It was a Monday morning and I was walking through the baby aisle of my local supermarket, steeling myself for the task that lay ahead: potty training. My children sat side-by-side in the trolley; they were quiet, they were happy (largely thanks to the biscuits I had bribed them with from the café just moments earlier) and – for once – nobody was complaining about anything.
An elderly lady approached me as I scoured the shelves for pull-ups. For a moment, I thought – rather smugly – that she might be about to compliment me on how well my sons were behaving. It was not to be.
“Ooh,” she said, sucking her breath in through her teeth. “Two boys, eh? You’ve got your work cut out for you, you poor thing. They’ll be a job to potty train. Bet you’re hoping for a girl one day!”
“No, no! I’m very happy with these two, thanks for asking,” I smiled weakly, hoping that might be the end of it.
“But darling,” the – can I remind you – total stranger – replied, “a daughter’s a daughter for all her life, but a son is only a son until he gets a wife.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time I had heard that particular pearl of wisdom, and nor was it to be the last. In fact, it often feels like there are a lot of people out there who are far more invested in the workings of my reproductive system than is strictly necessary. And, it seems, I am not the only one; I expect most MoBs out there (that’s Mums of Boys to those of you not in the know) have been asked at least once whether they plan / would like to have a girl. Not to mention the ever-so-helpful regular “reminders” that we might one day find ourselves alone in our dotage, abandoned by our offspring because we didn’t have the good sense to give birth to daughters. How depressing. Or, at least, it would be if it wasn’t total and utter rubbish.
Because – for me, at least – being a mum of boys is absolutely brilliant. In fact, once you get past the chronic sleep deprivation, answering fifty million questions a day, never being able to drink a hot cup of tea again and having an audience every time you go to the loo, being a mum is pretty great in general, regardless of the gender of your children.
Thanks to my sons and their various obsessions, I have learnt to appreciate the intricacies of the London bus network and become fitter because of the sheer amount of time I spend running around parks looking for “mini-beasts” and “fallen trees” (also known as logs). I have also found myself uttering phrases I never thought I would: “Please don’t put the bath toy on your brother’s willy,” being a case in point.
Of course, I don’t just get to experience all this because I am a mum of sons: children are children and I’m sure there are plenty of bus-crazed girls running around the local park, just as my two boys thoroughly enjoy an afternoon spent baking cupcakes and pretending to have tea parties. Meanwhile, my friends who are mothers of daughters are often asked whether their husbands would like them to try for a son. Because – obviously – you can only ever really feel fulfilled as a parent if you have at least one child of your own gender… yeah, right.
It often feels to me like society in general is obsessed with what comes next, rather than enjoying what is here now. When you change your Facebook status from single to “in a relationship” you immediately start seeing adverts for engagement rings and white dresses, and no sooner have you put the wedding photos up than you are bombarded with offers on nursery furniture and buggies. When my first son was about six months old, I started fending off enquiries about when I might be planning to give him a sibling. Now that I have two boys, comes the debate about whether I might one day have a daughter.
For those who are interested (and why would you be?!) the answer is: probably not. I am one of three children, as is my husband, and I thought that at this stage of our lives we would probably be debating the big “to three, or not to three?” question. But, as it turns out, we are not – and it has nothing to do with gender. We would love to have another baby – boy or girl – but after two complicated pregnancies, risky births and a lot of medical issues, we are very grateful to be a healthy, happy family of four.
Quite apart from the fact that I happen to think my sons are ace – and I will admit to being a little biased – I am looking forward to watching my two boys grow up to be the kind of young men that the world needs. I want them to be respectful of the girls they know now and the women they will meet in the future, to know that they are not superior just because they are male, and that they don’t have to “man up” and bury their feelings because it’ll be just as acceptable to cry and ask for help in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time as it is now.
I could never be described as a tomboy. I like wearing dresses, watching rom-coms and, most of all, I am a big fan of pink. When my husband gets excited about taking the boys on family camping trips in the future, I go a bit green about the gills and suggest I might leave them to their male bonding and check myself into a spa. I am no sports fan, but if my sons are lucky enough to inherit their father’s athletic ability rather than my lack thereof, I have no doubt that I’ll take great delight in spending my weekends standing on some freezing pitch or other, cheering from the side-lines.
But I will admit to being that woman – you know, the one who enjoys a bit of vicarious retail therapy from time to time. I buy my friends’ baby daughters dresses and gave my niece a rag doll when she was born, even though I’m not entirely sure it would have been top of my sister’s baby wish-list. Some things are just too good to resist, but at least nobody is counting on me to style their hair (I’ve essentially had the same low-maintenance bob since I was four).
Oh yeah – and I have never seen Frozen, nor is there a single Disney Princess costume in this house… yet. And if either of my sons asks for one, that’ll be fine too.
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About Geraldine Cooper
Geraldine is a multimedia journalist who has spent her career working in some of the UK’s busiest newsrooms. Her hobbies include singing, learning useless trivia, watching terrible TV and eating chocolate. She lives with her husband and two young sons in a house in South London which may one day be lost under a pile of unsorted laundry.