It's a Boy! It's Arrived!
posted by Sheri
The best thing about Andi Buchanan's new collection from women writers on raising sons, It's a Boy, besides that it's full of insightful, honest writing about raising sons, is that it's an amazing read for anyone who wants to learn not only about the evolution of boy from the parental perspective but also about the range of boyness and of parental passion.
For whatever ego-tripping reason and despite (or possibly due to) being mom to a son, I thought I had little to learn, enjoy, and savor on this topic and was more than pleasantly surprised by every piece in the book. I found the first section "It's a Boy," on the topic that Andi calls "prenatal gender apprehension," less true to my personal experience (although I did trip out a little at first) but undoubtedly real to many moms of sons. That is the next best thing about this collection. I want to share so many of the essays with my mama friends—either because the essays capture aspects of their experiences or the polar opposites, which seem just as crucial to our growth. After all, we can learn so much by starting to understand our otherness (gender and otherwise)—just as most of the apprehensive new and expecting mothers of sons in the "It's a Boy" section seem to have figured out.
My favorite essay was also in my overall favorite section "The Velvet Underground," although I feel funny picking favorites from such a valuable collection. However, I loved "Pretty Baby" by Catherine Newman. While Katie Kaput ("Things You Can't Teach") and Susan O'Doherty ("The Velvet Underground") eloquently detail struggles of a similar nature, Newman beautifully captures an essence of parenting that I long for and aspire to achieve with my son and any future children—a complete willingness to spark and nurture a child's individual spirit, whatever that looks like.
As I was reading Newman's essay, I kept thinking back to one of my favorite movies Ma Vie en Rose. I sobbed through that movie while the mother and father (but it felt like mostly the mother because I was so counting on her) rejected and broke down her beautifully unusual son Ludovic because they could not accept whom he truly was. They failed him (and me). I didn't even have children yet, but I cried because I never wanted to be like his mother, so unable to let my children be who they are—especially if they're different or, more frighteningly, different than me. In the end of Newman's essay, we brilliantly see her vulnerability peek out when a stranger takes notice of her son's unique spirit, and I was completely with her in joy and pride.
Of course, I related to Newman's story and Ma Vie en Rose because both boys long for things considered feminine in our society, and I understand this longing. However, I'm sure my challenges with my son (an almost-three-year old who's only into animals so far) will be different, and I will probably have trouble with his loving football or paintball or math (or God forbid right wing politics), as we see with many of the mothers in the "Will Boys Be Boys?" section of the book. At least now I know I have a resource to turn back to if my son goes "macho" on me, and I know I will not die if it happens either. I'm so glad to have this book to hold onto on this journey and plan to share it with many friends.
Here's a quick interview with Andi Buchanan on the task of putting together this collection:
mamazine.com: You have a daughter and a son. How did the experiences of having a girl and then a boy inspire this book and your upcoming anthology, It's a Girl?
Andi: It was really being pregnant with a boy that made me start thinking about the idea. I was initially apprehensive about having a son—I grew up with sisters and hoped my second baby would also be a girl, so that my daughter could experience sisterhood—but it seemed like everyone else around me was positively thrilled to hear the news that I was having a boy. In fact, they all seemed way more excited about it than I expected. Really excited. Disproportionally excited. I had so many people say things to me like, "Well, your husband must be proud!" or "Now that you have one of each, you can stop trying!" or—and this was the weirdest thing—"Now you have a rich man's family!" Quite frankly, it freaked me out, this unabashed boy preference. Would my husband not be proud if we were having a girl? If this one wasn't a boy, would I really be expected to keep "trying" until I came up with a winner? Would my family not be "rich" (whatever that meant!) if we had another girl? Were boys literally worth more than girls? I felt like I was in a time warp, hearing this sort of stuff, and it made me think about my own reasons for wishing for a girl, and my reluctance to join in the "it's a boy!" parade.
mamazine.com: What themes about raising boys appeared in the essays your contributors submitted?
Andi: By far the most popular topic was what I came to call "prenatal gender apprehension." I received so many stories about women who were reluctant mothers of sons, who had always envisioned themselves raising girls, and it was great to read them. The only trouble with this was that this kind of story has pretty much one arc: woman gets pregnant, woman is thrown for a loop by the news she's having a boy, woman has a son and discovers nothing is as strange or awful as she feared, woman realizes a baby is a baby, girl or boy, The End. Which, of course, is how you want it to work out. But for an essay collection, you don't want to have five pieces in a row of the same story. The first section of the book is, in fact, about learning to embrace the other-ness of boys, and stories of women who thought they wouldn't know what to do with a son but found themselves loving it anyway. But I tried to choose essays that were varied enough and didn't overlap too much to avoid repetition of. In that section, there are three pieces with different takes on the "prenatal gender apprehension" narrative; two pieces on mothers dealing, in different ways, with boys who are "guys"; a piece about the surprise and tenderness of a son's love; a piece about how having a son healed something from a mother's past; and one about a family's "curse" against boys that turns out to be a blessing.