Someone To Brush My Hair

A mother of three boys reflects on having a "daughter" to take care of her.

Three months after my third son was born, we took our first vacation as a family of five to the Bahamas. It was then that I discovered how a mother with three sons seems to attract frequent and not always appealing comments, ranging from "God Bless you" to "No girls?" The "No girls?" one always bothered me, and by the end of the trip, I finally resorted to a quick comeback. Responding to a woman working at airport security, I said with great conviction, “Oh no, my three girls are at home!”

A friend of mine once said that anyone who says they don't care about having children of all the same sex is lying. I have another friend who put it more gently, and I think most accurately, by saying that everyone would like the experience of raising both a boy and a girl but it really doesn't matter what you ultimately have. I have plenty of friends that have either three boys or three girls, but it is the mothers with the three (or more) boys who inevitably get the attention from strangers as well as friends with their insensitive musings. A mother to three girls hears "Oh, how cute" while a mother to three boys gets "Oh, how do you do it?"

In my small suburban town, there is actually a club called "Mothers of Boys" and to qualify, you must be a mother to three or more boys with no girls at all. I'm not sure if it's a support group or an excuse to socialize. Nevertheless, there is something about having that third boy that makes us stand out and garner reactions that usually border on pity. Sometimes I find them downright amusing but other times they slug me in that vulnerable spot, knowing that I may never have a daughter. The comments that sting the most come from women who have had two boys, then give birth to a girl. These mothers brag to me, "I got my girl!" Or some women say with relief, "My husband finally got it right!" When I was lamenting to one of my friends with three boys that I never cared about having a little girl to dress up in pretty pink outfits, she quickly agreed and said, "I don't want a girl; I want a daughter."

That was it, exactly. When I think about the close relationship I have with my own mother, it wasn't until my late teens when our mother-daughter bond truly evolved. We got over the hump of those hideous teenager years and became best friends. Whether it was going on shopping sprees, having long phone calls discussing friendship woes, planning my wedding or obsessing about my pregnancies, my mother was and still is a constant source of stability, strength and inspiration. I can only dream of passing on that kind of love and support to my own daughter.

I should interject at this point that days after I gave birth to our sweet, third boy, I told my husband that I thought I wanted one more child. Everyone, including him, immediately assumed it was because I wanted to try for a girl. But that really wasn't it; at least I didn't think so. I realized that my two older sons were two years apart while my third little guy was four years younger than his middle brother. My 4 and 6 year olds appeared to be eons ahead of him and now I felt he needed a "buddy" to grow up with, trick-or-treat with, sleigh-ride with, ride the day camp bus with activities that my two older ones now do together. By the time my third son was ready to join them and really revel in these doings, they would be done, or almost done, with that phase of their childhood. During this conversation, my husband's face instantly went pale with fear. He probably attributed my announcement to wacky hormones so I decided not to bring up the subject again for a while.

What would make me hesitate on number four more than my husband's panic, however, would be that if I did get pregnant, I would dread the nine months of pressure and speculation from all the onlookers on whether or not we were having a girl or another boy. It's both stressful and annoying. My husband and I never find out the sex beforehand because frankly, we truly don't care! However, the rest of the world not only seems to care but to make wagers, predict and relay their own anxieties about the sex of our child.

It was during this Bahamas trip that I had a chance conversation with a woman by the pool who helped me come to terms with what may or may not be my destiny of being a mother to three sons. She told me that she too had three boys and then her fourth child was a girl. I told her that I too was thinking of having a fourth because I didn't feel "done" yet. I also told her how I loved having three boys but that I had a close relationship with my mother and before I even finished my thought about wanting a daughter, she finished it for me: "I wanted someone to brush my hair for me when I can't do it anymore." Yes, that was it! Not the girl, but the daughter.

The woman by the pool saw my face get this faraway, sad look but that was when she said all the right things. "Don't worry," she consoled. "If you never have a daughter, I can promise you that one of your sons will assume that role for you. In fact, one of my sons is more of a daughter to me than my own daughter."

Ever since that conversation, I am comforted and enlightened by the realization that a daughter won't necessarily sprout from giving birth to a little girl. She may be one of my sons or a future daughter-in-law or one of my nieces. I know that I would have stepped in as the "caretaker" for my mother-in-law after her knee-replacement surgery if she didn't have her own daughter offer to fly to Arizona to help feed, dress and bathe her. When I try to imagine if my daughter will in fact be one of my sons, I assess each of their burgeoning personalities for hints. My oldest son enjoys caring for his youngest brother and sometimes demands the involvement in dressing, bathing and feeding him. My middle son is incredibly attuned to other people's emotions, including his own. And my youngest, now 2, is so precious and cuddly: He wraps himself around my heart each time he asks me for a hug and a kiss several times a day. My three sons are all so different and thus already fulfill distinct roles within our family. For now, I still do most of the hair brushing in my house but when the time comes for someone to take care of me, I know my daughter will find me.