"Awww," said the woman peering into the pram at my chunky and impossibly delicious baby son. "That's right, lady," I thought, "'Awww' is the correct reaction."
"Don't worry," she said, squeezing my hand. "Maybe you'll get a girl next time."
Record scratch, freeze-frame. Yep, that's me. You're probably wondering how I got here. Well, lean in and I'll tell you. But lean in close, because Paw Patrol is on very loud in the other room and I can barely hear myself think.
I am a mother of boys. Three, in fact. Add in my husband and I am the only female in a family of four men (well, one and three-quarter men – great idea for a TV show). Our dog is a lady, but walkies and the conundrum of who exactly is a good girl are her main conversational gambits, so it's only me.
Me in a house full of Pokemon cards and toilet seats left up and dinosaurs and play fights and an inability to sit still and debating the merits of Super Cat Speed over Super Gekko Sense (PJ Masks, look it up) and Lego, so much Lego, in the beds, the cereal, my clothes.
My sons are aged 7, 4 and 1, and I have lost count of the number of times people have asked me if I'm disappointed I don't have a girl. And rightly or wrongly (but mostly rightly, because I am mummy and mummy is always right), what I actually hear when I'm asked that question is: "So, which of your sons do you regret the most?"
"Come on," I hear them plea as they metaphorically grasp my shoulders in wide-eyed desperation. "Admit that you regret these boys. Three sons? No one wants that! So, tell me now which of them you would swap for a girl if you could?"
Perhaps women's overriding desire for girl babies over boy babies has always existed. But since the advent of social media, expectant mothers' publicly stated preferences for girls has gone mainstream. Peruse any interview with a pregnant celebrity and the first thing they're likely to say is they're "hoping for a girl", an admission perfectly encapsulated for the modern age by comments by that barometer of online celebrity fame, Chrissy Teigen, who chose to have a daughter in 2016 when she took the IVF route to motherhood. "I picked the girl from her little embryo. I picked her and was like, 'Let's put in the girl'."
Teigen said she wanted a girl because of how “mushy and excited” men apparently get around their daughters. When it came to her second child, a boy who was born last year, she merely offered this: “I said our next baby would be a boy because that is the embryo we have left. A boy. So. Yeah.”
No "mushiness" this time around, because, you know, boys. Shrug emoji.
Instagram, the lifeblood of our look-at-me culture, offers a platform like no other for like-chasing celebrities, influencers and normals to show off their babies – and it's always the girls more than the boys who are presented as little fashion accessories, dressed as unicorns and mermaids, in tutus and sequins and ballet shoes and those pink bow headbands.
Let’s run a quick check, shall we? #babygirl, 64.8 million posts. #babyboy, 51.9 million.
A visit to any online parenting forum yields hundreds of posts dedicated to gender disappointment – not having given birth to the gender of child they wanted – and 99 per cent of the time, it's women who are devastated they got a boy when what they really wanted was a girl. But simply because you want one, doesn't mean I do, too. This, ladies and gentlemen, is called "projecting".
Once upon a time, boys were the babies of choice, needed as they were to work the fields, go to war, ensure the family estate didn't get passed off to some mad uncle and, if Vikings has taught us anything, help with pillaging, fishing and shipbuilding – but mainly pillaging. But while ploughing and shipbuilding (and pillaging) are all well and good, the sad fact remains, mothers of boys, that your sons will not look cute when they're knee deep in freezing cold water off the English coast eying an unsuspecting village to ransack, because apparently you cannot buy cute clothes for boys.
Ah, the "uncuteness" of boys' clothes in relation to the adorableness of girls' clothes is another example of the gender shade that has been thrown my way. "But you can't dress little boys up in cute little dresses the way you can with girls," people have lamented on my behalf, as if my entire raison d'etre was to have my salary paid directly to Monsoon Kids and now all my hopes have been dashed.
Now might be a fun time to pick over some of the other things people have said to me as a MOB (Mother Of Boys)...
1. ‘You’ll never be the mother of the bride’
An astute observation. I will be mother of the groom instead, which … why isn’t that a thing? I shall dedicate my life to making it a thing. But what if your daughter chooses not to get married? Then you’ll never be mother of the bride, either. Just a thought.
2. ‘A son is a son until he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter for the rest of your life’
Yes, I have had this quoted at me. A thoughtful old saying that I think dates back to the year fourteen-hundred-and-shut-your-face. The implication being that once some young ladies get their claws into my sons, then my fickle, lovestruck progeny will drop me at the nearest old people's home with nary a backwards glance, leaving me to a life of soup eating and shawl wearing.
Well, allow me to retort: why wouldn't my daughters-in-law and I love each other like mother and daughters? What if they have terrible relationships with their own mothers and look to me to fill that role? To be honest, I'll happily give my blessing to any woman who'll remember to buy me birthday presents because, as I have been informed, that's yet another thing my grown-up sons will suck at.
3. ‘Are you going to try for a girl next time?’
A common misconception about me is that I'm going to keep on trying until I get a girl, a reaction that got out of hand recently when I floated the idea of maybe having a fourth. "You'll be just like David and Victoria Beckham," people assured me in reference to the celebrity couple who welcomed little Harper in 2011 after having three boys.
"A girl at last!" I imagine Victoria cried at the 12-week scan. "Take my other three children, whose names I have now forgotten, down to the docks immediately and get what money you can for them, then drive me straight to Girls Dresses R Us to spend the proceeds."
4. ‘Do your boys have long hair because you secretly want to have a girl?’
Do you wear wellies because you secretly want to be a farmer? Do you eat fish because you secretly want to be a dolphin? For the last time, hair length has nothing to do with gender preference. Their hair is long because I dig the wild-boy, Mowgli-esque, surfer-dude look. Plus, it really, really annoys some people, which I kind of get a kick out of.
Are there differences between how little girls behave compared to little boys? One hundred per cent. I was at football last weekend (I live at football, by the way) and a woman arrived with her one-year-old twin girls. She laid out a picnic blanket and – I cannot stress this enough – they sat down on it and played nicely. Put my three boys on a picnic blanket and within 30 seconds one will be wrapped up in it pretending to be a sausage roll, one will be riding the sausage roll and the other will be attempting to eat the sausage roll. Would some actual sitting down be great? Yes, but what's a picnic without sausage rolls?
So, you really want to know what's it like to live in a house full of boys? It's loud. Very loud. After all, why talk when you can shout? Walk when you can run? Play nicely when you can beat your brother up with a Buzz Lightyear? Eat a banana when you can peel it and store it in your pocket?
And you know what? It’s totally fun 99 per cent of the time. OK, that’s an exaggeration, maybe 88 per cent is more realistic.
Here's the thing: I'm raising the boys who are going to be dating and marrying your daughters one day. So ask me if I'm teaching them about environmental issues and mental health and feminism. Just stop asking me if I want a girl.