Bill Cosby once said that “all children have brain damage.” It’s true. However, boys are born with more. They come out underbaked. Girls do too – all babies could use a fourth trimester if it weren’t for their gigantic heads – but in my experience, the brains of girls were wired by an electrician who was getting paid by the hour, not by the job. He was an apprentice electrician, but still, you get my point. Baby girls are smarter. More careful. They learn from their mistakes and remember what they learn. They’re more empathetic and socially aware – immediately. By the time they’re towering over their 6th grade stick-weilding male counterparts in the back row of their class photos, the average 11 year-old girl probably has more social skills than I do as a 34 year-old man.
As an example, I’ll relate the following scene from last summer. I had taken Josie to the beach, which, thanks to the melee of boys whacking each other with sticks and leaping off logs, looked more like a scene from the beaches of Normandy than Port Townsend. We sat on a log, watching the boys, but to the left, ignoring the machine gun fire of the boy’s semi-automatic sticks, was a circle of girls, lying on their stomachs, facing in, quietly talking. Chronologically speaking, they appeared to be the same grade. From behind us a family approached from the parking lot. Like meerkats, all the girls raised their heads to ascertain the new girl. (The boys on the other hand, wouldn’t have noticed if a unicorn had galloped through the waves, ridden sidesaddle by a shimmering pink and turquoise mermaid.) One of the girls stood up, trotted over to the new girl, and after making her acquaintance, took her hand, and led her over to the circle of girls, where, I swear to god, she introduced her by saying, “Everyone, this is my friend Lindsay from music class.” The many outstretched legs of the circle moved like a caterpillar’s, scooting to make room, until the new girl was fully integrated into the group circle. To our right, two boys began arguing about who killed who, which, unresolved, devolved into an unholstered spray of spittle punctuated gunfire.
At the time my wife was pregnant, but we didn’t know if we were having another girl or a boy. Secretly, sitting on that log, I have to say, I hoped for another girl. Of course, the Universe has a funny sense of humor, so we got a baby boy. From 0-8 months, there’s not a lot of difference: just wobbly human larvae semi-fastened to your wife’s swollen milk bags. Then they start crawling. Now, if you’ve ever been in charge of a crawling infant male of our species for any amount of time you will agree with me on this point: although 30,000 years separates them from their cavebaby ancestors, developmentally, there hasn’t been much progress. If I gave my son a club, he would bash a hole in my sheetrock, laughing hysterically with every blow. If I gave my son a lighter, I have no doubt that he could somehow summon the fine motor skills to burn down my house in under two minutes. And the way he pulls at my dog’s fur any time they meet, you’d think he was getting her ready for the spit. But what continually amazes me, every day, about my son, is his unbreakable compulsion to put EVERY GODDAMN THING INTO HIS PIEHOLE.
If my son should crawl across the floor and encounter dirt, small rocks, dog hair, marbles, power cords, a domestic pet, a lit firecracker, open switchblades, of a rattlesnake…? Into the mouth it goes. I practice the choking-mouth-sweep maneuver from my first aid training about 1,723 times a day. My only theory on why this trait has persisted through the ages is that the immunity conferred by putting disgusting things into your mouth all day slightly outweighed the millions of cavebabies who must have silently choked to death on mammoth scraps in some shadowed corner of the cave while their exhausted parents tried to relax by watching the fire channel and eating some rotten fermented fruit.
My daughter never had this compulsion. By ten months I could leave her, unsupervised, with a gigantic bowl of marbles and when I came back out of the shower, she would have them all sorted by size and color. The thought that these small glass spheres might be food would have never crossed her functioning brain. When I finally took her binky away, I told myself never again. I never thought I’d need to use it as my mother-in-law (who also had a boy) refers to it: The Plug. It’s literally the only reason my son survives an afternoon in our yard.
Inside is safer, but not by much. When I get done writing this I am going to go down to the basement, haul up the fireplace surround, and reassemble it. Mind you, it is July. Why? Because my brain damaged son keeps throwing himself off of the bricks, face first, every time I turn my back for THREE GODDAMN SECONDS. Two minutes later, if left to it, he will do it again. Zero learning has occured between faceplants. I find myself wondering if he had brain damage to start with, or whether it’s just been the result of repeated head whacking.
Do you remember this scene from Parenthood? Rick Moranis’s character has a genius daughter. The choice of genders of the children wasn’t a casting accident.
I think of that scene often when my son engages in his new favorite activity, which is accessed via the aforementioned brick step of facial plantation. He was pretty tired in this clip, but this sound has become the soundtrack to my life. He comes back to it like a heroin addict – compulsively, unconsciously, and takes extreme joy in the sound, and then crashes. Literally. Looks pretty similar to the bucket doesn’t it?
Everyone says, boys are hard in the beginning, but they get easier. They say the opposite of girls. Or as Louis CK said, “Boys fuck things up. Girls are fucked up.” If you only have boys or you only have girls, you’ll only know what you know. Great, really, because you can’t compare. If you have both, though, you’ll compare genders constantly. Comparisons are relative of course, so there are two options by which you’ll compare: Older Boy/Younger Girl or Older Girl/Younger Boy.
The first is desirable, I would think, because a baby boy really lowers your intelligence expectations, so when the girl shows up, it’s like, Holy shit, she’s a fucking genius! She doesn’t lunge at outlet covers like those caged Velociraptors in Jurassic Park! I don’t have to helicopter parent her every encounter with a dandelion! Instead she’ll just sit there in the yard, humming the tune of some nursery rhyme, making a necklace out of them. But if, like me, you have a girl first, it’s absolutely confounding when you son engages in behavior that would draw stares from even the gorillas in the zoo if he were to, y’know, inexplicably crawl into their exhibit.
And trust me, if he could get into that exhibit, he would. I’ve seen the way he stares at them pooping. It’s the same way the gorillas stare at you from the other side of the glass, as you taunt them with your popcorn. My son would gladly trade them the popcorn for the opportunity to cruise the soiled faux-rock floor of their exhibit. Which just goes to prove my previous point: the popcorn would surely kill him, but if the ape shit didn’t, why even bother with the rest of his vaccination schedule, right? He’d be golden.