We were walking in Central Park. We followed the music to the outdoor skating rink, where a figure skating competition was about to begin. We paused to watch, bundled up and runny-nosed, as little girls in bright pink leotards with miniature, flowy skirts twirled on the ice below, practicing for one more minute.
A tiny girl in pink took her place at the center of the huge, empty rink, quivering, poised. The music boomed to life, and she lifted her arms, fingers intentional, every inch exact. She launched into her choreographed dance across the shining ice, posing as she went, one hip cocked, her body language stylized, coordinatedly flirtatious. She was so small and spindly out there in the cold, a flash of color, her legs working. And for some reason it made me start to cry. I pretended not to be crying, because, COME ON. Can we just let a kid be a friggin’ kid for a second and not a kid-shaped funnel for all of the meaning in the world?
Nope. Too many pregnancy hormones.
I felt like I was being slammed in the heart with this: one girl, purposeful and nervous, alone in the middle of the towering city, her face intent, fragile.
This is being a girl, said my brain. Not in a particularly dramatic, artistic way. Not as though I am so profound. Just, yes, this is a part of girlhood. Of growing up female. Part of it is you, alone with your body, performing for the crowd. You’ve memorized the poses, the smiles, the little feminine twirls and the teasing hand on the hip. Even if you don’t do them, you know all about them. And this performance of femininity, it’s a little dangerous—your skin is bare in the middle of the winter, and you are told to smile and to keep smiling, but you are also always a fraction of an inch from slipping and hitting the hard ice.
I am scared of having a girl. Maybe that’s why I have convinced myself I’m having a boy.
I can’t believe that I was once a little girl. That I learned all this. Not this, exactly. Please, I was never graceful. No one talked to me in ballet class. But I learned. Not the leotard, necessarily, but the way that eyes land on me, the way my body is on display, the ways to move that are considered lovely and the ways that aren’t. The practice and performance of femininity. And something about that aloneness that is hard for me to articulate.
Tomorrow, I will see my baby on that blurry screen, little organs lit up, spine undulating delicately, with a whole brain already alert inside a proper skull. I will wear something loose and elegant for the occasion, something that I can pull up easily so it won’t get goo on it. I have scheduled brunch at our favorite brunch place, and I am planning on asking the technician to write the baby’s sex in an envelope, so that we can open it, just Bear and me, alone at our table, probably while waiting for omelets. I’ve felt this whole time like it’s a boy, but now I am beginning to think I might be wrong. Really, it could go either way, of course. And it already has. I already have a son, or I already have a daughter. It’s insane.
I used to skate a lot, too. During the winter, our local homeschool hang out group met every Friday morning at the rundown community skating rink. I started skating when I was seven or so, but I wasn’t good at it—not like the girls in Central Park in their leotards. I kept tripping on the toe pick. So one day, after years and years of clinging to the wall, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could wear hockey skates, even though only boys had them. I asked my mom if I could get some, and she took me to a used sporting goods store in some guy’s garage and we found a pair that fit me perfectly. They were chunky and black and white and snub-nosed and fat-laced, and they didn’t have toe picks. I loved them immediately. And almost just as quickly, I became a good skater. I could finally go fast, which is what I’d always wanted to do. I’d never wanted to do pretty spins. I wanted to skate backwards and play tag and do those quick stops that sent up an explosion of shaved ice. I could do those things now. I was a holy terror on blades, zipping in between people, around slow-moving gushy couples on a corny date, pissing off the skate guard. I was free! My cheeks stung and I was dying of thirst, and I stripped off layers and layers because I was suddenly hot. It was amazing.
I still have a pair of hockey skates. They’re in my front closet, on the shelf, high up. A few times in the city, a guy would take me on a date to the rink, and he would wobble around, slowing me to a frigid crawl, until finally I broke away and tore off on my own. And then he would be really surprised and a little confused and I would grin and feel badass.
The little girl in the middle of that same rink yesterday was anything but slow. I was cheering for her in my head. And for the next one. For every single one of them, brave and exposed and smiling precisely. There was something helpless in the scene, something scary, but the girls on the ice pivoted and glided neatly. Each one looked as though she believed she had to be there. She wasn’t really delicate—she was an athlete. She was competent and fierce. She was competing, and she didn’t miss anything this time, even though she fell while warming up.
“What if we have a daughter?” said Bear, just behind me.
“What if we do!” I said, overwhelmed. I haven’t let myself think about it, all this time. It just doesn’t seem possible. What if we have a daughter?
When I glanced down there was a little girl, maybe four years old, by my side, riveted, wide-eyed, staring down at the girl on the ice. A few minutes later she was replaced by a boy around the same age, dangling backwards off the railing, snot on his face, sticking his tongue out and then bellowing, “Mom! Mom! Mom! Can we go now?”
God. I don’t even know.
I am scared of having a daughter because of all the ways that it’s been hard to be me.
But for some reason, the figure skating girls made me feel better. It was weird for them to have that effect. They were out there, doing it, shoulders back, despite the silliness of their tiny skirts. They were confident with knives on their feet, cutting the ice. They were balancing on the surface of something big and difficult, and they were even managing to dance while they were there.
(photo by my amazing, talented friend Lucy)
There is something triumphant about being a girl. I am proud of girls, as a group.
“Would we let our daughter do this?” Bear asked me doubtfully.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess if she wanted to.” What do I know about being a parent? Obviously nothing.
But I think I might suggest that she try hockey skates, too. Maybe even first. There is a chance that, like her mother, she might just want to go fast, so fast that sometimes it almost feels like flying.
* * *
Did any of you guys ever figure skate? I want to hear more about it!
If you have kids, did you get that “feeling” that it was a boy or a girl while you were pregnant? Were you right?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look halfway through my pregnancy, with my belly popping. Finally!
P.S. I linked to it in the text, but in case you missed that and want to check out my Mirror Mirror column about pregnancy and body image and how I feel much more practical about my body now than I’ve ever felt, please go right ahead. Yup, still writing a lot about pregnancy. Trying not to apologize for it.
Oh, and the giveaway is still happening, if you want to enter to win $100 to spend on gorgeous, gorgeous stuff at Shabby Apple