I don’t have a sister.
(That either means everything or it means nothing.)
So of course we learned that the third will be a boy and we had to rearrange the vista of our daydreams. Is the same poetry found in two girls and a boy? It may be more hidden, so it will have to be our task to encourage it.
The important thing is this.
We want: Our Three (of whatever gender flavor they’re comprised)
We don’t want: Them (the girls) / and Him (the other)
Still, you see things a certain way, and they become hard to unsee. And so whenever another smiling (always smiling) thoughtless voicebox says to me, “Oh! a boy this time! You must be so excited!” I shrug in first response. Because the most important part is just that he IS, that he’s healthy, not that he’s He. And I speak in follow-up response. I make a joke a little, because this moment is awkward for me. It’s a moment of shoving that assumption in the speaker’s reflection, of acknowledging that lost vista, as well as simultaneously recognizing that he is, of his own merits, wonderful and loved. “Yeah, but we don’t know what to do with one of those.”
A boy. What is a boy?
The two girls sit next to each other now in my car, holding hands and kicking toes close. We scooted them together to make room for the infant carrier whose base already shares the backseat that was just theirs. Most days, they love this arrangement. Yesterday, E was cranky and L wanted E’s attention and E was withholding it and so L wouldn’t stop with the kicking of her sister’s toes. MaMAA! E whined. L’s kicking me! I asked L to stop. E was trying valiantly to pull her limbs out of reach.
Mama, E continued, Ms. L at school says that if someone hits you or pushes you it’s okay to hit back.
Did her teacher really tell her that? And so we launch into a careful seesaw of conversation hinging on the twin notions of It’s Okay to Defend Yourself/It’s Even Better if You Can Solve Problems Without Hitting and Pushing. What a tiny fulcrum point, that Please Don’t Be the First to Hit. So much weight on a millimeter-lengthed restraint of impulse.
During which, I noticed, and even in the minutes before, she never kicked her sister back. She continued to inch and squirm away, trying to diffuse the physical annoyance rather than engage it. Is that a girl?
I don’t know. That is a sister. And so I had to answer her next question honestly: “Well, yes, if you kicked L back just once it probably would make her stop kicking. But I’m glad that’s not how you took care of it.”
It would have been faster, though, she mumbled in the back.
Up front where she couldn’t see me, I smiled. I didn’t answer.
We got to school and the girls ran into their respective rooms. In L’s room, a trio of boys love the fridge. They love to ‘help’ unpack everybody’s foods. Many of the other kids are happy to abandon this chore to the crew, the faster to go play, my dear. Not L. You no put my food away! I put my food away by myself! She yells this at the same boys day after day after day and yet they hover, so anxious of fridge duty, so unperturbed of girl-yelling are they.
(None of the three have sisters. (That either means everything or it means nothing.))
So because they never leave her food-unpacking side, L has begun dispatching them with her breakfast items du jour, that they may deliver her food table-side. The other children unpack food, retain what they want for breakfast, and carry it to the table. L has three boys sherpa-ing her halved grapes and applesauce. She speaks, they carry. She commands, they act. Boy One takes her juice box from her hand. Boy Two accepts her cheese stick. Boy Three grabs her bowl of diced mango. They lay out her repast upon the paper towel placemat that sits waiting at her favorite breakfast seat. And though I remind her every day, she doesn’t even thank them. She gets busy with the business of eating. And yet, the boys walk away from her with self-satisfied grins, having again partaken in the food-unloading ritual for another day.
In the other room, E spots her (boy) friend. She runs to him and gives him a morning hug. He smiles down and to the side, faux-shy, and his dimples emerge. He wraps his arms around her. She smiles in the teeth-gritting grimace she reserves for her fiercest loves. She lifts him off the floor. “Gentle!” I admonish. He only giggles. She squeezes harder and drops him by her side. They run off to play superheroes.
A friend generous of heart and of boy handmedowns and who happens to be the mother to the up-picked (boy) friend answers the questions she’s heard me a hundred times these past few months half-voice. “Well, boys are nothing to worry about. I just have to teach you about the schmegma.”
I stop my movement entirely to look her directly in the eyes. Ahem. “The schmegma?”
And she answers in a very casual manner about white cottage-cheesy stuff and foreskin retracting as part of regular cleansing habits and Penis Care 101.
There is a picture of the lovely husband from when he was maybe six, and I’m basing that age-guess on the two missing front teeth in a huge smiling grin that make the picture wonderfully want-to-keep-forever. Could you look at the boy of then and foresee the man of today? I don’t know; I didn’t meet him for another decade. Can you look at the Lovely of today and see the Lovely in that boy? Yes. Same face. Same hair, same eyes. Same cheeky attitude. That punk’s always up to something. Is that a boy?
For years I kept that small photo on my bedside table until a few months ago, when E stole it from me to claim as an amulet offering protection from the dark and scary of night. He sits on her bedside table now, a boy who is her daddy who is barely older than she is today. He watches over her while she sleeps. And with his guardianship she feels safe.
There is a folksong I know in another language whose lines ask, if you’ll allow my translation, of God to protect all of these things: the honey and the bee sting, the bitter and the sweet; this newborn child; the fruit that is not ripened yet and the fruit that is already harvested; the quiet and the crying. It asks God to protect those things from the rustle of a tree in the wind and from the distant falling star and from the questions my heart might ask in the darkness.
So there will be vistas rearranged and gender roles played out and gender assumptions upheld and gender clichés torn down. There will be trilateral sibling relationships established to our hopes and expectations, or far beyond them, or far beneath them, or maybe above and beneath at once. There will continue to be comments about the kids and the crazy and the how do we do it and their rambunctiousness and I’ll need to find new pat answers with which to deflect my irritation with your assumptions and my vulnerabilities. There will be trees that rustle in the dark and scary of night and there will always be the questions my heart might ask before day breaks. But there will be also two girls, and a boy, and schmegma, I learned, is no thing to fear, because that same vocabulary word also describes the clitoral goo found in the folds of newborn girls. Well, then!
We are, in fact, already schmegmal experts.
Which proves: it is okay to face the dark questions. To believe in these children, all three, and not in their genders. To play interior decorator to both baby boy nurseries and mental landscape projections.
To protect the sweet it is imperative also to protect the bitter. The vision of the sisters three was something I’ve been loathe to drop but in holding it so tight this boy has had the playspace to become the bigger question mark than he might ever have otherwise been. He can be anything, any boy, because I didn’t stick him in any Box of Expectations.
He’ll come, and he’ll have all the room in the world to roam. And I feel lighter and brighter for having realized it. There’s truth in my weak joke: we don’t know what to do with a boy. But we’ll figure it out.