Happy news: this week saw the publication of MOB Rule, a book that celebrates life as a mother of boys. Like the author, I’m besotted with my bunch. But I know that most passers-by are not thinking ‘lucky you’ as I stride past, towing three trainee men. I know this because so many have taken the time to tell me.
It started during my third pregnancy. ‘Are you hoping for a girl,’ and ‘is this supposed to be the girl?’ greeted me in every shop, park and queue. As if I needed an antidote to the boys who had made me want a third baby in the first place.
In Neal’s Yard, the manager dispensed opinions along with bump cream, proudly announcing that, “no offence”, she could tell I was carrying a boy. When I darted out after a runaway child, she explained to my sister that three boys meant I must have a hostile birth canal* (*not the anatomical word she used, but the one I wish my sister had used as she relayed the story in the toy shop next door).
But I didn’t spend the pregnancy eyeing up pink dresses. I spent it hoping that my luck would hold out, and I would have another uncomplicated labour, another healthy baby.
And the apothecary was right: my hostile, girl-rejecting body produced a third perfect baby boy. Congratulations were in order, right? But the comments continued.
The postman: “Don’t give up, you’ll get that girl soon! (He explained that his mother kept trying until she got a girl, baby number five.)
The supermarket checkout assistant: “I bet you were hoping for a girl this time around.” (The boys weren’t even being particularly boyish at that moment, sitting quietly in the trolley, eating fruit.)
A family member: “Be honest, if you could guarantee that you’d get a girl, you’d have a fourth, wouldn’t you.” (No.)
Small talk, yes, but … I can’t help feeling that a mum of three girls would get a different reaction. I know my own mum did. She was often stopped in the street and congratulated, my sisters and I admired (despite the homemade fringes).
Perhaps boys are less loveable to the casual observer. While friends’ girls often appear dressed as actual princesses, eager to tell you their name and engage you in conversation, a boy is statistically more likely to be running off into the distance, shouting and wielding a stick.
If you are not a parent to said boy, you may never see how they cuddle like love-crazed baby monkeys; how they constantly pursue fun, food, and fun; or how much less hamstery they smell after a bath.
Not that I’d argue that the experience of raising boys and girls is the same. The differences are embodied in three toys that belonged to my sisters and I, which were recently handed on to my boys. An antique cycling Mickey Mouse, kept in a cupboard by my mum for occasional use. Bearlin, a huge polar bear I got for my third birthday, whose cream fur remained pristine for 30 years. And a fluffy cow that still looked new after years of care by three loving girls.
In boy world, Bearlin alternates between punchbag and landing mat, and her fur is greying (with muck, I presume, though it could be stress). Mickey Mouse is back in a (much higher) cupboard, minus one ear. And the fluffy cow is lying sodden on the patio, casualty of a Room on the Broom spell recreation (a.k.a. mud and toy soup in a bucket).
Yup, life in a house full of boys will be very different from life in the all-female household I grew up in. But I know it will be action-packed, rowdy, and funny, funny, fun. Boys are definitely not a consolation prize. In fact, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.