Oh, for the love of boys

When it became obvious that I was pregnant for the third time, one question predominated. Not the pertinent, “What were you thinking?’‘, but, because we had two boys already, the more polite, “Are you hoping for a girl?’‘

I wondered whether, if I had two girls instead of boys, people would have felt so readily able to say, “Are you hoping for a son?’’ There is still a lurid aspect to the popular imagination about the concept of many boys living — or festering — together under one roof. To have a household in which the feminine input is swamped by testosterone apparently invites the prospect of living in a re-enactment of Lord of the Flies.

Despite the relentless bad press that gangs of men, even small ones, get, the truth was that no, I was not hoping for a girl.
Having a third child was enough of a shock; having one who might not enjoy Batman figures, being hit with sticks by siblings and Pro Evolution Soccer on the PlayStation was terrifying.

Henry was confirmed as a “he’’ at the 20-week scan. “Were you hoping for a girl?’’ sympathised the radiographer.

Since Henry joined Alfie (seven) and George (three, “nearly four’‘), reactions have also been predictable. “Ooh, three boys,’’ say people, whistling over their teeth, as if they were plumbers inspecting a dodgy stopcock. Other parents of three or more boys chortle in sympathy or just nod in glazed silent recognition of this most unfortunate predicament.

The midwife, who had also come to weigh and measure the first two, was outraged. “This is no good,’’ she said, wagging her head at Henry’s recumbent form. “You have to have another one and you have to have a girl — there are too many men in this house.’’ Much as I enjoy our quadrennial get-together over my abdominal scar, I am afraid I can’t oblige.

My husband who, when our second son was born, confessed to being fractionally disappointed it was not a girl, has since changed his mind, discovering that two allies are better than one and three would be better still. He looks at our baby, who still gazes at me with the desperate adoration of an alcoholic looking at a brewery, and confidently asserts, “You will come over to my side eventually.’‘

There was further reason for cheer when some scientists discovered that giving birth to boys gives women traces of Y chromosomes in their bones, which may help guard against osteoporosis. At least I think this is what the report said, but as the radio news report was drowned out by the sound of a Megazord battling a nude Action Man, I can’t be totally sure. The fact that men leave genetic material lying around in their mothers’ bones should come as no surprise to those who have had to fish their socks out from under the sofa or retrieve stray shin pads from the top of a bookcase.

The most positive comment about producing three boys was “halfway to a football team’‘, which is both numerically incorrect and unfairly raised the hopes of my eldest son, who thought we might actually be able to produce the remaining eight members needed for a squad, which he would of course captain.

Really, being outnumbered by four to one in my own house ought to be a source of some regret. I will never be called on to dress a Bratz doll, or do as my mother did for me — just the once — and fashion a tiny duvet out of an old dressing gown for a knitted squirrel. Nothing in our house outside my wardrobe is pink. My middle son briefly treasured a cast-off My Little Pony before it joined the other fractured plastic detritus at the bottom of a box. They do have artistic interests — Alfie is keen on photography, though I had to stop him from paying George to drop his trousers so he could “take pictures of something gross”.

Being daughterless has a hidden upside: as well as not having to worry about buying any new clothes/toys/bedrooms for number three, I am relieved of the arduous task of relaying what one friend’s mother described as “womancraft’‘. I do not know exactly what this is, but I am fairly sure I would have failed an exam in it. I am much more comfortable sitting on the sidelines of Saturday morning football practice restraining myself from shouting, “Take his legs!’’ too loudly, while his father tuts and carries on reading the recipes in the Saturday supplements.

I have amazed my children (and myself) by building the whole of Hogwarts castle in tiny bits of Lego, and have reluctantly bowed to the scatological tendencies of small boys by inventing inappropriate lyrics to the irritating Fimbles’s literacy song.

I worry, though, that so far none of my children has shown an appetite for interiors magazines or gossip. But otherwise I am happy to trade the potential companionship of a daughter for extended periods of peace where I can relax, free from the difficult business of being a 24/7 role model.

Alarmingly, a colleague asked, “Who is going to take care of you when you are old?’’ Being optimistic (apparently), I like to think that, despite being male, my sons will not in fact abandon me in what will be an unbelievably extended old age, but will have inherited their father’s unlimited patience with small children and old people. I am resigned, however, to making most of the phone calls — there is only so much nurture can undo. — Â

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