Question of the day: the difference between sons and daughters
Your only child is a son, yet you write about the mother/daughter bond. Are you sorry that you never had a daughter?
I used to be sorry. I believed that with a girl, I could share all my childhood pleasures: making paper dolls, reading the Brothers Grimm, studying the history of fashion. I pictured the two of us watching Swan Lake and playing old-fashioned card games like Authors. How could it be otherwise? My grandmother had two girls. My mother and my aunt: two girls apiece.
As luck would have it, my only child loved toy guns (I wouldn't allow them in the house, so he took to brandishing sticks and shouting, "Bang, bang!"). He had a passion for wheeled vehicles—the louder, the better. He thought it would be cool to own a nuclear submarine. I would look at my scamp of a son, with his Dennis the Menace cowlick, and wonder how I'd ever produced such an utterly alien creature.
I've decided this was for the best. From the get-go, I clearly understood that Ben was his own person, not an extension of me. And so I avoided a problem that has dogged three generations of women in my matriarchal family. Unlike my mother and grandmother, I never assumed that my child was like me or that I knew his innermost fears and dreams. We had our battles, he and I, especially in his teen years, yet they were highly specific and external: the tangle of clothes on his bedroom floor, his insistence on tying up our only shower while we pounded on the door, begging for a turn.
Between my mother and me, every clash was a question of identity, of the kind of woman I would be. Who I dated, how I spent my allowance, where I went and with whom...it was all excruciatingly personal. My mother was the keeper of hopes (I should have a better life than hers) but also of warnings (I should live my life her way, or face terrible dangers). I came to see her as the ultimate killjoy.
A psychologist would say we had "boundary issues." And our moments of glorious female camaraderie, when we jointly analyzed the private lives of mutual friends or unearthed the best bargain at the sale, intensified the pain we inflicted on each other.
I've talked with many women who have raised both sons and daughters. They've all reached the same conclusion: for a woman, boys are easier than girls. I suspect I would have loved a daughter with a particular kind of excited anticipation that I couldn't bring to my son. But she might have been a jock with no interest in books. She might have been head of the cheerleading squad. Such a daughter would have baffled and troubled me. I can just imagine the fights!
As for my son, who's now in his thirties, it turns out we have a lot in common. Memories of his grandmother. Love for his son, my grandchild. The ability to talk about our lives without passing judgment. I couldn't be more proud, or more grateful.