Legends and Old Mothers' Tales

Pregnancy is a time when suddenly everyone wants to give you advice and tell you stories and expound on theories. Everyone has a Grand Pregnancy and Baby-raising Theory and they will tell you about it in detail without the slightest provocation. And your mother, if she was a mother before you were, will be the worst of them all.
  It started very early on with us. No sooner had we gotten off the plane from Florida and retrieved our luggage than my parents, who were unavoidably picking us up at the airport, started.
  ``We saw a woman with her baby the other day,'' said my mother, ``and he was a momma's boy! He wouldn't leave her for one second. That's what happens when you let the baby sleep in the same bed with you.''
 ``I thought it would be okay,'' I hazarded, ``while they were very young.''
  ``Oh no,'' said my dad, ``You do that, and you'll never get them out of your bed.''
  ``Okay,'' my wife and I answered. We figured we might as well just take in whatever was offered a this point, keeping in mind Mike's advice to expect nothing.
  ``But we won't give you advice,'' said my dad. ``If you want to call us up and ask us a question, we'll try and help you out, but we won't give you advice unless you ask.''
  And he meant it, too. I guess just not the way, say, I would mean it.

And my goodness, the things mothers will roll their eyes at.
  Dawn and I went out for dinner with her mother and sister and brother and her sister's boyfriend. My mother-in-law wanted to know why Dawn wasn't ordering iced tea. I don't know why she would wonder this, since Dawn hardly ever orders iced tea, but there you go.
  ``I shouldn't have caffeine, Mom,'' answered Dawn.
  My mother-in-law rolled her eyes. ``You know, we had caffeine back when I was pregnant, nobody told us not to have caffeine, and you all turned out okay.''
  I expect we'll be hearing this a lot, about one thing or another. My mother, for example, will go on about how she smoked thirty packs of cigarettes and drank a 55-gallon drum of coffee a day the entire time she was pregnant with me, and I turned out okay.
  I am unconvinced. I've seen the kids that were born in my generation, and frankly, something screwed us up. Maybe it wasn't caffeine and inter-uterine nicotine, but on the roulette wheel of life, you only get one chance, and you might as well hedge your bet and skip the mutagens and carcinogens, just in case.

At that selfsame dinner, Eric, my brother-in-law, who is nineteen years old and going to engineering school, asked me if I had my socks on when Dawn and I had sex.
  ``Had my what on?'' I asked.
  ``Your socks, your socks,'' he repeated.
  ``What the hell difference does it make if I had my socks on?''
  Dawn's mother took up the thread. ``Eric's father had his socks on, that's why Eric was a boy.''
  I had nothing to say to that.

Before we discovered we were pregnant, my wife and I were subjected to some wonderful theories on conception as well. When we'd been having no luck for two years and medical science had been having its way with us, Dawn's mother decided to pass on the solution to our troubles.
  ``When you have sex,'' she said, somewhat tentatively--my mother-in-law is a terrible prude--``have it from the back, and it will work.''
  ``From the back?'' I said, trying to sound incredulous.
  ``Yes,'' she said, ``You get behind her.''
  I knew what she was talking about, but this was too much fun. ``I get behind her? How does that work? Am I standing?''
  ``No, you're not standing,'' she said, and groped for a set of words she considered clean that would convey her meaning. It turned out she didn't have any. ``You know,'' she added.
  ``I'm a little confused,'' I continued. ``I'm behind her? Which way should I be facing?''
  But then Dawn came over and made me stop.

Just about everyone told us we had to be relaxed to conceive a baby, too. That was a big one. ``Go on vacation,'' said one, ``but it's gotta be for two weeks. One week isn't enough.'' ``Spend a quiet weekend at home,'' another told us. ``Quit your jobs and move to the woods,'' said yet another.
  Who am I to argue?

