This realization hit me while enjoying a family afternoon at the pool. I was sitting in the shallowest of water bouncing a giddy Kellen on my knee. Mike was standing in the waste-deep water watching our big kids run and splash with friends. All was right with the world: the kids were engaged and happy and behaving. I was getting some vitamin D and cooing at the baby. Mike was chatting with a fellow dad in the pool and not home mowing the lawn. Then it hit me. It wasn’t an epiphany or a light bulb or an “aha moment”, unfortunately; it was a large splash of water right to my face.
“I am so, so sorry,” came a hurried and apologetic voice. I shook the water from my eyes, checked a giggling Kellen, and looked up to see an adorable pool mom–you know the type: perfectly-placed messy bun, classic solid-print bikini (not from Target!), a smidge of red lip gloss, JLo-worthy sunglasses, and just effortlessly chic while I was effortlessly unchic–quickly squatted down and scooped up her even more adorable daughter. “Lily! No splashing! No, no, no!” she crooned in a voice as soft and wispy as the toddler’s top knot.
“It is really no big deal. I have three kids. I get splashed all the time!” I offered.
“Three kids? Well then, you must be Super Mom!” she said, with a kind smile and genuine shake of the shoulders.
I told her that was hardly the case, that I am just surviving like everyone else, and we continued to chit chat over names and ages and the amazingness of this pool and weather for a few polite minutes. During this time, I complimented her on her daughter’s fashionable hair style (She loves when I do her hair!), on Lily’s matching swim suit and sun shirt (Gymboree has GREAT sales!), and on their matching pedicures (We get our nails done every Sunday!). Each compliment and cheery response led me to reconsider my own mothering. There was Kayden, running after her friends with unbrushed hair, chipped nail polish, and a few fading temporary tattoos. I then looked down at my own at-home pedicure–easily two weeks old–and self consciously pressed my bare lips together to make them pinker. My new “mom friend” was sweet as can be and did not give off the hint of judginess, yet, in that moment I, became very judgy of myself anyway. Our mommy banter eventually ran its course and as she and her 20-month old daughter retreated back to their lounge chairs, I caught one last glimpse of the pair. It was then that I finally had the aha-moment you expected in the first paragraph. I am a Boy Mom–and I am raising a daughter.
Before I ever had kids–before I was even married, perhaps–I can recall a night when my best friend, Lindsey, and her mom, Diane, were over my parents’ house for a girls night of hot tea, Diane’s peach pie, and gossip. Lindsey encouraged us to do some needle test: essentially an urban legend in which you rotate a needle on thread over the palm of your hand and the direction and amount of rotation indicate the number of children you will have and the sex of those children. “All boys–what I’ve always imagined!” my mom cried after it was my turn. “Really?” I remember asking. “Yes, I just picture you with all boys. I don’t know why.”
She never really elaborated and I was too offended by the idea of this to ask her to go deeper. But she is right. I am a mom made for boys. I do not think to go to Gymboree or wherever else to buy the perfect outfit for Kayden for the perfect occasion–say, her graduation or a concert–until it is either too late or she reminds me. I hardly do my own hair, so braiding or, true confession, often brushing her hair isn’t at the forefront of my thoughts. I am just not a girly-girl. I would rather play tennis or catch or ride bikes with the kids than sit and have a tea party or play house. Yes, as a young girl I played school and Barbies non-stop. Non-stop. And I will happily play them now. But I want to get up and move–to be outside with my kids.
