Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's a Boy

It took me quite some time to get over the shock of being pregnant (and yes, I know there are some who suspect I’ve never quite fully recovered, nigh on these 15 years). But once the initial tumult, hysteria and indignation had died down, I comforted myself with the fact that I knew the baby was a boy. It just seemed to make sense, since Emma, center of my known universe, wanted a brother.  When I was told that I was carrying a girl, I was, well, just a wee bit disappointed. (Translation: they could hear the wails from the sailboats at Lake Harriet.) I’d had it all worked out, and things hadn’t gone according to plan. Welcome to motherhood.

As the years passed, I began to see the lucky break I had gotten in giving birth to Mary Katherine, the world’s most female female (to quote Oscar Hammerstein II). I realized that I would have sucked as the mother of boys, at least sporty ones. (Arty ones who planned to go on to big careers in the American Musical Theater, well, that’s another story.) But as I bought heaps of dress up clothes, hosted nail polish parties and collected the stacks of fashion magazines from the incoming mail, I knew, in my heart, that I was never meant to be a mother of a son.

And then Emma had the brilliant idea that we should be the welcome family for an AFS exchange student this fall. “Fine,” I said, “but you pick the kid. You know my issues.” My issues, specifically, are that if you take me to an animal shelter, I am going to leave with the three-legged, blind, diabetic, pregnant and ugly dog, no doubt about it. And it’s not like I’m all self-righteous about my lack of discretion. I know I’m stupid, but I can’t help myself. 

Emma ran a few kids’ dossiers past me, and I was leaning toward Vipaporn, the girl from Thailand, because my first action upon meeting her would be to tell her that her new American name was Brittany. I thought I could save her. Emma, on the other hand, picked the kid who was in cuisine school in Paris, guess why. And also, he played American football, she told me. You’re the boss, I told her. Just make sure you make up a fresh bed for him.

Enter Hugo. In just about a month, this kid has challenged my memory of high school French, introduced me to the world of angry teachers who talk about failing grades, and, horribly, frightened me half to death with the ambulances that keep showing up at high school football games. He is a massive hunk of towering Gallic stamina. Hugging him is like sidling up to one of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame for a quick snuggle. He has already been the cause of more heartache and worry than our last exchange student, darling Angela, was in her entire nine months with us.

And yet.

He has twin brothers, both mentally handicapped, and just about the first thing he did when we met was to show me little booklets with photos of them. He has shown me pictures of his cat. He worries about his mother, Beatrice, worrying about him, and I think she worries about him worrying about her, and so it goes. What this budding chef can do with an onion is sheer poetry. And to watch him make a threadlike chiffonade of the humble basil leaves I tote in from the garden is, honestly, a thing of beauty. When I tell him that the girls at school are losing their minds over him, he honest-to-God blushes, and he tells me that he thinks he is “too timide” to ask anyone to the homecoming dance.

So, I started rethinking the whole boy thing.

On Friday afternoon, we went to his football game, goofily toting “HU” “GO” signs. It was all fine until the third quarter, when something not-so-good happened between his left arm and someone else’s helmet. Honestly, I thought, as we raced him out of the stadium, I am just not cut out for this. This giant boy was struggling so valiantly, and I found myself, on the ride to Twin Cities Orthopedics (which handily had a doctor right there at the game, handing out business cards!) cradling his head, wiping his tears, and holding his good hand as tightly as I could.

The news was as good as it could be, no break, and we got him home, cleaned him up, and fed him mac and cheese. I felt as if I’d been through a Roller Derby of epic proportions, but he was cheerful at the thought that his season was not finished. A friend told me, “You’re going to have to pace yourself,” and I began to think about how helpful a nice stiff Xanax prescription might be to get me through the rest of the season. Or the rest of the year.

He told me today, “you are my second maman,” and I knew it was true, and I also knew that, despite his handsome visage, I’ve got one heck of a three-legged, blind, diabetic dog on my hands. Still, I hope that I can learn to be the mother of a son in the months to come, because I believe in this boy – in his fierce courage, his unwillingness to back down, his lack of ego and pretense. I see what is noble in him, and in what he loves. Even if I never learn what a first down is, and even if I attend his upcoming games with a rosary in hand and a bottle of Vicodin in my purse, just in case, I know that our time together will be worth the effort.

Allez, Hugo, nombre quarante trois.


  1. Hurricane Hugo, part deux? Sounds like a perfect storm.

  2. Love it! You know they make these nice little silver things that hold a wee bit of vodka or Bailey's ... and fit in your purse! Perfect for games! ;-)

  3. Total contrast! I THINK we have an exchange student living with us, but I have to keep reminding myself. He doesn't often find good reason to break away from his computer (Twins game? no thanks. Art museum? no thanks. School picnic? Went last year. It was terrible.) The upside is, we aren't at major risk for emergency orthopedic visits.