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Raising a Girl After Boys

What a Mom Discovered About Raising a Girl After Having 2 Boys

In my life I've been a lot of things: a girl, a sister, a daughter, an athlete, a student, a girlfriend, and eventually a wife. Then I became a mother and everything else faded for a time into the hazy background, obscured by sleep deprivation and diminished by the sheer responsibility of keeping another human being alive.

I was a mom, and more specifically I was a mom of boys. I played with trucks and trains, I watched TV shows about dinosaurs and pirates, and I learned to artfully skirt both scattered Legos and pointed questions about whether or not I'd be trying again for a girl. Haven't I done enough?!

I was happy with my family and my newfound identity. I could name at least 20 characters from Thomas the Train in less than 30 seconds. So what if my sons never cared about Cinderella and Snow White? I was probably dodging a very expensive, somewhat sexist bullet there anyway.

Then one day, entirely by accident, the pregnancy test strip turned pink and so did my world. The sonogram technician watched me with vicarious joy when she asked me what I was hoping to have. "Well, I already have two sons, so at least I know what I'm doing with boys," was my response. She looked like she was bubbling on the inside, about to burst or take off for the moon at any moment. When she finally expelled the news that I was having a girl, she and I both waited for the shock, the joy, and the gratefulness to register on my face, but it didn't come. She repeated it again for effect.

I shrugged, not because I wasn't thrilled to have a daughter, but more because I was entirely incapable of relating to the tiny creature growing inside me. With my second son, I had understood what to expect, knew what was waiting for me on the other side. But I reasoned that babies were just babies, regardless of the color in which they are swaddled, and so I shrugged and decided to save my excitement and fear for after puberty.

I shrugged, not because I wasn't thrilled to have a daughter, but more because I was entirely incapable of relating to the tiny creature growing inside me.

Then she arrived, three weeks early and ironically with blue limbs, and the doctor covered her tiny head with a hat. It was pink and yellow and had a huge ruffled bow on one side, and I remembered thinking how it looked like it was swallowing her alive. But here she was, my little girl. My daughter. At last.

She looked exactly like the boys had when they were born.

Almost as soon as I got her home, the questions started: Was it so different having a girl? Did I finally feel done having kids?

Was it true that there was a special bond between mothers and daughters?

Maybe it was the hormones, or the fact that I had three kids under five to care for, but I had no idea what they were talking about. Sure, I had to remember to wipe her a different way when I changed her diapers, but as far as I could tell that was where the differences ended. Maybe my kids just didn't adhere to traditional gender stereotypes. Again, I shrugged.

But then it happened. Not all at once like a light switch being flipped, but slowly and subtly like a Winter sunrise, and she stopped just being a generic baby and became a miniature version of me. Like a window into my past. There she was, every bit as genetically related to her father as her brothers, but 100 percent mine. She was dancing, giggling, breathing proof of my own immortality.

She embraced her role as the little princess of the family with greedy zeal, and she ruled with an iron fist and a killer smile. Even her brothers doted on her.

I love all my children equally. My boys amaze me every day with their tenderness, enthusiasm for life, and capacity for unconditional love. They will always have my heart. But their sister, my daughter, is something else. A piece of my soul that came to life like one of Adam's ribs.

She is me, with all my stubborn flaws, incessant thoughts, and passion for being right . . . all the time. She is me, as I was my mother before her. And I understand now what all the fuss was about when the sonogram technician told me the news. It wasn't about dresses, or bows, or dolls, or tea parties — though those things are there, too — it was about finally getting to pass down my own hard-earned wisdom and experience.

My daughter gave me back one of the identities I'd neglected over the years.

My daughter gave me back one of the identities I'd neglected over the years. I was a woman, a girl, long before I was anything else. And while I certainly plan on using my experiences to guide my sons through their adolescence and beyond (if they'll let me), I will never fully understand what they have been through. Being born a woman comes with unique privileges and challenges that they will never encounter. But my daughter will. She will have her first period, her first heartbreak (more than likely at the hands of a friend rather than a boy), her first triumph where others wanted her to fail, and eventually (if I'm lucky) her first child.

She may lead a very different life from the one I led (I hope she does), but she will always carry a piece of me with her.

The practicalities of everyday tasks are much the same with a girl as they were with my boys (just with more tulle, glitter, and Minnie Mouse); they eat the same things, play with many of the same toys, and sleep in the same crib. Though there are times with my daughter that I'm not sure who is raising whom, whether I'm shaping who she will become or vice versa. I am not the same with all of my children, the way I was never quite the same in any of my identities. And I loved them all equally as I loved myself in all of them.

I now realize that I'm not just a girl, a daughter, a wife, or a mother. I am all of them and none of them completely. Just as she is not just my third child, my baby, my daughter, and my legacy. She is everything and nothing. She is my future.

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