I didn't plan to get hooked on yet another PBS mini-series. Downton Abbey had ended, and Mr. Selfridge had failed capture my interest.
But then along came Wolfhall.
The series is set in the court of Henry VIII and centers on one of his chief advisers, Thomas Cromwell. It's a compelling glimpse into Tudor England -- the intrigue, the customs, the clothing. In the interest of full disclosure, anyone familiar with A Man For All Seasons might have a hard time recognizing Saint Thomas More who, at least in Wolfhall, isn't much of a saint. Thomas Cromwell, on the other hand, is remarkably more decent and humane than history has ever found him before.
(Interested in reading the novel, I googled author Hilary Mantel and found this quote: I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people. This just might explain the role reversal between More and Cromwell. And as one of those disreputable Catholics, I think I'll keep my $20 and not buy the book).
But I digress . . .
Henry, as we all know, faced a bit of a dilemma. He needed an heir and a spare, and they needed to be boys, darn it. Those many wives of his just weren't up to the task. Remember he had six. Wives, that is. And if you want to remember their fates, they followed a simple (albeit bloody) pattern: divorced, executed, died, divorced, executed, died.
Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes. Henry would not live to see that the longest reigning monarchs in English history would be two women -- Queen Victoria who reigned for 63 years, 216 days, and the present Queen Elizabeth II who is closing in on her great-great- grandmother at 63 years, 106 days. Henry's second born daughter, Elizabeth I, would be the eight longest reigning monarch, holding the title Henry was so unwilling to give her for 44 years.
In the history according to Wolfhall, Henry learned of his daughter's birth and said, "Call her Elizabeth. Cancel the joust."
I used to show Anne of a Thousand Days to my world history students. In that film, Henry bursts into Anne Boleyn's bedchamber hoping to meet his son. Anne holds up her newborn daughter and asks, "Would you not kiss your daughter?" "When she's older," Henry replies, "when she has a brother."
He needed an heir and a spare, and they needed to be boys.
Cancel the joust.
My Internet friend Mary has written a thought-provoking piece on gender. Mary blogs over at Better than Eden. She is the mother of four boys and has an almost entirely white house. I mean white couches, white cabinets, cream walls. As the mother of three boys and one hooligan girl, I eye Mary's house with equal parts envy and sheer terror.
Anyway, Mary is expecting her fifth baby a-n-y minute now. Needless to say, she's hearing a lot of "so you're trying for a girl" sort of comments. She writes:
We have four boys. Never in my entire life or imagination would I ever wish that one of them were a girl. I can’t even fathom wanting to change something like that. Who they are has already been determined by God and that is who we want him or her to be. Really. No, we are not “hoping for a girl.”
The part that really struck me was this:
I’m one of six girls and a boy. And we heard the opposite type of comments routinely. The shocked looks. The “Oh, your poor father!” or “Your dad must really want another boy!” True or not, when you hear a comment like that over and over again, you begin to believe it may be true. Those comments ingrained themselves deep, leading me to believe my femininity really was a drawback and that surely it would have been better had I been a boy. For many years I regretted my God-given femininity and truly believed it to be a burden. It took a lot of time and healing to overcome those thoughtless comments that we heard so very very often about our gender.
While I have never (to my memory) made comments to a mother much less to her children about girl/boy ratio, I have absolutely hoped for a baby of a certain sex for friends and relatives. I'm happy Kate Middleton had a girl! Just cuz. Modern psycho-babble aside, girls and boys are uniquely and fundamentally and delightfully different. Is it wrong to hope friends will experience that delight?
I always think God created John so off-the-wall interesting because, as the third boy, there was no way he was going to get lost in the same old, same old shuffle. John doesn't get lost in any shuffle. I go into his room to clean and find a detailed list of rules for joining his Dryer Box with Large Addition Club. And I love it. I love his ingenuity and passion, his interest in all things related to spies and his obsession with building Legos. He brought two of his latest creations to show off to his father. "Dad, which do you like better," he wondered, "the flying spy camera with the flames or the tank?" The tank with the oscillating turret.
Pure John. Pure boy.
And I have loved nearly every minute of my girl Ainsey. Yes, yes, it's the silly things -- the dresses and hair clips, the tutus and the tiaras, the Easy Bake Oven coming our way this August. Mostly, though, it's just who she is. The girl who wants to play, eat, sleep, do all things in close proximity to her people. The girl who topples rain forests with cards and letters filled with long-haired stick people and "I Love You's." The girl who still plans to grow up to be "a princess in a not-itchy dress."
Pure Ainsley. Pure girl.
Never, ever would I want to send a message of disappointment to any child. We wish you were different. We had something else in mind. One of the most stunning aspects of childbirth is that whatever you had in mind, you are blown away by what God had in mind.
As our babies grew, I remember shaking my head in surprise at their humor, their quirks, their delightful turns of phrase, their charm. So like us, and yet so surprisingly different from both us and from each other.
The word Conception points to biology, anatomy, physiology. But, really, it also points to the creative genius of God who conceived -- thought up, dreamed up, designed, brought forth from nothing -- a Tim, a Kolbe, a John, an Ainsley -- each one an unrepeatable soul with this gift and that smattering of freckles, those striking blue eyes and that ability to lift his right eyebrow.
And every one of them is worthy of a joust.