It’s funny, you start a family and it’s all new and terrifying and exciting, then bit by bit you get good at planning and organising and soon you’re used to having the lunch boxes ready each morning and getting the homework book signed and life is pulling you along in the fast continuous current and then one day, a couple of months before your third child is brought into the world, you stop. I stopped. I stopped and stepped back and took a good look at this life I have here.
Sitting in a cafe on my day off this week, I ordered a coffee and glass of water. I sat by the window and watched the world carrying on outside, feeling smug that I had the luxury of taking a break from it all for a change. I thought about how rarely I do this, but how my body was increasingly encouraging me to do it more often. I thought about life, about my work, my wonderful life partner, my incredible kids. The radio was playing Queen. I've paid my dues, time after time. I've done my sentence, But committed no crime. And bad mistakes ‒ I've made a few. I've had my share of sand kicked in my face, But I've come through. An unexpected tear came to my eye. Bloody hormones.
The woman who brought my drinks eyed up the bump and asked me how far along I was in broken French. ‘7 months,’ I replied smiling, ‘about six weeks to go…’ she sighed and shook her head, ‘how we women suffer’ she muttered as she returned to the bar.
I was surprised. I didn’t feel like I was suffering.
I gave it some thought though, suffering women. From unequal pay, to women being forced to marry their rapists, there is plenty of evidence around that the woman in the cafe was right.
Then my thoughts turned to girls, which soon took me to my girls. My big girl Elsie, who has just turned seven. Seven! When I was first pregnant having the baby was such a shock. I’d thought about the pregnancy part, but felt woefully unprepared for the actual keeping-a-baby-alive part. Well, we kept her alive, and she has thrived ever since her early days of what I mainly remember as consisting of bright red angry screaming, mainly on her part...
She had a space-themed birthday party last weekend. ‘Bet you’re pleased it wasn’t a princess make-up party’ a colleague, who knows me too well, remarked. Yes, I sure was. I am proud of the smart, sensitive, curious child that she is. I am proud that she accepts my declarations that nothing is only for boys or only for girls, proud that she calls out sexism when she encounters it and proud that she loved her rocket-inspired party games.
Elsie knows that in just a few short weeks our lives will be invaded by another little creature. When we talk about events happening in the future her standard question is ‘is that before or after the baby is born?’ She says she’ll help us, and I don’t doubt that she will. She won’t be the scared insecure 2 year old she was when Molly came along. She is certain of her place in this family.
Then there’s Molly. Stubborn, confident Molly who fights hard to stake out her place in this world. I remember her as a smiley easy-going baby, who has grown into a smart, less easy-going child who can have us in hysterics one minute and then bring us to our knees with an almighty meltdown the next.
She says things as they are, but has a soft spot for babies and animals and loves a cuddle. Who doesn’t love a cuddle? A friend asked her the other day if she was looking forward to being a big sister. ‘No!’ she remarked right away ‘I don’t like babies!’ She said it for the laughs, but the joker character is an attempt to hide her vulnerability. She constantly compares herself to her older, clever sister and is wary of having her baby status removed by the newcomer. We’re going to have to be patient with her.
When I got pregnant again, I think we assumed the baby would be a boy - I have a brother and Marek has a sister, so the two girls were already a surprise. Elsie wanted a brother so much she kept asking, after every scan and every appointment if the doctor knew FOR SURE we were having another girl, or if it might still be a boy. The Polish family took a similar approach, ignoring our declarations that it was a girl, repeating the question in the hope of a different answer next time. At a family party this summer I fixed my smile to my face as countless aunts and cousins met the news with ‘oh, so you’ll be having a fourth then!’ and unconvincing variations along the theme of ‘oh dear, well, as long as she is healthy that’s the most important…’. I didn’t really know how I felt. Protective of my family, irritated that others cared so much about something that was nothing to do with them, outraged that nobody saw their reaction as insensitive or improper. There was a sort of inevitability about us having three girls (and it’s so practical - we have all the clothes…) but there was as well an undeniable draw towards the unknown. What would having a son be like? I will never know.
I realised about a week ago that I was really looking forward to having another girl. I realised that rather than being solely about balance, there was a clear sexism to all the assumptions about needing a little boy in the house. I realised that if someone treated a child of mine differently from the others just because he was a boy, I would find it almost impossible to bear. All children are different. All children deserve to be treated equally. Girls are born at a disadvantage in this patriarchal society, but that does not mean they have to grow into women who suffer. My tribe of girls will be strong and smart and questioning of this world. They will be champions.