Now we're getting into the sex of the baby. For as long as women have been having babies, I think, people have been coming up with ways of telling whether the unborn baby is a boy or a girl. Even today, despite perfectly good, accurate, and scientific ways of determining the sex, people are passing along their theories.
  ``If you carry very high, it's a boy,'' explains my mother, ``and if it's low, it's a girl.''
  The logical question is, what if it's in the middle? But I haven't asked that yet.
  Already I'm at odds with my mother, though. She doesn't understand why we're willing to be told the baby's sex before it's born. We figure, why not? It's going to be a surprise one way or the other, so it's really just a question of when we get surprised.
  I mean, think of our friends, Adam and Christy. They just had a bouncing baby girl a few months ago and during the pregnancy they didn't want to know the sex of their baby; so they actually had to turn away from the ultrasounds so they couldn't see it. How silly is that?
  Some people say, ``Well, if you know the sex, then you can order all your gifts in the right color.'' That's pretty silly, I think. Sometimes I think it might be fun to dress our child in the opposite color--pink for a boy and blue for a girl--just so people would get it wrong. Not that the colors help some people anyway. Dyan told us about a time she was out with her daughter, who she dressed in a pink outfit with flowers and bows and even tied a little thing on her head, and a woman standing on line with them said, ``Oh, what a big boy!'' There's simply no hope for some people. Nevertheless, I'd be afraid to switch colors on my kid, for fear he would grow up to wear dresses or she would grow up to play field hockey. I once knew a kid whose mother used to dress him up like a girl, and what a mess he was--he didn't make a very pretty girl at all.
  Some mothers claim to be able to know the baby's sex without the intervention of medical science. Dawn, for instance, is convinced that we're going to have a boy. How does she know? It's magic. Of course, this is magic that might work, since, at worst, she has a fifty percent chance of being right. Those are very good odds for getting it right, but very bad odds for a scientific method-minded husband, since there's little chance I'll prove her wrong. And anyway, what do I know? Maybe she can tell what sex it is. Women are mysterious, after all.
  My mother also claims to have known what sex, at least, I was when I was still in utero. In fact, as she told my wife, I was conceived in the front seat of a Lincoln. My mother told me this years ago. But what she never told me, but which she told poor Dawn, was that the instant my father pulled out, she knew she was pregnant and she knew it was a boy. By that time, my parents had been dating maybe a couple of months.
  When my brother-in-law Eric heard this story, he said, ``Yuck. If I ever even considered owning a Lincoln, that story totally destroyed that idea.''
  ``Look at it this way,'' I countered, ``In what other type of car would there be enough room to conceive a child, especially for someone as tall as my dad?''

Then come the theories about twins. According to both of our mothers, twins skip one generation, and we're next. I don't know who came up with this theory, but independently, our mothers have taken this as gospel truth: There are twins, in families susceptible to such things, every other generation. My mother's mother had twins, who sadly died while infants. And apparently Dawn's mother's mother's mother had twins or something. How this all fits together I have no idea, but then I'm not supposed to.
  I suppose, though, that since Dawn was on Clomid at one point, we might have a slightly higher chance of this being a multiple pregnancy. I say, the more the merrier! This way we can get our entire child-raising time done in one block and be free to enjoy our lives--twenty years from now.
  But we have been warned by our older friend, Connie, who has two children, one around twelve and the other around eight: ``Children are not arithmetic, they're geometric. Two children take four times as much work as one.''

My favorite sex-determination theory to date, though, was again advanced by Dawn's mother. We were visiting Dawn's maternal grandparents, two little ancient Italians from Philadelphia, in their tiny row home. Dawn and her mother and grandmother and I sat around the kitchen table while Dawn's grandmother heaped cavatelli on our plates.
  ``You look really good, Dawn,'' said her mother. ``Your complexion cleared up and everything.''
  ``Thanks,'' answered Dawn, willing at this point to take anything as a compliment.
  ``You know, if you get a mask, it's a girl,'' Dawn's mother told us.
  I remained silent, but Dawn was not so wise. ``A mask?'' she asked.
  ``Yeah, a mask,'' Dawn's mother explained. When Dawn continued to look confused--I kept my face carefully neutral--she went on: ``If the mother starts to get very ugly, if her face starts to look old and drawn, that means that the baby is going to be a girl who looks just like her mother, because the baby is pulling her beauty from the mother.''
  I got up to leave so I could laugh quietly elsewhere. As I was leaving, she added, ``And if the mother gets pretty, then her baby is a boy, because boys who look like their mothers are handsome and girls who look like their fathers are beautiful. And you got pretty, so it's probably a handsome boy.''
  I saw my moment to gain points and jumped on it. ``I object,'' I declared. ``My wife didn't get pretty, my wife got prettier.'' And I kissed her on the top of her head and went into the living room to commiserate with my brother- and grandfather-in-law. At least they understand me and I understand them.
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