Friday, May 05, 2006

It's a girl!

I remember the horrid experience of the ultrasound. I was overwhelmed, scared, tense. Alone (J-F couldn't make the appointment), in an unfamiliar setting (having just moved to a new city), grappling poorly in a second language for any hope of communication with the staff, waiting with an overfull bladder, and generally worried, confused, emotional. Everything was OK, normal, no reason not to be, just fine; but a little voice niggled: Are you sure? How can they be sure? I won't let my guard down. I have every reason to be concerned, tense.

Then she told me, It's a girl, and for the first time in days, I smiled. That smile imprinted itself on my heart, I think — my heart melted a little and I could no longer control the muscles in my face.

Of course, I'm pretty sure I'd've had the exact same reaction if she'd told me I was having a boy. Pretty sure.

I'd never envisioned a baby girl in pink or daydreamed about doing mother–daughter stuff. But then I'd never been dreamy-eyed over motherhood at all or had any vision of that future except as a vague, blurry Someday. I was relieved to have a girl, because I know nothing about boys. But it turns out it's not so simple.

It's a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters is the latest anthology edited by Andrea J Buchanan. As it's so succintly and accurately stated at Parent Hacks, "Andi's books are a central part of the growing conversation (in print and online) about the realities of middle-class, American motherhood." (The review there has sparked a great discussion on gender identity.)

Read the Introduction.
Mothering a girl, according to these writers, makes a woman face herself anew, reliving her own experiences growing up as a girl. The mother of a girl must plumb the depths of the girlhood she'd thought she had safely escaped — but this time through the eyes of her daughter, whose experience is necessarily different. The pain and joy of this reliving, the merging of mother and daughter experience, and the bittersweet, inevitable separation between the two, is at the core of mothering a girl — and at the heart of the essays that make up this book.

That's it, really. This collection is less about daughters than it is about mothers coming to terms with themselves, their own sense of girlness and womanhood, the awareness of how that sense grew out their relationships with their mothers. Emulate our mothers, or distance ourselves from their legacy?

I'm sure many readers will find it reassuring, but I find it troubling that so many (were there really that many, or did my reaction to them exaggerate their number in my mind?) of these essays centred on body-image. (Maybe I'm too much in denial, my vehemence in eschewing the latest fashion trends and resistance to dieting betrays an overcompensation, an armour of words I've built up around a less-than-perfect body.) I'd hoped we were past that.

No essay reflects my experience closely, but every one of them has a little something I relate to.

See Mothershock this week for Andi's take on specific essays.

Follow the blog book tour:
Arch Words
Left-handed Trees and Other Lies: Keeping It All Honest
Mom Brain
The Mommy Blog
Mommy Needs Coffee
Mom Writes
Parent Hacks
Phantom Scribbler
Scribbling Woman
Wet Feet
Woulda Coulda Shoulda

Related books also edited by Andi:
Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, my review of.
It's A Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons, a few words about.

When I first wrote to Andi to express my interest in It's A Girl, I mentioned some of the issues I'd been grappling with.

The way J-F rolls his eyes and mutters "Women..." when Helena has a tantrum. Even little girls are emotionally complex, he says. When a boy has a tantrum you know exactly why. Is it because I'm female that I'm quicker to figure her tantrums out, because I'm her mother, because I spend more time with her — which of these is behind my knowing her better? Is it true that boys are simpler, easier?

His surprise at my sister's choice of a trainset as a birthday gift for a little girl.

That Helena for a while seemed to be far more girly than I thought possible as the daughter of someone who's never cared for clothes, makeup, etc. Where does she get it from? And what do I do about it (nurture, suppress, ignore)? (The girliness has waned somewhat in recent months, or maybe I don't notice anymore.)

As a counterbalance to the girliness, Helena's bossy and even bully-ish, decidedly "unfeminine," in her daycare group (she's physically larger than most of them).

Just yesterday Helena asked for a new toothbrush, her Winnie-the-Pooh brush at daycare is getting old. She wants a Power Rangers toothbrush, or maybe Batman. J-F is uncomfortable with the un-girliness of it all, and I'm uncomfortable with the fact that he's uncomfortable about it.

How much control do I really have over any of this? Does any of it matter?

The essays in It's A Girl don't have any answers. But they're honest about it.


rachel said...

"When a boy has a tantrum you know exactly why."

Let me be the first to say: BULLSHIT. I would LOVE to know what the hell he's screaming about half the time. How can you ever be sure you're not giving in to a tantrum if you don't quite know what it's about?

We have our own gender weirdness over here. Scott gets uncomfortable when B wants to wear barettes, or because he's so interested in flowers. As far as I'm concerned, preschool peer-pressure is going to put the kabosh on that soon enough -- no reason for us to hurry it along. I teach him as many flowers as I know, in part BECAUSE I'm so sure school will beat it out of him. In hopes that someday, when the pressure's off, he can rediscover it as a source of wonder and joy.

Isabella said...

I'm sure if we had a boy J-F would be equally befuddled by tantrums.

Daycare peer pressure is an unknown quantity. Helena comes home with gun play, but I've seen the boys there go home with barettes in their hair too.

Martha said...

We have boys and a girl, and I can tell you, at least from our limited sample, that they are equally complex beings. And not so different. Some of the gender stuff seems to be there from the start; some is not. Our boys loved colorful clothing, and my second son was obsessed with gems and jewelry, and of course they both wanted fingernail polish until they realized they were supposed to scoff at it. Our daughter has suddenly gone all girly after many months of major gun/sword/light saber battles with her brothers, and I think it has a lot to do with trying on her feminine identity, with defining herself as other than her brothers. She keeps saying, Only girls can have babies! Not boys! Right Mom?