Monday, March 24, 2014

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My Fear of Having Another Girl (Part II)



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So much of parenting is silly and ridiculous and filled with emotion that leads to irrational thoughts. I know that everyone has a difficult child. (Thinking back, I was probably that difficult child for my mother.) Some families have more than one difficult child. And I’ve heard that the difficult child can change within a family. One kid might be a difficult toddler, but an amazing teenager. I try to tell myself that Norah being difficult now does not mean she will be difficult later in life.
I also worry that the way Norah acts is most likely a failure in my parenting. I let a close friend read this essay before I posted it, and she mentioned she’s been going through some similar challenges with her stepson who is in his teens and getting into trouble with drugs. Her husband and his ex-wife have been going to see a therapist who specializes in teenagers to get advice about how to parent him, and the one thing this guy keeps saying over and over is that it's incredibly important to follow through on your rules and punishments. That's the only way your kid will ever behave, respect you, and stop trying to manipulate you. It's really, really important to follow through. It'll be painful at first, but eventually - once the kid learns that you really aren't going to give in – they will change his/her behavior and start to follow your rules.
Obviously it's easy to say "You can't eat later if you don't eat this now" or "You can't see friends for a week," and then give in because the kid throws fits. And I often fall into this trap, as you can see. I’ve heard this advice from a million different sources, but when in the throws of a fit, it’s so easy to give in.
I’d like to say that more often than not I do follow through with my punishments, but not always, and I have to assume that a large part of Norah’s difficult nature is a product of my own inconsistency as a parent.
I should be wiser, have some Ward Cleaver scripted conversation in my back pocket. I should be able to say something fatherly and compassionate that makes everything better. But I’m not Ward Cleaver.
I am more of a work in progress.
I hope to get better at sticking to my guns, so that, maybe when Norah is a teenager, she'll have learned that I follow through on my rules and she won't still be getting her way with things that have more risky consequences. 
It really shouldn’t mater that Norah is a girl and Tristan is a boy. I should be consistent with my parenting- my punishments and my praise. But I will be the first to admit that I am not. This is something I really need to work on or the kids are going to end up hating each other because of favoritism. The truly crazy thing is that I really feared having another girl because of my own inconsistences as a parent. I didn’t know if I could handle two sweet little girls manipulating me at the same time. Right now, at this stage, Tristan is a much easier kid to work with than Norah. And for some reason I couldn’t help but assume that it had something to do with their genders. I falsely assumed that if we had another girl, she would be just like Norah. Just as sweet and cute, but also just as manipulative.
Before we had our ultrasound I had a dream about a baby girl that wasn’t Norah, but was my daughter. She had dirty blond hair, much like my own, and a sweet little smile. The same thing happened with Tristan. I dreamed of a little boy. And again with Norah, I dreamed of a girl. I don’t know how to explain this, exactly, but it has happened with each of my kids. I told Mel about it, and we just knew that we were going to have another girl.
A few days latter was the ultrasound. It was Christmas Eve 2013. The sonographer was a skinny man in his early 30s with a bald head and a silent disposition. He measured the baby’s skull, checked out the heart chambers, measured the leg bones, the usual, as Mel and I waited anxiously to know the gender. It’s funny how that works, but we did the same thing with our other two kids. All we wanted to know was the gender, and for some reason knowing if the baby was healthy didn’t seem all that important. The sonographer even commented on this, “I know you are anxious to know the gender. Most couples are. But I really should get the measurements while the baby is in the right position.”
In the grand scheme of things, having a health and happy baby regardless of gender is what’s important, but in the moment all I could worry about was whether it was a boy or a girl so I could go shopping. Find some cute outfits that were gender appropriate. When I think back on that, I feel ridiculous. I feel like my priorities were askew.
I recall hearing on NPR about a couple that was planning to never tell their child if it was a boy or a girl. They gave it an androgynous name, and refused to use gender specific pronouns when addressing the child. I recall thinking that what they were doing sounded extreme. But when I think back on how badly I wanted to know the sex of our new baby, I feel like a product of gender roles, and wonder if this couple was on to something.
The sonographer had a difficult time seeing the gender of the baby. He even went as far as to prop up the bed and then let it fall a foot or so to get the baby to move. He even described the baby as “stubborn.”
Mel and I decided this was a sign.
We could see the grey outline of the baby come in and out of focus. Sometimes I could make out a nose, or a hand, or a leg, but mostly it just looked like gray mush, a lava lamp of sorts.
Eventually the sonographer paused the screen, zoomed in on what appeared to be hips and said, “Looks like a little girl.”
Tristan let out a long moan and Mel and I exchanged a glance, and then we both looked at Norah.
She was grinning ear to ear.
            Tristan looked at the sonographer and asked, “Can you make it a boy?”
            We laughed.
            “Sorry, buddy,” he said. “You kind of get what you get.”
            I thought about what he said, and then felt a small ting of irritation. I didn’t know how we were going to handle another Norah. And I suppose that was the big issue with my thinking. All I could think about was Norah. All I could seem to do was assume that if we had another girl, she would be just like the one we already had. I never really considered my flawed thinking. I never thought about my brother and how different we are. He loves computers. He has the ability to sit down and take something apart and put it back together. He has a great mind for puzzles. I don’t. I hate things like that. I hate taking things apart and putting things back together. I recall once trying to put together a fabricated desk. I got so frustrated that I ended up smashing it with a hammer. I have a very different personally than my brother. I am much more interested in literature and the arts than him. He is a non-denominational Christian and a strong republican, while I am a Mormon who is unaffiliated with a political party. He watches Fox News while I listen to NPR.
In so many ways we are different people, and yet we came from the same mother and father. With this evidence right before me, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t realize that just because our new baby was a girl, she very well may be completely different from Norah.
Her gender did not define her. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley