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Gender Bender

I don't know why so many pregnant folks race to the nearest ultrasound machine the second their fetus is old enough to announce its gender. As far as I'm concerned, not knowing exactly what you're getting is half the fun of pre-parenting. (The other half occurred during my wife's final week of hugeness, when she couldn't extract herself from a broom closet. But that's another column. Or perhaps a book.)

I have always liked the fact that Cracker Jack boxes say "Surprise Inside!" rather than "Ridiculously Cheap and Tiny Plastic Magnifying Glass Inside!" For the same reason, I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing until the messy moment of truth if my newest relative was a future president of the United States or a future beauty queen-turned-president of the United States.

Well, to be honest, there wasn't that much suspense. You see, the same instinctive voice that tells me to eat, breathe, multiply and avoid daytime TV kept whispering, "It's a girl! It's a girl!"

My wife received identical mental bulletins. So did nearly everyone we met. Complete strangers would eye the mass that was once her waistline and conclude, "You're carrying the baby high. That means it's a girl!" Others would say, "You're carrying the baby low. That means it's a girl." Still others would opine, "If you carry a baby high or low, it's a boy. Yours is in the middle. It's a girl."

Usually, these free-lance psychics were thrilled for us. But not always. During my wife's fifth or sixth trimester (it was a long pregnancy), we vacationed in Jamaica, where it is considered a sign of incredible good fortune if your firstborn is male. "I'm so sorry," one islander said after sizing us up as definite girl-makers. "Perhaps you will find happiness at any rate." While the woman surely intended to console us, her tentative delivery of the word "perhaps" made us feel like we'd be damned lucky if we weren't attacked by swarms of rabid, plague-infested bats on the way home from the hospital.

Back home we consulted our Ouija board, which spelled out, "It's a girl." We went to one of those plastic fortune-telling eight-ballsMDRV for a second-hundredth opinion: "Trust your instincts." Just to be safe, we returned to the Ouija board. "Trust the eight-ball,"

it told us.
So we knew.
To cover all our bases, we spent about three seconds dickering over what we'd name the kid if it turned out to be a (chortle) boy. For the remainder of the wait, we wrestled with girls' names, day and night. Taking a shower, I'd suddenly scream, "Rachael!"

"Absolutely not!" my wife would holler back. "I knew a Rachael in fourth grade. She was a creep with ringworm who'd always shake her head over our open lunchboxes. What about Rebecca?"

"No. That was the name of the first girl I ever danced with. We did the `Mashed Potato'. The little snob is probably still laughing at the memory. How about Kim?"

"Ptooey! All the Kims I ever knew were cheerleaders."
You never realize how many people you've hated over the years until you try to name a kid.

We didn't come to an agreement on this matter until my wife gave her final delivery room push and screamed, "Kate!" Yep. That was the perfect name, all right. And it remained perfect all the way to the official medical proclamation, "Looks like you've got yourselves a boy!"

Obviously, a grave error had been made. But how? I'd heard of hospitals accidentally switching babies, although I'd never heard of it happening so early. I mean, the umbilical cord was still attached! Even the most absent-minded medicos would have a hard time losing track of a baby that was still connected to its mother.

I promptly inspected the kid, hoping to find a strawberry birthmark or some other clue that might tip us off to the identity of his real parents (who were no doubt oohing and aahing over my missing daughter at that very moment). That's when my instinctive voice said, "This is your son."

"Heyyyyy, wait a minute," I thought. "Could this be the the same instinctive voice that has been blithering, `It's a girl, it's a girl'?"

"Right," the voice said. "And aren't you the same guy who likes the fact that Cracker Jack boxes say, `Surprise Inside'?"

That was me, all right.
Now, four years later, I can look back on all the Cracker Jack boxes I've ever emptied and say that I've never found a niftier "Surprise Inside!" than my son. Hell, I wouldn't trade him for a dozen plastic magnifying glasses.

Take it from me. Forget the ultrasound machine and trust your instincts. Even if you catch 'em lying through their teeth.

You never realize how many people you've hated over the years until you try to name your kid.

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Michael Burkett