Nearly five years ago I found out I was expecting my son, and I was a little nervous. After growing up with two sisters, I assumed I was destined to have daughters. I remember telling someone shortly after that 20-week ultrasound that I had no idea how to even play with a boy - all I knew was Barbies and baby dolls.
I quickly learned that boys are a ton of fun, and I have loved playing dinosaurs, trucks and superheroes with my son.
When I learned that we could be welcoming a daughter nearly four years after Dominic was born, I felt an inkling of disappointment - for him. I worried that he would be missing out on the experience of having a brother, and I fretted they wouldn't be friends thanks to the age gap and their different genders.
My daughter will turn 1 year in a couple of months, and it didn't take long after she arrived for me to realize the gift she's been given by having a big brother. Watching the two of them play together is an experience like no other, and I can't wait to watch them develop their own special friendship.
But even more than their bond, I am happy to see that my daughter will grow up in a house where she will learn things I never did.
She'll have a playmate who will teach her to jump off couches and show her how to play football. She'll see that dinosaurs and trucks are just as much fun to play with as baby dolls and Barbies. She'll understand what it means to be a superhero with any superpower she chooses, because that's what her brother does every day.
In a world where everything is divided into gendered categories, I am glad to know my daughter will see both sides.
While pregnant with my daughter, I read Chimamanda Adichie's book "Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions". It offered many important points about raising women who understand what equality means as well as how language shapes that understanding, but the most important point I took from the book was that true feminism is about choice. If my daughter wants to play with Barbie dolls, great. I have no problem with that. But if she wants to play with action figures instead, I'll let her. As long as she realizes that both offer the same entertainment and delight, I have no problem with the choice she makes.
And the same goes for my son. Once my daughter starts receiving more stereotypical "girl" toys, I hope he realizes he can play with them too. I'll feel much more comfortable about his emotional wellbeing if he learned at an early age what it means to nurture and care for someone else. Right now that someone else is his sister, and I'm grateful for that. I hope he always realizes the important gift he's been given, just as she has been given one by having a big brother.
I'm grateful for my experience of being a little and big sister as the second of three daughters, but I am aware that my children will have an entirely different one based on their different genders. And I can't wait to see what that experience is.
Note: While the title of Adichie's book contains the word "feminism", it's actually more of a guidebook for raising good humans and less about raising feminists. I've recommended it to several parents - of both boys and girls - because I think everyone needs to understand what it means to raise children in a world focused more on equality and dignity and less on stereotypes and traditional gender roles.