I was scared of having a daughter. I didn’t know how to raise a girl in this world of unlimited ands. She’d have to be this and that and definitely this. I don’t know how to be a girl in this world; how could I possibly guide another?
I prayed for a boy first. Surely, a boy must have fewer ands. Surely, my outside perspective could shine a light on what to do and say and teach. Surely, having been a mother first, I would then know what to say when my girl came.
I was wrong. It’s a common theme in my life, so there is comfort in that. I did get a boy first, but I’ve found that boys are not easier. Boys are fighting to keep their ands and grow them. My being an outsider doesn’t ease this battle for my son. And being a mother has taught me nothing about what it means to be a girl in today’s world. But my daughter has.
I was terrified of having a daughter. Now I’m just terrified of my daughter.
She came out scowling, not howling. Before she could even lift her own head, she would snarl if you asked her to smile. My dad came to visit when she was 10 days old. One of my favorite memories from this time comes from when we tried to take her photo when she turned 2 weeks old. Every time we tried to get her to look our direction and give us something that would pass for a baby smile, her brows furrowed. Her eyes shot daggers. We were rolling on the floor with laughter. She was not impressed. If she herself could have rolled, she would have rolled right over and murdered us with arrows that shot out of her eye sockets. At night when I would breastfeed her and call her “my sweet baby,” I swear she would whisper back, “Earn it.”
Before she could crawl, I knew I was in trouble. Her chubby cheeks, lavender eyes and easy smile would lure in any passers-by. It was a trap. I watched numerous adults actually jump backward from where they were leaning over her stroller and admiring her beauty once they received her dagger glare. So disconcerting was this baby rage that it was hard not to feel as if you had suddenly been transported into a Stephen King novel.
When she was 2 and not quite speaking sentences yet, I took her and her brother to a kids museum. My son spent a half-hour fastidiously building a fort with odd-sized cardboard boxes, but then another kid, about age 4, knocked it down. My daughter marched up to that kid, grabbed him by the collar and shook an angry fist in his face. She was spitting mad. The boy’s dad looked over at me as if to say, “Aren’t you going to do something to stop her?”
Stop her? No way! This was a learning opportunity for me. If I stopped her, I’d never know how far she’d go. The dad and I watched on the edge of our seats as my baby — wearing a visible diaper, a tutu and a baseball shirt — shook her chubby fist in the boy’s face. Her words came out loud, sharp and far apart. “Don’t. Make. Brother. Sad. OK?!” The boy said, “OK.” To which she screamed, “OK?!” He said, “OK, OK.” Then she let go of his collar, took a deep breath, shook out her arms and paced around the room to walk it off. The dad ran over to check on his son. My son ran over and hugged his sister. She melted in his arms. My face hurt from smiling.
Does she watch Clint Eastwood movies with the baby sitter? How did she even know to grab a collar?
That’s my daughter. When she wants to be loving, she screams, “You are beautiful, OK?!” or “I love you, OK?!” She’s like the world’s craziest life coach. She loves to snuggle and give kisses and hugs. She is obsessed with her hero of a big brother, but she knows heroes need rescuing, too. She is loyal and loud and loving and demanding and fierce and gentle and happy and angry and brave and careful and smart and playful and wonderful. So many ands. Many of them scare me; all inspire me.
She turned 3 a few days ago. When I wished my feisty girl a happy birthday, she said, “I’m not feisty! I’m me!”
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book “Stop Farting in the Pyramids.”