CHAPTER ONE: Three Lines
My wife is not the kind of person who is willing to be surprised.
As a kid, she would sneak downstairs two weeks before Christmas in the dead of night to carefully unwrap and rewrap her Christmas presents. Three months short of her fiftieth birthday she told me that it would be at my peril if I failed to disclose to her any attempts on her friends’ part to throw her a surprise party.
“If they ask you for help getting me someplace so they can surprise me, you had better tell me first,” she said.
“Won’t that ruin the surprise?” I asked her.
She sighed. “Don’t you know me at all? After twenty-five years? Do you still not know me?”
“Yeah, I know you. I was just kidding.” She hates to be surprised. I know that.
I’m different. I can put anything out of my mind until the very moment it first needs my full attention. And I don’t mind being surprised. I would have been happy to find out my first kid’s gender at the very moment he emerged red-faced and screaming into the world. So, when my wife told me that we were going to the doctor’s office for a sonogram I didn’t really see it as necessary.
“What for?” I asked her. “Knowing what we’re having won’t make any difference. It will be a nice surprise.” She looked at me like I was nuts and told me to get in the car.
To be fair (and honest), I didn’t really expect a surprise because I already knew that we were having a son. I knew it with the same level of assurance that I know the moon will wax and wane. From the moment my wife had told me she was pregnant I began picturing myself playing catch with my son in the yard. I was going to be a great father of boys—my whole life pointed to it.
So, I didn’t need to go the sonogram appointment to find out that we were having a son. I did of course, but only because it seemed like something a husband should do.
The event itself was just like it is depicted on TV and in the movies. I remember noting that in my mind because, so few things are. The nurse passed the magic wand over my wife’s abdomen and muttered vaguely soothing things about the development of our baby while I watched the monitor without really understanding what I was seeing.
“So,” she said. “Everything looks good here folks. Do you want to know your baby’s gender?”
“Of course,” my wife immediately said.
“Dad?” The nurse asked me.
“Sure,” I responded a little smugly, already knowing the answer. My wife looked at me strangely, sensing that there was something odd in my tone.
“You’re going to have a little girl,” the nurse said happily.
Now I’m the kind of guy who by nature will rely on the advice of a professional unless it is clear to me that they are mistaken on some basic level. I sign my tax return when my accountant sends it to me, and I get a crown when my dentist tells me I’m going to lose the tooth if I don’t. I don’t ask a lot of questions. In my own job as a lawyer, I’m happy (kind of) to answer my clients’ questions but I usually think they are things that I would likely take on faith if I was in their shoes. It’s just how I’m hardwired. So, my response to the nurse (who obviously knew what she was doing) was very out of character.
“Wait,” I said. “You had better check that again.”
“OK,” she replied calmly, “but I don’t really have to. It’s very clear,” she said, pointing to the bottom of the screen. “Do you see those three lines?”
“Yeahhhh, I do. But that means it’s a boy, right?” My wife looked at me like I was crazy.
“Dave, how do you know that?” She looked at the nurse. “Don’t listen to him, he has no idea what he’s talking about.” The nurse had that professional patience look on her face, probably the same one I used when a client was telling me things about my job that had no basis in reality.
“No sir, three lines isn’t a penis. That’s not what three lines mean. Three lines is a vagina.”
“What would be a boy then?” I asked.
“Three dots are a boy. Look right here. That’s clearly three lines.” I thought about that for a second.
“But there could be a mistake, right? You would have to admit that there are occasions when the sonogram is incorrect.”
“Dave!” My wife exclaimed. “Don’t cross-examine her. We’re having a daughter. Just accept that.”
“That’s OK,” the nurse said laughing. “I’m sure that there have been times where a sonogram has been misinterpreted. But I don’t think this is one of those cases. It’s very clear to me that you are going to be the father of a daughter.”
And so, I was.
Eighteen months later I was back in that same doctor’s office with my wife for a second sonogram, only with a slightly different attitude. This time I wasn’t smugly expecting to be told that we were having a son, I was just (well) confident. I still had images of me teaching my son to hunt and fish (things I did not know how to do myself), but they were a bit murkier than they had been before my first daughter was born.
So, I was watching the screen carefully this time while the nurse waived the wand, looking for those three dots that I felt sure(ish) would appear . . . and darn if there weren’t three lines again.
“Hm,” I said. “A girl?”
“Yup,” the nurse said. “Three lines.” And she smiled.
I only went to the sonogram of my third daughter to support my wife and because it was a comfort to see our baby developing healthily. I didn’t need to be told what her gender was because I already knew. When the nurse pointed out those three lines I just smiled. I had been raising daughters for awhile by then and was content with that.
Surprisingly, when we were back in the car heading home my wife said that she had been kind of hoping for three dots.
“Yeah, I guess that’s my fault,” I said, knowing that it was the sperm that determines gender. “I’m just spitting out those X chromosomes.” She looked at my sympathetically.
“Does that make you sad?”
“Not a bit,” I said. “I love our daughters. I guess I was planning on having son for some reason, but that’s just not going to happen.”
The Minivan Centurion should make plans, but he shouldn’t hold on to them very tightly. Plans are just one of the ways that men make God laugh.