Somehow, I thought girls would be easier.
Walking hand and hand into the ultrasound office hubby said, “It’s a boy. You know it’s probably a boy.”
“Yep, six boys!” I replied, “And we’re only here to make sure he’s healthy.”
But I was lying.
Like every mother, I believe I have the most fantastic children in the world, but I was completely overwhelmed by the frenetic energy and chaos created by five little boys. And this surprise pregnancy with severe nausea and an unexpected surgery had only increased the mayhem at home. I dreamt of a quiet peaceful little girl, who would stare at me with wide blue eyes like my own, obey my every request and politely ask for a yellow crayon as she colored quietly at the kitchen table.
The ultrasound tech smeared my midriff with jelly and began with all the usual measurements, spinal checks and inspection of baby’s heart. Champion worrier that I am, I breathed with relief as each check came up healthy and normal.
“Sooo, do you want to know whether to buy pink or blue?” the tech asked.
“Yes!” we cried in unison.
“Just a minute. I want to make sure. I want to be 100% sure. Yes, yes, it’s a girl.”
My heart stopped. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak.
Tears slid down my cheeks.
Five months later our beautiful little princess arrived screaming and wailing. We adored her, we held her, we smothered her with kisses and attention, but those shrieks rarely gave pause for the next four years.
Everything about Mary was intense. Eschewing car seats, cribs(we even tried the evil, inhumane crib tent but she escaped the inescapable on the first night), high chairs, schedules, babysitters and all solid food– her only real comfort was, um, me.
I wasn’t exactly on top of my game as a mother of five boys but Miss Mary literally threw me to my knees. Sleep books and baby psychology didn’t work with her. None of my children were easy babies, but little princess inspired an entirely new level of exhaustion.
One week in Sacrament meeting an older lady leaned forward (she’s really a nice lady, I promise) and unthinkingly noted, “That’s the most hyperactive child I’ve seen in my 78 years on earth. Have you had her tested?”
Yeah, I spent the rest of the meeting in the hall.
After church, I snapped at the boys as I wrestled Mary into her car seat. Climbing into the driver’s seat I rested my head on the steering wheel and began to cry. I looked over at my 14 year-old son and saw that his eyes were also spilling over. Over Mary’s screams he said, “I love her mom, but she’s changed you. She’s ruining our family.”
I was drowning, buried, suffocating, fragile as a soap bubble.
Spiritually, emotionally and physically drained I pleaded with my pediatrician for help. Our beloved Dr. Bentley thoroughly examined her, asked about a million questions and pronounced, “Big spirit; little body.”
And so I prayed. There was never any doubt of my unconditional love for my baby girl but I was struggling desperately to like her. Many, many nights enduring the shrieks in her room I bitterly asked God why and how he thought I could raise this little soul to him. Guilt crushed me even as I prayed, knowing how devastated I would be without her.
There were reprieves, small miracles. She enjoyed dancing in my arms, reading books, tossing a ball and playing any sort of wild game. Sunday mornings she allowed me to array her in splendid dresses and bracelets and begged for bows in her hair.
But Miss Mary had no hair. At two her fragile, wispy locks seemed normal but as the months passed without any growth she talked incessantly about ponytails and began wearing dishrags as pretend hair. Soon, she moved onto hooded sweatshirts for their superior fit and insisted on brushing her “hair” and making me affix several ponytail holders down her long lengths.
Shortly after her third birthday I came home from a church meeting and found Mary curled up in our red chair with scissors in one hand and a fistful of hair in the other. Tiny tufts of blond hair covered the chair.
Rage and sorrow overwhelmed me. Every parental disappointment crashed upon my soul. She didn’t have much hair to start with; why would she cut it off? Completely distraught, I left hubby to clean up the mess and went to my closet to sob. No, not to sob, to wail; to sorely call upon God.
Thirty minutes of grief later, I held little Mary and talked to her. I took her to the bathroom and stood her on the counter so she could see her shorn locks in the mirror. “See sweetie– your hair is so short now we can’t even put piggy tails in it.” I explained. I wanted to make sure she didn’t do it again but the cruel part of me wanted her to see the damage she had done.
Her tear-streaked face turned to mine, “I had to cut it off Mom! I just hated that short hair.”
She explained simply. “I want long princess hair.”
I hugged her little body and started to laugh and cry. Of course she hated that short hair! How many times have I been disappointed with my life, half started something or run into a barrier and wanted to give up? I wonder how often I’ve said to God– “I’m cutting this short hair off, I hate it.”
And like the parting of the Red Sea the voice of God spoke to my mind there in the bathroom, “Wait, wait and see what I am trying to grow here. Wait, wait and see what I am trying to grow in your life. Wait and see who this little girl is going to be.”
Mary broke me, body and soul, and I am only now rebuilding my life— it’s a different life and a kinder, more compassionate one. I suddenly have possibilities before me and it’s a beautiful thing.
A year and a half have passed since that day in front of the bathroom mirror and sweet Miss Mary’s hair has grown nary an inch. But her preschool teacher tells me that my feisty girl is in great demand in class, “Everyone wants to sit by her and play with her. She’s so interesting.”
This morning as I write, she builds an elaborate fort for her dolly and rocks and coos and speaks sweet words of love to her.
And she colors—never at the table, but sprawled on the floor with paper, scissors, magazine clippings and glue in gleeful, glorious disarray. Grabbing my face with her hands, green eyes blazing, she commands:
“I need a new red crayon.