Thursday, March 21, 2013

XX Marks the Spot

My mother had no daughters.

God saw fit to bless her with only sons; therefore, between we three kings and my Dad, the house was a testosterone temple. The accoutrements of our male-dominated life included baseball mitts, Cub Scout uniforms, stinky sneakers, belching, clip-on ties, The Three Stooges, cuff links, G.I. Joe, perpetually raised toilet seats, Vitalis, and clandestine copies of Playboy magazine.

She managed this lifestyle with her usual dose of Irish humor, joking that for her, living in house was like living in a YMCA.

I never asked her if she minded not having daughters. I’m sure at times the overabundance of XY chromosomes got on her nerves. I’ll bet that she found herself feeling occasionally lonely, as if nobody under her roof exactly matched her thought patterns, emotional reactions, preferences and idiosyncrasies.

Only natural, I suppose.

And every so often, a certain wistfulness at not having a daughter would seem to make itself apparent. Gliding by a department store full of Easter dresses and Mary Janes. Or reading the notice for a parish mother/daughter Communion breakfast. Or seeing neighbor girls dressed as Cinderella on Halloween.

We had a print hung in our living room for years: Renoir’s A Girl with a Watering Can (1876). I do not know where her copy came from, whether she purchased it herself or it was a gift, but it occupied a prime spot.

When asked, Mom would smile and say, “That’s the daughter I never had.”

There was no malice behind her thought. Just a wondering, perhaps, of what life may have been like for her had she had a little girl at home.

Being a primarily one-gender house, Mom ensured that our chores were non-gender based; therefore, we were tutored not only how to cut the grass and change oil in the car but also how to run the vacuum, rotate a load of laundry and cook meals. This knowledge was probably bestowed out of sheer necessity when she left full-time mothering to return to work as a Registered Nurse. But I'm sure it also appealed to her sense of fairness. Mom was not a bra-burning feminist, but she did want to ensure that we were raised knowing that women's worth went well beyond the ability to darn a sock or scrub a floor. Her career prevented her the opportunity to make pancakes each morning, so if we wanted them, she was perfectly okay with us darned well making them for ourselves.

To this day, I can still make the bed with the “hospital corners” she taught. And have amazed my own kids by demonstrating skill in sewing buttons and setting a proper table.

Luckily, Mom was well compensated later in her life for her daughterly dearth. First, she gained daughters-in-law that she connected with deeply. Both Eileen (my wife) and Kathy (Paul's wife) were warmly received into her nest and she was blatant in her admiration of their intelligence, wit, open hearts and generous manner.

Mom would have been devastated by Kathy's passing last November, and perhaps it's for the best that she wasn't around to bear the loss. I imagine them now as both in heaven, fully restored to health and whiling away the afternoons chatting, laughing, sharing...

Second, Mom was blessed with three bright granddaughters who she smothered with hugs and kisses, storybooks on her lap, cookie capers in her kitchen, and hours of artwork courtesy of Crayola. Each Christmas, she treated them to the frilly, flouncy style of dresses, finally able to play the role of fashionista that she could not with her own brood.

I understand a little of what I’m conjecturing to be her feelings as a Girl Friday on an island of Robinson Crusoes.

After all, here I am: The only male in a household of females.

Isn’t life ironic?

But at least we’ve tipped the balance a little more toward the middle.

Our dog Parker is our happy little boy!

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