Don’t get me wrong–I love my daughter just as much as I love my sons. This confession is not an excuse for being a lazy parent, either. I am just not innately a mom in-tuned to the needs or desires of a little girl. I will be buckling Paxton into his car seat and glimpse at Kayden sitting on her booster in the back row of the van and think Damn it, I should have done her hair. We will be at a family party and she’ll look adorable in her dress, but I will think to myself Why didn’t you get her shoes for that outfit?! These thoughts are irrational and have nothing to do with how much my heart bursts for her. And I will say it again: this has nothing to do with me being a lazy mom or even a too-busy mom. This simply comes down to the mom-of-daughter things not crossing my mind. If my kids are dressed with little-to-no battle and everyone has eaten some semblance of a healthy breakfast before we get out the door, I am doing my job. If my daughter is wearing mismatched clothes but feels confident that she could get herself dressed, I am doing my job. If my son wants to wear brown tube socks with his sneakers and mesh shorts because they are his favorite, I am doing my job. I am letting my kids be themselves–girl, boy, what have you.
When Kayden was a newborn, she slept in a pink room full of flowers and butterflies. She had a closet full of beautiful girly clothes. I’d push her around the mall or through the park in her pink convertible stroller. But any stranger who saw her would inevitably ask, How cute! How old is he? And every time I would reply that she is a girl and she’s however many months old, I would get the same response: Well, where is her bow? Her bow! Damn it! I never remembered the damn bow. Or the frilly socks. Or the blinking marquee sign hanging from the stroller flashing BOY MOM DOING HER BEST!
Emotionally, Kayden baffles me. When she has a melt down, I just don’t get it and I really don’t know how to respond effectively. When Paxton has a meltdown, though, I can usually tie his emotions to something physiological: he’s obviously hungry, so I’ll grab him a snack or he’s over-tired so I’ll give him his blanket and some alone time on the couch. If either of these fail, a cuddle and a kiss do the trick. With Kayden, I try my best to figure her out, to offer possible causes and solutions, and nothing works. I am the husband to her wife. I am the yin to her yang. And that is because we are the exact same person. We are introverted extroverts. We are alpha females who panic over making little decisions. We remember everything anyone has said or done or indicated–small, big, or imagined–and take so much to heart. You would think that being that way I would know how to react. I don’t, though. If I did, I’d write a book about the secret sauce to cracking my code. Instead, I’ll just write a blog confessing my motherly short falls.
Kayden and I butt heads regularly. I know it is going to be a long summer. She is getting closer and closer to turning 6 and she is getting closer and closer to running the world. She needs me to find the perfect blend of boy mom and girl mom and, essentially, just let her be herself in the process. She needs me to praise her but not too much. She needs me to take time to paint her nails and to get her the matchy-matchy shoes for her favorite summer dress and then to not get mad when she wears them to play tag with the neighbors and cakes them with mud. She needs me to brush and braid her hair just so she knows I set her apart from her brothers. She is unique, and not simply because she is my only daughter. She is unique because her mind is deep and her thoughts are real and she isn’t a toddler anymore. She is a young lady who needs her boy mom to be open to mothering her however a budding feminist and future leader and confident young lady requires. I can’t expect, nor should I desire for, Kayden to alter her personality and her “girlness” to suit me.
To be even more honest, I am happy I am not the adorable girl mom from the pool. Please know I mean this with no criticism. I applaud her for being so on-top of her own femininity and for showing her daughter the importance of poise and grace and softness. I believe I model that, too, but in my own way. I would be putting on airs if I was to get dolled up before heading to the pool. I would not be being myself if I was wearing a cute sun dress right now as I type this in the lobby of the car dealership while getting an oil change and not the comfy shorts, sports bra, and white tee I am wearing. Yes, I washed my hair and have on some eye-liner and mascara, but my lips are bare and my legs aren’t freshly shaven and I am totally comfortable being me that way. Maybe that makes me a boy mom. Maybe that makes me low maintenance. Maybe it just makes me me. My daughter will know that women can be strong and opinionated and makeup-free. A woman, like a man, can be whatever the individual wants to be or pursue or feel.
Super Mom I am not. I never will be. I am a boy mom raising a daughter. I am a mom, though, with a daughter who–in this day and age of gender stereotyping and sensitivity–will not be pigeon-holed by the bow on her head. Even if that is because I forgot to put it on her head in the first place.