Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Along the Divide

We're already thinking about no. 2. Little T is only 10 months old, but I've hit my 474th (you do the math), and I'm not about to challenge mother nature's patience after my experience the first time around.

My hope, as I've explained repeatedly to Jeff, is that if no. 2 is a girl (if we're lucky enough to have a second, knock wood), then we call it a day and settle into a family of four. If no. 2 turns out to be a boy, then we keep plugging along to no. 3. If no. 3 turns out to be a boy, we can all pat ourselves on the back for trying and find complacency in our life of mini van and baseball bats.

Jeff hasn't yet bought into my insistence that we keep trying until we welcome a girl into the family. What's the difference, he asks with one eyebrow cocked. Well, I respond, I don't want to be the only girl in the house with you, Sherlock, and our sons. I want to have a daughter, if we can.

When I make my case to Jeff, I feel a little on edge. As if my wish for a daughter is coming from a place of fear rather than desire. A fear that I do not completely understand.

I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the way we grew up, like most other things. The way my sister and I chattered away in the kitchen as we chopped this and that for our mother, even as we sometimes bickered or complained, while my dad sat on the couch clutching his newspaper and my brother flittered in and out of the kitchen, unsure of where to land. The way my dad never learned how to talk to his children. The way my mother filled my ear with her complaints, sorrows, and longings unmet by her husband. The way my brother and I have never had a meaningful conversation our whole lives. It seems strange even to me as I write it.

In our family, alliances were forged often along gender lines. Not intentionally, but perhaps because that's how we understood or didn't understand each other. I never understood my brother's penchant for Ozzy Osbourne or Led Zepplin, even though I could easily understand why my sister loved Les Miserables. I could never understand my father's stoicism and reticence even though I could identify with my mother's need for empathy and yearning to be heard.

But these leanings probably weren't coincidences. Our gender divide was established for us from the beginning. For the first 14 years of my life, my dad went to work, and my mom stayed home. As the older girl, I was relegated the job of helping my mother. When my mother cooked, I was her sous chef. When she did the laundry, I folded. I was always called on as her assistant and raised in her shadow. I don't know if I ever saw my brother do the dishes. Or fold the laundry.

We were a traditional family -- with roles meted out to women and men along conventional lines. And it was in the kitchen where my sister and I often found ourselves, helping our mother prepare the many dishes that she cooked. With our sleeves rolled up, our hair pulled back in pony tails. Flour or grease smeared on our arms or faces. My mom's many appliances hooked in here and there, as we stood over the kitchen table with a turner in hand. Or stationed above the stove, manning the skillet. And in the many hours while we cooked, we talked. Not just about the cooking, with my mother spouting out instructions here and there, but also about the things happening in our lives. Our friends. Our teachers. Whatever was on our mind. And it is here where my father and brother never found a place to belong.

Now that I look back on our childhood, I can see how the men in our family must have felt left out as my mom, my sister, and I chattered away in the kitchen. How they couldn't find a way into our conversations. Sometimes, they hovered over us, but only to grab a glass of water or to poke their heads in the fridge. Or to sample whatever we were cooking. But they never grabbed a spatula and said, "How can I help?" Or sidled up to our mom to say, "What do you need me to do?"

Instead, they sat in the living room. My dad with his newspaper. And my brother with his eyes on the TV. But not together. Without talking.

I wonder if they felt lonely. I'm sure they must have. But I never asked. And they never expressed it.

I suspect my wish for a daughter is my fear of feeling left out. Of being that odd person out. In my own family. I remember that scene from A River Runs Through It, where the father and his two sons go off fly fishing -- and the mother waves them good-bye as she takes a break from doing the laundry. I don't want to be that mother.

I know my fear isn't rational. I won't have the same family that my parents had. Jeff and I aren't my parents. So obvious. If only someone could impress that into my loopy brain.

The funny thing is when I imagine our family these days, it doesn't necessarily include a daughter. Before we had little T, I pictured a daughter, but ever since he showed up, it's hard to imagine a child of ours other than him. These days, when I think of our family, I see me and Jeff with little T. Or with three little boys who look just like T. All giggling and climbing all over us. Both of us.