In a politically correct world that is duly celebrating the girl child, in a world where it is almost in vogue to wish for a girl or adopt one, I begat a boy.
It was a time when most of my friends were dealing with troubled teens at home or, at the very least, had graduated to baby number two. I found myself telling the husband within a few months of our marriage that we should adopt a baby girl in two years if we don’t have a child of our own. I had, at that point, underestimated our ability to procreate.
Exactly a year after this talk, Re arrived. I, who was proud of my womanhood and had bashed men for the longest time in my gender column, had finally given birth to a man. I felt nothing except mild shock. Poetic justice, I thought. “At least he has curly hair, and my cleft,” I consoled myself. I was ready for another man.
Something told me that this project would not work on auto-pilot. I had no clue about how to raise a man: how to understand his layered complexities, how to let him be, yet let him grow and what to expect of him. Plus, the world around me displayed a kind of reverse snobbery about the boy child. In it, boys are best underplayed, or not played at all. Mothers of boys are constantly scrutinised for subtext. Consider this: Boy throws a tantrum and he is shrugged off as “boys will be boys”. Girl throws a tantrum and she is said to have a mind of her own. Boy climbs on to the table in a restaurant and he is “not brought up well”. Girl does the same and she is slated to be the next gymnast. It’s as though in the race to celebrate our girls, we are trying to pretend our boys don’t exist.
As soon as Re’s hormones surfaced (and they show up intensely close to age two), I was at sea. I think a lot of the confusion arose because of my own expectations from men. We want our men to be sensitive but robust, quiet but communicative, accomplished but understated, generous but thrifty, leaders but followers. We want them to be independent and successful, yet we like it when they can’t do without us.
Boys have to prove they can make good friends, good boyfriends, good husbands, good sons, good brothers and good fathers. The men in my life, whether it was my father, my brother, the boyfriends and the husband, constantly had to prove that they were “men enough”. They still do. We are constantly raising the bar for our men. There seems to be this daunting task of making a good man out of a boy, but it is somewhat assumed that all girls grow up to be good women. And for some reason, mamma’s boy is not as cool as daddy’s girl.
I found myself extrapolating every tantrum of Re, every sign of defiance, and wondering, alpha-male, bad boy or just age? By some twist of fate, Re is surrounded by mostly girl children, whether it is in our apartment building or my circle of friends. The ratio is skewed in favour of girls, at least in our world, whatever the statistics might say. He is usually the aggressee and never the aggressor, and I still don’t know whether I should ask him to fight back or let go. I don’t know what would make him a real man. But I will always be okay with him crying. After all, vulnerability is a valuable thing. It’s what the world looks for, I am told.
I looked. I got sensitivity with bravado (“Don’t hold my hand, mamma. I want to hold your hand”), free-spiritedness with extreme attachment (“I don’t want to go to school, mamma. I want to be with you”), defiance with understanding, noise with silence, aggression with empathy and “I” with “you”. Re hurts easily, he loves animals to a fault, he gives me a foot massage on my wretched days, he puts my cup of tea away, he brings me my slippers, wherever they are, he bakes me mud cakes. He likes cars and kitchens and I don’t care which way he goes. He is often mistaken for a girl, because of his locks. I am asked why I don’t cut his hair and I just try and fix a beatific look on my face and shrug. The real reason is, his locks remind me that he is still me.
So there you are. He is me. I am him.
I realised we can never be enough woman without the man in us and they can never be enough man without the woman in them.
Yes, it’s important to celebrate our girls and boys. But it’s more important to celebrate our children.
This piece first appeared in my column in the Eye section of the Indian Express on 29th July, 2012