I knew I was only going to have daughters. I just knew it.
When I played Life growing up, somehow my car was always dotted with a half-dozen pink pegs riding around in the back of it. I grew up with a sister, a strong mother, lots of girlfriends. I understood girls. I understood what motivated us, made us happy, pissed us off, and how we communicated each of those things.
Boys were strange, foreign creatures whom I liked, but didn’t necessarily understand.
When the pregnancy stick turned pink, I didn’t have a doubt in my mind about what I would be having. It was almost an afterthought, when after some scary test results, an amniocentesis, and the relief of everything being normal, the doctor asked me if I wanted to know the gender. Of course I did!
“You’re having a boy!” the doctor exclaimed into the phone.
“What?” I said. “A boy?”
What the heck was I going to do with a boy? Despite being married to a boy, they were still confusing to me. I mean, my husband and I argued about the stupidest stuff because we were like a completely different species from each other. At least, that’s what it felt like. He didn’t even understand all of the layers of subtext when I said I was “fine!” How was I going to raise someone who didn’t understand subtext?
And then, my boy was born.
He was squalling and red-faced and tiny.
They immediately whisked him away to the NICU. He was vomiting green meconium, and they were scared that he had breathed it into his lungs as well. I remember the weirdest things about that first day — my red robe that tied all the way around me again, crying and apologizing to the nurse as she wheeled me down to see my baby. Her saying, “No, you have reasons to cry,” and then me thinking, I do?! and then crying even harder.
I will never forget looking at him so small and helpless in that plastic shell, and the profound relief when he was released to be in my room for the night. I will always remember singing “You Are My Sunshine” to him while rocking in the hospital chair, thinking to myself, huh, I didn’t know that I would sing to you. I wonder what else I’ll be surprised about?
Well, it turns out that I am still surprised every single day about what it is to a boy’s mom. Boys love their mamas with a ferocity that I never quite understood. It’s like they have this inner urge to defend and protect, and you are the first one they think of.
They want to make you proud so badly.
They want to be snuggled into you even when they start to have that feeling that they are getting too big.
They are physical and stronger than they realize.
They are emotional and sweeter than they realize.
They have this energy that they can’t seem to harness most days, and the fidgeting, oh my god, the fidgeting. I don’t think he’s ever sat in his chair throughout an entire dinner. He gets dirty and muddy and obnoxiously farts and then wants to press his sticky, syrupy face into mine and tell me that he loves me so so much.
He does the dumbest things like break his arm while trying to run on his knees. He does the sweetest things like make me a pineapple-upside-down-cake from scratch for Mother’s Day. I can undo him by simply saying, “You’re my favorite boy in the world.” He can undo me with, “I’m so happy you’re my mama.” Undo me.
It’s a love that I never expected. A rough-hugging, sweet-talking, limit-pushing, stinky kind of love. And I’m so thankful that I got to experience it because I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know.
Boys can break your heart in myriad ways, and I just didn’t know that one of those ways could be while looking at your little man-child flexing in the mirror when he doesn’t know you’re watching.
Or watching him cuddle his sister when she hurts herself.
Or when he squeezes me so tight with skinny little arms that will be bigger than mine someday.
Or how he stands so still when he wants to be measured on the wall — to get it just right.
The hope in his eyes when he’s excited for his day.
The pride when he tells you something you’ve never heard before.
The unexpected handhold in the parking lot.
He can break my heart with just wanting to hold my hand. Now I know.
I know what it’s like to be a boy’s mom, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.