Before you came to bring us such joy,
how we hoped and prayed that you’d be a boy
but little girl, you’re my heart’s delight;
you make life sunny and bright, Little B.
You’re all my heart sings for.
— “Little B’s Poem,” Jean Carn
I didn’t realize I was trembling until the ultrasound tech ventured, “You’re nervous, huh?” I heard myself breathe an unconsidered confession: YES. She laughed. “I can tell.”
Lying back on the crinkly white paper of an examining chair has become second nature in the past few months, but this darkened room, sufficiently dimmed for viewing the movement of a half-gestated fetus, was new.
Before your great-aunt and I came here, I sat in my apartment, savoring my last few hours of ignorance. This sounds strange and I will rarely, if ever, encourage you to “savor” ignorance, but in this case, all the things I didn’t know carried with them a certain calm. I cannot tell you how often in life it’s been soothing for me to hold fast to my little delusions. Yesterday morning was one of those times.
It’s just so true: before you know exactly who and how someone is, she can be anything.
Yesterday morning, and for many days before, you were a boy—a brown and hardy enigma I was eager to spend the next twenty years of my life figuring out. You were the long-absent maleness my three generations of women so craved. You were a towering teenage star, with fists clenched in defense of home, of hearth, of mother, if ever they were threatened.
Admittedly, I don’t get boys. Having one would’ve been something of a social experiment. Perhaps I could’ve finally cracked the codes that’ve been so elusive to me all these years. Maybe we would’ve had strangely, unexpectedly illuminating conversations and our lives would’ve been near-constant filament bursts of inter-gender understanding.
It was a silly sort of dream, one that placed too much onus on you to teach me, one born of unfair expectations that would’ve led to inevitable disappointment.
I may’ve watched you walk across commencement stages, gazing through a twilight of awe and thinking, “I still don’t get boys.” And one of my biggest fears as a parent is never growing to understand my child. With a male you, there would’ve been impediments, anatomical and theoretical; it would’ve been hard.
And worse, there was the acute possibility that I would’ve spent more time obsessing over all the things I could lose you to—premature, inaccurate learning disability diagnosis; police profiling or brutality; stray bullets; random or targeted violence; unjust (or just) incarceration; drug use or distribution—than I would’ve spent cherishing you. I know these ills aren’t unique to the black male, but that wouldn’t stop me from fretting over their heightened probability for you.
And then, had you escaped it all, I still would’ve worried that the pressure to become some great bastion of Black societal uplift would’ve cracked you in irreparable ways.
In the end, it’s equally possible I might have ruined your disposition with all the clucking and coddling attendant to all those concerns.
There are no end of worries for Black men.
So I wasn’t too deflated in the doctor’s office, lying back and looking at the organ the sonographer was circling as she typed, “IT’S A GIRL!” across the monitor. This was the very first part of you she showed me (which is symbolic of so many private things I’ll whisper to you after you’re here). Then, she spent ten minutes identifying thigh and calf and ankle, bicep and elbow and forearm, all the bones so white and prominent, the shape of each limb all curved and defined. I could see your heart, this heart whose sound I’ve already come to memorize, then your kidneys, your cranium, the delicate silhouette of your brain. I saw your spine and its notches of vertebrae, curled against the hammock of my ever-expanding uterus.
“Are you gonna stretch out for us, baby?” the sonographer asked you. She can’t, I thought to myself, she’s a giant.
Already, you are formidable. I don’t mean that in a way that suggests rivalry or a lifelong battle of wills. I mean you’re a force. A bundle not only of joy, but of power. You have track-runner legs; your hands and your feet are overlong, like your father’s.
You will easily envelope things: moths and lightning bugs and fireflies, secrets.
You won’t tread lightly. I won’t expect you to.
Girl, there are stories. There are myths and legends and mysteries about your foremothers, enough to have us speaking in reverent and relishing hushes for the length of both of our lives.
I will tell you about the distant cousin who wandered into the woods during a storm and blew away. I will tell you of your great-great aunt who, at 19, was already Wife and Mother, who, at 19, ventured into a nightclub in Natchez and died in the fire that consumed 200+ patrons within. I will tell you about your grandmother, the evangelist; your great-grandmother, the jazz connoisseur; your great-great-grandmother who lived to be 95 and who floated about in her final years, like an ancestress with the mysteries of eternity within a fingertip’s grasp. I’ll tell you about my three cousins, all preternaturally wise, with whom I spent all my adolescent summers whispering secrets about boys and reciting lyrics to the r&b that was forbidden to me back home.
I will tell you of the first time I met your father’s mother. She wafted into her living room, in a summery sleeveless top, her skin dewy from the hours she’d spent gardening in the sun. I noticed the moles on her neck and arms, raised and round like chocolates. She told us about the hedge in front of their home and how she’d spent hours trimming it—first daintily with clippers and then, for the more stubborn stalks, she said, “I just started using my hands.” I looked closer at the hands she’d stretched out before us, and noticed a trail of fresh, tiny scratches paved from wrist to shoulder on each side.
Your grandma’s hands are a marvel. She can break trees with them.
I suppose my entire life has built toward parenting you. If there’s one thing I’m prepared for, it’s teaching a woman how to live in the relative absence of men.
You are a fourth generation Brown woman. At this point, some things are inherent. We know the longing for male validation. We know the resentment that accompanies the lack of it. We know the resignation to its dearth that you can reach quite early on.
We know how conquerable the want is.
With each successive Brown generation, there is an evolution of awesome. This means the likelihood of you being a purple-haired poetry-spouting mathematician and electric guitarist is disproportionately high.
In time, you’ll understand why I wanted a boy. In time, I’ll understand why our matrilineage just keeps spawning more women.
Don’t worry. I am not disappointed.
We can do this. We can do this well.