Sons and Daughters

I always imagined myself as the mother of sons. A cross between Mrs. Portnoy, June Cleaver and the mother of the Cartwright Boys’ from Bonanza (only alive). I would live surrounded by men who would love and cherish me and not fight with me about whether they were old enough to wear lipstick. Unlike a daughter, who was sure to come to hate me, a son would always love me.

Having a daughter seemed like an invitation to an always breaking heart. When she had her first “girl fight” or first crush, I would know what heartbreak was coming her way. It wasn’t that I thought boys didn’t suffer, but I wouldn’t be able to anticipate a son’s suffering in the same way, so it wouldn’t hurt me quite as badly.

Then, when I was about six months pregnant with my first child, I had a dream. I saw her in her bassinet in the hospital. She was wrapped in a pink blanket and her name was clearly written on the side of the plastic bassinet. I woke up from that dream and fell in love with my daughter.

I learned that a baby girl develops all of her own eggs before she is born, which means in a weird sense, when you’re pregnant with a daughter you’re pregnant with your grandchildren. You are connected to all your future generations. Suddenly, having been there before her didn’t seem like a recipe for heartbreak, but a gift. I would pave the way for her and those who followed.

My daughter’s birth was traumatic and horrible and left me unsure if I would have more children. When 14 months later I was pregnant again I was as sure this time that I was having a boy as I’d been about my daughter before. But, I denied it and kept hoping it might not be true. Having a daughter was so wonderful, could having a son possibly measure up?

My son’s birth was nothing like my daughter’s. He came out on time and almost two pounds heavier than she did, but so much easier and without the near death experience. In many ways his birth healed the trauma of hers, but I still was not sold on having a son, especially a son with colic.

When my son was a few months old we went to a family wedding in North Carolina. I spent most of the reception in the hall with the baby. I came in to the reception in time for the Hora. I watched my husband’s terrified aunt, the mother of two boys, be lifted on a chair. I saw her reach down and put a hand on her son’s shoulder. He looked up at her and a look of calm came over her face. I remembered then what I had always imagined having a son would be like and I fell in love with being the mother of a boy.

Three years later I would look in to the eyes of a mother whose adult son had committed suicide and I would feel what she had lost. I knew then that having a son did not just give you strength. Having a son brings its own heartbreak and worry.

In the end, it is my son, not my daughter, who is the most like me. It is my son for whom I can see all the pitfalls ahead.

He is argumentative and funny. He cries at movies and laughs at fart jokes. “Hold me as tightly as you can,” he demands before pushing you away. He is scared to try anything he does not already know he can do. I can already see the beginnings of what I fear will be a life-long struggle to keep depression at bay. From his absurdly large head to his left handedness to his love of puns, he is my child through and through.

My children are different. My daughter squeezes my heart with her optimism and determination, my son with his goofiness and pessimism. But they both squeeze my heart.

It is not having sons or daughters, it is being a mother that is the invitation to the always breaking heart.

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