when we found out bitsy was a girl i flipped. how could i raise a daughter? good grief. my mother hated her mother and blamed for practically everything, from not letting her keep a pet bat when she was a child to killing her creeping charlie plants in the ’70s by touching them with her nicotine-stained fingers. obviously, of course, she adored her father, whom i always found immensely charming but was most likely flawed in some significant way that i never saw because i always saw him through my mother’s eyes.

when i was small kid my mother taught me that girls made terrible friends. “they’re catty,” she’d say. “they’re clique-ish.” “boys are much easier to get along with.” and i believed her, despite the fact that i always had very good girlfriends — you know, the kinds you walk around holding hands with during recess in the third grade, the kinds you plan your class schedules with when you’re getting ready to graduate to junior high. but i still somehow felt that i couldn’t get fully close to them; i was always afraid of being shut out. the fact that i almost never was, was mostly lost on me.

this weird way of looking at people continued through my teenage years and into my twenties. i trusted men more than i trusted women, for no good reason other than they were men. and i chose for sweethearts the kind of men who replicated the relationship i had no, not with my father, but with my mother: fostering distrust and damaging self-esteem.

i finally saw the pattern when i started dating women and felt — immediately — a huge sense of relief. no more comparing. no more worrying. it was so much easier. but of course i settled in with a chick who replicated my own f’d-up patterns for me and her own screwy patterns for herself; when i finally walked away i saw it, clearly: the ways i’d been trained not to trust myself and my own instincts, the ways i’d learned to value others’ opinions over my own, the ways i’d been afraid to express myself. the ways i was taught these things, and how these things were linked to gender, and how they were linked to my own understanding of myself as a gendered human being, and how they taught me not to see gender even though it was everywhere, everywhere, the way i was taught because i was a girl, the daughter of a woman who disliked women.

i’ve spent a long time pondering this, and have made a sort of awkward peace with my young self: the little girl who let the neighbor girl paint her fingernails but then was sent back to get her nailpolish removed because her mother thought it looked trashy; the little girl who went shopping with her dad and picked out a pink dresses with ruffled cap sleeves, but whose mother returned the dress because she herself didn’t like it; the little girl who thought, at age 8, that a sex change (this was the era of renee richards, after all) would be the answer to everything. the girl who, despite loving all things girly — including girls — fought her own instincts for decades in order to believe what her mother had taught her. which was all wrong.

so when i found out i was going to mother a daughter i flipped. there will be no pink in my house, mind you. she will not wear frilly clothes. she will be balanced and sane and my house will not runneth o’er with princess paraphernalia.

except, of course, it might. a friend pointed out to me that the only way to avoid being my mother was, um, (duh) not to replicate her behavior, but to let my own daughter be herself. to experiment. to wear pink if she wanted. to curl and pout and paint and prance. and i thought to myself, ok, i can try this. i can see whether it works.

and so far, so good. bitsy has a thing for shoes and purses which i try neither to encourage nor deny, but just to let be. she likes pink, but she also likes blue and yellow and purple. she generally doesn’t like dresses and she goes nuts over hats. i think there’s a chance i might be able to let her develop her own taste and style and desires and drives, and keep most of my really inappropriate judgmental comments to myself. and i have found that i love mothering a daughter more than i ever could have imagined. and it makes me really angry that my mother didn’t love it — didn’t love me — more. and it makes me angry that two of my daughters are dead and i’ll never get to mother them. girls girls girls: who knew i’d love them all so very, very much?

so it’s probably not all that surprising that i’m totally freaked out now that i’m having a baby boy. now what?

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