles or her grandparents and my close friends.
There is a large variety of reasons for this, beginning with my earliest memories of my dad standing in front of the full-length mirror in my parents’ bedroom, frowning at his trim runners waist and asking my mom if she thought he was fat to time when I had chicken pox and my mom yelled at me when I scratched at one of the pox on my belly because it could scar and I wouldn’t be able to wear a bikini when I was older. I’m not saying my parents did me any sort of grievous harm – I don’t resent their fixation on weight and appearance because I know it wasn’t nearly as bad as many women had it growing up. But it does make me sad, when I flip through photos from myself in high school, college and beyond and know that I didn’t believe myself to be as beautiful as I actually was, and that a good portion of my head space was consumed with thoughts of calories and weight.
In creating this one rule I think I am asking the most of myself – S. certainly doesn’t wander around the house griping about feeling fat or examining the calorie content in various snack options. But, with sixteen weeks left in this pregnancy and our daughter knocking around in my belly like it’s her own personal play pen, which, I guess, it is, and so many decisions left to be made, this one feels solid, achievable, and perhaps it will do me as much good as I hope it does her.