, June 2000

    In the Trenches With Bruce Kluger
    Dispatch from Ladyville

    By Bruce Kluger

    Hoo-boy, Friday night was one for the
    record books. The baby had a cold
    and hadn’t napped. Her big sister came
    home from camp anxious about
    swimming in the big pool. And Mommy,
    having just finished a miserable work
    week, walked in and collapsed on the
    couch, completely drained of her
    trademark congeniality.

    One glance and I knew I was doomed.
    Within seconds, one was wailing, one
    was whining and one was wincing at
    my inability to handle the kids while
    she unwound. Suddenly I was playing
    caretaker to three very touchy, very
    sensitive females—which, in my book, ain’t exactly like hashing it out with the boys.

    When my second daughter was born early last year, my gender and I officially
    became outnumbered in my household for good. I began answering the phone,
    “House o’ Chicks, how can I help you?”

    Today, the tidal wave of estrogen swamping my domestic life continues to knock me
    off balance. I am, after all, the youngest of four boys, and until I had children, the
    only efforts I’d made to decipher the hormonal subtleties of the fairer sex was when
    I was trying to persuade one to kiss me. Who knew how much harder it would be to
    get a little army of girls to do life’s simpler thingslike going to bed on time or
    keeping out of the fridge or, God help me, wearing something other than party
    shoes to school?

    And I haven’t even gotten to my wife yet.

    Don’t get me wrong, sharing a roof with Audrey (16 months), Bridgette (five years)
    and Alene (forever 32) is, at its best, like living in a harem. Girls are by natureand
    chemistrygentler and more nurturing than boys, and there’s nothing better than
    having three wholly different, equally comforting female hugs to depend on when
    the going gets tough.

    But at its most trying, being the sole man in Ladyville is like being caught in a
    tornado. Yes, some say that disorder is simply a function of parenthood, but I can’t
    help wonder if any of it is hormonal. Was it this hard coexisting with my brothers and
    college roommates? Do other fathers of girls suffer from babe overload, too?

    I asked three experts if there’s any foundationbiological or psychological (hey, at
    this point I’d settle for astrological)for this phenomenon. Here’s what they told me.

    “Homes and schools are perceived as women’s places,” said Kathleen Clinesmith,
    Director of the Calhoun Lower School in New York. “Therefore, men and boys can
    be overlooked within these environments. But, frankly, I don’t hear a lot of dads
    complaining about this. On the contrary, tons of women come into my office telling
    me they’re going crazy from the chaos in their homes—chaos created by their sons
    and husbands.”

    So testosterone clogs up the family-dynamic plumbing too, huh? Interesting.

    Moving on: I called my buddy, Bill McCoy, author of Father’s Day: Notes From a
    New Dad in the Real World. Bill wrote the bookliterallyon having a girl, then
    went on to have a boy. Who better to deconstruct the pink-blue conundrum?

    “To my mind,” Bill said, “the most striking difference between boys and girls is not in
    the noise they produce, but in the way they express affection. Unlike my daughter,
    my son thinks Mom’s and Dad’s kisses are yucky so he wipes them away. That’s not
    learned behavior; it’s anthropological. So now we trick him into being cuddly.
    Instead of requesting a hug, we ask for a squeeze, then pretend he’s hurting us.
    That works for him. He laughs, we laugh, everybody gets what they want.”

    Another surprising answer. Suddenly girls are seeming less the handful.

    Finally, I ventured into my own backyard, checking in with my father-in-law, Terry,
    who racked up three in the daughters’ column and none in the sons’. Terry, I
    decided, would be my own personal Rosetta Stone to deciphering the mystery of
    the House o’ Chicks.

    “Living among all females was a heartwarming experience,” he began, “but it wasn’t
    exactly ego-boosting. If my daughters were involved in, say, a heated conversation
    at the dinner table, my opinion was often unimportant. I felt like the Rodney
    Dangerfield of the housethe guy who gets no respect.

    “But in terms of affection for dad,” he added, “girls can’t be beat.”

    There you have it. I sought commiseration from three unbiased sources (okay, two
    unbiased sources and a grandpa), only to have my head turned around: One says
    boys drive their moms crazy, one says girls are better cuddlers, a third says he’s
    still trying to get a word in edgewise.

    Lesson learned? From sugar and spice to puppy dog tails, kids are kids, and the
    more time we take trying to categorize them neatly, the less time we have to play
    with them.

    Which reminds me: Bridgette comes home in 20 minutes and I haven’t preheated
    the Easy Bake Oven. And we all know the little lady doesn’t like to be kept waiting....

House o' Chicks: Alene, Bridgette (right) and Audrey.