It was a Tuesday afternoon. My husband and I were at the grocery store, our three month-old daughter snuggled in her carrier amongst two of gallons of milk and six different types of cheese. (I like dairy. A lot.)
A guy came up to my husband and wanted to shake his hand. This happens fairly often. My husband played professional basketball internationally for a number of years. He’s a big deal in Japan. Strangely so. He also hit a really big shot during his college career that made the rounds on ESPN, so we get stopped everywhere from the bank to hospital waiting-rooms by people who want to talk. Mostly everyone is very nice and my husband is gracious, so it’s rarely an issue.
This guy was nice, too. A fan. He introduced himself to me, claimed to have been at “the game” and talked about how pretty our daughter was. I smiled and nodded in order to give the appearance of a functioning human adult. Truly, I was working on about 45 minutes of sleep and wondering if we had enough milk.
Our daughter only slept when I was awake. She was like a human interrogation tactic. I binge-watched Homeland during my last two weeks of pregnancy, so it was likely my fault. Sometimes she would cry if I blinked too long. We hid all the car batteries just in case.
I went back to foraging for dairy products and let the fan talk to my husband about basketball. After a thorough assessment of the snack section and the acquisition of some Goldfish crackers (cheese!), I approached the cart just in time to hear the fan say to my husband:
“Too bad she’s not a boy.”
Sometimes I think in movies. I can’t help it. It just happens. If this had been a movie we would have seen the bag of Goldfish hit the tile floor in slow motion. They’d have cut to to my face which was now a mask of hatred. I would have run up the side of the aisle and in a flurry of kicks and karate chops the fan would have been corralled in our overturned basket. Lena and I would be standing atop the basket, wheels still spinning, as spilled milk from our cart gushed down the aisle. A crowd would cheer us from the frozen food section and my husband would stand in the corner of the frame and shake his head knowingly, as this was the most appropriate and just course of action I could have taken. (He’d also be holding all the cheese so it wouldn’t get ruined.)
But this was real life, and I was sleepy (and fat). I stood frozen in the middle of the aisle as I waited for my husband’s response. He smiled at the fan and said he was happy just to have a healthy baby. The fan laughed him off and said, “But, I bet you really wanted a boy.”
I couldn’t bear to wait for the answer. I sprinted (lumbered) toward the cart. You shouldn’t ask twice. What if my husband’s second answer broke my heart? What if it broke her heart? What if it was something I couldn’t give him because of cancer or otherwise? What if his second answer was yes?
I stepped up behind the man. He turned. Surprised to see me. A little embarrassed. I attempted a polite smile. It came out as a low rumble in my throat. He thanked my husband for the memories and promptly excused himself. My husband could tell I was upset. Possibly it was the sprinting and growling. I assured him I was fine in a way that made explicitly clear I wasn’t. He understood that this meant we would talk later.
I wasn’t mad at my husband. I was mad at the fan. I was mad at the man who insinuated my husband wasn’t completely happy with the tiny, sadistic, little bundle of joy nestled in his dairy products. How dare he? I thought about it for the rest of the day. I tried to gage my reaction. To rationalize it.
I was one of those girls I said I only wanted boys. I hid behind excuses of hair fixing and lack of makeup knowledge. Behind an aversion to “drama” and a distaste for pink. I know now, it wasn’t that. It was fear. I was scared.
I was scared to bring a little girl into this world. A world of insecurity and inadequacy. A world where half the population doesn’t think it’s important she learns to read or drive a car. A world where smart is secondary to sexy. A world of airbrushing and objectifying. A world where she strives to look like someone whose genetics are entirely different from her own; a person, who after lighting and editing, doesn’t even exist. A world where she’s not considered as funny, as smart or as capable as a man. A world where her work is worth less. A world where her ability to bring another human life into the world is regarded as a liability and an expense, rather than a miracle.
How was I supposed to raise a little girl in such an unwelcoming environment? I was so angry because that question, in all it’s forms, boils down to one thing: a girl is less than a boy.
From the second she was born, through the current delirious haze that was my life, I knew I’d never done something that would matter more. And I knew what she was up against. My tiny little blue-eyed girl would fight sexism, racism, ignorance and hate. I’d like to think she’d choose to, if it were a choice, but it’s not. Not for her.
I don’t think this fan was a bad person (a bad dresser, yes), but he didn’t think before he spoke. He mustn’t have realized he was lending his voice to an entire chorus ready to tell my daughter she wasn’t smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough, white enough, black enough, or entirely good enough. What was most troubling was he’d asked the man who would encourage her, protect her, teach her, to join in this implied criticism. I was terrified that forever there would be a quiet voice undermining all her accomplishments. You’re so smart (for a girl). You’re so funny (for a girl). You’re such a good athlete (for a girl). That’s why I was angry. That’s what caused the Milk Massacre of Aisle 3 (That’s going to be the movie title. I’m pitching it to Paramount.)
So Dads, next time someone asks you if you “really” wanted a boy tell them what having a daughter has taught you. About yourself, about society, about life. Tell them what it’s like to hold such a multifaceted creature, as a little girl, in your arms. Tell them what the responsibility’s like. Tell them about the love. Protect your daughters from those ignorant questions until they are old enough to know the answer, and that who ever asks them isn’t worth their time. Tell them about the changes she created in you. Tell them how she completed a part of you that you didn’t know was missing. Tell them how powerful that tiny little girl really is. And then tell her that, too.
My dad did.
That night, laying in bed next to my husband, I brought up the fan and I asked my husband the question. In the safety and the warmth of our bed, I asked him if he really wanted a boy.
He was quiet for a moment. He always is. He thinks before he speaks. Reflects. Always. It is one of his best qualities. I hate it.
“I needed a girl,” he said and there it was. It wasn’t a even a question of want. It was a question of need, for him at least. In the dark, I smiled. Because I needed a little girl too, and that was the right answer.