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My Boys and the Balinese Prophecy

Nearly ten years ago, before we were married, my wife and I spent a few weeks in Indonesia. At the very end of our trip, I found myself hurriedly buying gifts for friends at a roadside stand in Seminyak, Bali. For about $20, I filled a bag with the trinkets that every tourist takes home from paradise.

Within this haul, I picked up four small statuettes — about five inches tall and hand-carved from something resembling ivory (but not, of course, ivory). They probably cost a buck each. It wasn’t until we got home that I took a closer look. Of the four statuettes, the tallest was white, and, clearly, a man; the second-tallest was a brown woman.

“Check it out,” I said to my wife, “it’s us.”

The other two were nearly identical to one another: smaller, lighter brown, both with conspicuously carved dicks. One was slightly taller than the other.

“Looks like we’re going to have two boys,” I added with a nervous chuckle. Kids were still years away, but I already knew my wife would prefer to raise girls. She had her reasons.

A decade later, the prophecy of the statuettes is on the verge of coming true. Our first son will turn four in October. Assuming all goes well during my wife’s second pregnancyknock on wood — he’ll become a big brother in about four months, also in October. In fact, not only are we having another boy, the second’s due date is just two days after my first son’s birthday.

Conventional wisdom says that gender is randomly determined by the father’s sperm. My confirmation bias says otherwise. Among my friends, same-sex siblings are far more common than random distribution would suggest. Mine is a small sample, of course, but still — I don’t know many parents with the classic “one boy, one girl.” I believe that science will eventually identify factors or conditions that influence chromosomal dominance.

Then there’s the Balinese curse. Like Bobby Brady picking up that unlucky tiki statue in Hawaii, I set in stone the Koyen family’s destiny when I bought those four statuettes. For this, I must forever apologize to my wife.

Not that we have any regrets, and not that we could’ve done anything differently. So far, I’m good at being a boy’s father, and my wife loves having a devoted little boy who’s eager to smother his mommy with hugs and kisses. With apologies for hurting your feelings on gender normativeness, I’ll forever believe there’s a unique bond between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters.

Naturally, there are upsides to having same-sex siblings. Living in New York City, we’re forever short on space. Having a second boy means bunk beds until the first one leaves for college (and tough shit, boys). It means using the baby clothing we’ve assiduously stowed away for three-plus years. It means following the same playbook for potty training.

Then there are the fundamentals of raising boys, not girls. My friend, Matt, has two daughters, and I don’t envy his anxiety levels as they get older. He was already prematurely white-haired when we met a decade ago; I’m afraid he’ll go bald when his eldest’s first menses rolls into town. And, at the risk of stereotyping every little girl I’ve ever met, he suffered through years of Frozen before his firstborn was old enough for Star Wars.

On the other hand, at least Matt isn’t wiping urine off the toilet seat and tile floor several times each day. He doesn’t find himself saying — again and again — that you can’t flash your tiny little dong in public. He’ll never have to uncomfortably explain that, tempting as it may be, masturbating into socks isn’t the polite way to go about such things.

To the extent that my son understands the situation, he’s excited to become a big brother. He told his friends at daycare about the baby in his mother’s tummy; he’s promised to teach his little brother how to pet the dog. When we broach the subject of sharing his toys, he’s cautiously agreeable, with caveats over certain favorites that will remain off-limits.

And anyway, the next one is sure to throw us off course no matter what. All first-time parents learn on-the-job, and they learn to raise their own particular child. Every second-time parent I’ve met is quick to say that their next kid is completely unlike the first. They have different personalities, different demeanors, different tastes. I understand why some people decide to stop at one: Why fuck with things when you’ve finally gotten the hang of it?

We’re not foolish enough to expect a repeat performance. But, no matter what emerges from my wife’s womb in four months, a few things are certain: The boys will resent having such close birthdays; we’re not moving into a larger apartment anytime soon; and eventually, the laundry basket will be stuffed with crusty socks, no matter how awkwardly I try to explain things.