We’d all been obsessing over it for months by the time the due date was only a few weeks away. At Christmas we’d sat around the table munching on pizelles and rum balls, and sipping coffee with sambuca. We joked about the usual stuff: my dad’s abnormal distaste for cold weather, my grandmother’s potent quotables, the possibility my brother would come home from college one day wearing a green mohawk. All of it was mere fodder leading up to the pressing question on everyone’s mind: would there ever be a girl born into our family again?
At that point the family had rattled off a Joe DiMaggio-like streak of male children. Baseball cards and skinned knees and fist fights were regular, and somewhat welcomed, entities in our households. But you could tell a change was in the wind. You could feel it brewing up from the women in the family; my mother, grandmother, and aunts who were all hoping our new arrival would be a girl they could spoil and dress up in cute, little outfits with ribbons and bows.
“I think it’s gonna happen this time,” my mom said. “It’s gonna be a girl.”
“No way,” said my uncle. “In this family? We don’t know how to make girls.” And my other uncle, the dad-to-be, found this to be a perfect opportunity to defend his manhood.
“Don’t worry, guys,” he said comically flexing his Popeye-esque biceps. “My brothers and me, we’re like boy-making factories. You can probably expect much of the same.” But there was something in his voice, a softness maybe, a chink in the armor which told me beyond a shadow of a doubt that, secretly, he was hoping for a little girl too.
Of course, all the men hid behind the façade that we were all eawaiting some new stock to add to our ranks. And it was this stark contrast, this enduring battle between the sexes, which led us directly to gambling. That’s right, I said gambling.
“You know what?” my uncle added. “It would be real interesting if we started a pool.”
“A pool?” we all questioned at once.
“This isn’t football, Joe,” my aunt quipped only half-joking.
“I know, I know. I just think it’d be fun to see if any of us can guess the birth date and gender. Anyone up for it?” As trivial as it sounded, everyone was interested. After all, our attention to my aunt’s pregnancy had already been bordering on unhealthy obsession and we needed something to keep us going. I’m sure my aunt was thrilled to be pushed even further under the microscope.
We all formulated our guesses and it was generally assumed there would be an even split on the gender issue between the men and women in the family. But when the guesses were tallied up and shared with the group, a somewhat startling surprise was revealed.
I had jumped ship.
My guess lay in line with my mother’s and grandmother’s and aunts’ instead of with the men. I just had this strange premonition my aunt would go into labor on February 9. She did. And there were too many signs pointing to the baby being a girl than I could possibly ignore.
Among them was the way my uncle always shifted his eyes between the ceiling and the floor every time he swore he’d fathered an heir to his throne. But the overwhelming pull was a little rule of thumb I’d obtained from my uncle himself in one of our many football-related discussions. The girls were due for a win. Like a pitiful football team showing up each week against long odds, the women of our family were ready to push a few over the goal line and I knew it.
When my cousin was born on that winter day in February, amid light snow showers and crisp wind, she became exalted forever. She was more precious, more unique than any of the lazy snow flakes that fluttered past my window as I realized I had indeed won the pool against all odds.
They were odds, I realized the very first time I saw her lying in the cradle with her peach-fuzz strawberry blond hair, which paled greatly in comparison to the ones she’d face in a family that never quite had the opportunity to prepare itself for a girl. But they’re odds that have shaped her, and more than twenty years later the same truths still apply to our little girl.
She’s still as beautiful and unique and precious as the snowflakes that fell one February morning. And she always will be.