Then the amnio gave us the real news: no genetic defects, a healthy son.
I was in the frozen foods section in the supermarket when I got the news. I called my baby’s father immediately, sobbing hysterically, feeling guilty that I wasn’t just relieved that my fetus was all right. “He’s healthy, he’s fine, but our daughter is a he!” Now we were both crying – mostly from relief and confusion and all those crazy emotions that come with the first bunch of months of pregnancy waiting to see if everything is okay, but also in mourning for the daughter we thought we were having.
Perhaps to punish us for naming him Ava as a zygote, my son Boone was born about as dainty as the Marlboro Man. The nurse said he had the neck strength of a three-week-old. Right away, when infants are only supposed to have a little bit in the bottle, he pounded down six ounces at a time like it was a Coors Lite. He never spit up. He was an eating machine. Instead of losing weight the first week like most babies, he gained a pound. At two months, the babysitter started calling him the man-baby.
Now, at a year and a half, he gets what I call his “work face” on as he takes the filter out of the vacuum empties it in the garbage, puts it back, replaces the cover and then proceeds to vacuum. I say, “I get it, you are a boy.”
But he continues to reassert his masculinity. He’s like an advertisement for maleness, sort of like a peacock, except at this stage of the game he displays his testosterone by running at top speed into furniture, swan-diving off the table, getting a bloody lip every other day. In fact, he is so covered in scrapes and bruises I had to ask the doctor not to call child protective services. I explained that I do not beat my child; he just falls his way through the day. She commented, “Wow, he really is beat up, but he’s high energy. It’s what boys do.”
Boys also, apparently, yell. Shortly after my son’s first birthday, he came up with a new sound – screaming bloody murder at the top of his lungs. Its loudness can only be compared to sounds heard outside of the city – like, say, the Serengeti, where fearsome fanged creatures bellow and then tear into the soft warm underbelly of an impala.
There’s shaking and roaring and hurling of objects, followed by a burning hate in his eyes as I pry him away from any dangerous electrical equipment. He stands in the hall, looking quite fierce in just a diaper, hands clenched into fist, elbows out, legs in half a squat. He’s got the whole silver back gorilla thing down pat. After surveying the territory, avoiding any eye contact with me, he starts to lift up his arms, tilts his head back and roars: Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
And yes, it’s kind of scary. The sound is deep and manly and menacing. It never ceases to surprise me when my cuddly, Dora the Explorer-loving, teddy bear-hugging, Goldfish-eating toddler turns into the Incredible Hulk. We, his bumbling and inexperienced parents, have been wondering what the hell happened to our sweet child, now the maddest baby in New Jersey.
He just gets so puffed up and indignant at the lack of cooperation the WetVac is giving him. He’ll drag it across the room towards me, hand me the hose, and make a deep throaty sound as if to say, “Make this work, Mommy, or I’ll go postal.” He hates when things don’t work. He curses in baby language, and like many men when they’re trying to fix things around the house and can’t, he kicks the object in question as if to punish it.
Baffled, his father and I kiss him, hug him and give him organic sweet potatoes. We theorize on the cause of this angry sound: He’s teething. He has to poop. He’s thirsty. He’s starving to death. He swallowed a guitar pick. It’s the mosquito bites. Or maybe he just hates our guts.
I used to think it was sexist to expect a major difference between little girls and little boys. This may sound ridiculous, but before I had a child, I honestly always believed that if you treated children the same, their behavior would not indicate their sex. Even though most of my friends had children way before I did, and all of them said that boys behaved differently from girls, I still thought it was sexist to expect a major difference between little girls and little boys.
But now – especially since yesterday’s music class, when all the other kids were sitting in a circle playing with their maracas and tambourines and my son stampeded up and down the room like King Kong until he belly-slid into the wall – I’m a believer. Boys are different: tornados of dirt, aggression and passion. Girls are okay, I guess. Boone seems to like them. He kisses them every day at the childcare at the gym, where he’s known as “Ladies’ Man.”
Being a boy is hard on him sometimes. The fits of frustration can go on for hours, until he’s throwing himself at my feet, defeated and whimpering. He’s lost a battle. What battle I’m not sure, but now he’s sad, beaten, walking around flapping his arms like Woody Allen. “What’s wrong, little man?” I ask my exasperated son. I get on my knees, channeling Jane Goodall, so I can get down to my young primate’s eye level and study his behavior more closely. From the kitchen floor, I observe his little shoulders going up around his ears. He lets out a sigh as if to say, “Man, this king of jungle stuff is hard!”
I can’t believe I ever didn’t want a boy. Like any mother, I just love everything about my baby, including his sex.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Carter