Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2009 | Reviews

Girls vs. Boys

By Dan Roche

When my wife, Maura, was newly pregnant with our second child, I definitely wanted another girl. Our daughter, Maeve, four at the time, had rarely been more trouble than a houseplant.

Though before Maeve was born I'd wondered what you do with a girl, in the years since, I'd come to barely be able to imagine being the parent of anything else.

I had a complicated attitude toward males. I was one, of course, and could play the guy role pretty well—racquetball, changing the wheel bearings on my car—but the idea of having a son still scared me as much as did the idea of having a pit bull. The competition. The testosterone coursing through the kid's veins. The story from my friend Miles, about him and his brother pulling the control knob off their old TV console to expose an electric coil, onto which they'd put their tongues so that they could be thrown halfway across the room in backwards somersaults.

"You really can't kid-proof your house against idiots like that," Miles admitted.

Early in Maura's pregnancy, before we knew the sex of the fetus, I took Maeve to her swim lesson and sat near a woman who was burying her face in her hands out of embarrassment over her son's behavior. Whenever the teacher told the kids to do ten hops, he did 30, counting really loudly. In charge of Red Light, Green Light, he yelled out the directions without a pause between: "Red light green light red light green light red light. . . ."

"Christopher, you have got to settle down," the mom would hiss whenever the boy would look at her and she could bear to look at him. She looked completely exhausted.

Lots of people tried to tell me boys are easier. Even Maura's OB said, "If boys put their hand through a plate-glass window, they hold it up and say, 'Cool.'" With girls, he added, you have to talk everything out.

Okay, I agreed, remembering the time Maeve was potty-training and messed a pair of Cinderella underpants. Maura was washing them out in the toilet and flushed, only to have the panties be sucked down the tube.

Maeve bawled for 45 minutes, still a personal best. Finally, through shaking lips, she sputtered, "Now Snow White won't have a friend!"

Her reaction might have been disproportionate, but I liked that rather than being traumatized for herself, she was empathizing with another pair of underwear. I thought I'd prefer that kind of "complication" over a boy's wish to flush more underwear down the toilet.

And when, during the ultrasound, the technician said, "Do you want to know now?" and I said, "You're in the area," and he said, "Well, that there is a penis," I didn't know what to say. Then I thought of that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when the two of them jump off the cliff.

It was the beginning of my transition, my opening to boys ("They only want the same thing as girls: to be loved," a friend told me). We chose a masculine yet gentle name for him—Fergus—and as soon as he was born I held him and said his name again and again silently to myself, thinking son, son, son.