Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Playing favorites

The other day a friend asked about my kids. After listening to at least 15 minutes of stories about the latest school issues and behavior challenges, she asked, "Don't you have a son, as well?"

Ouch. It's not the first time this has happened, either. Parents, co-workers, friends ... all have asked pointedly at some time or another, "And how's N___?"

To some degree, I can laugh it off (if a tad uncomfortably) with a crack about second-child syndrome. That's just how it goes, right?

When A___ was a baby, each night after work the three of us would spend a magical hour together snuggling on the bed, reconnecting after the long day apart. I have vivid memories of her giggling between us as we sang "Monkeys on the Bed." Or maybe it's not memories. Maybe it's all the photos I took and lovingly arranged by developmental stage. Or those hours of video catalogued on the shelf.

And then there were the classes! I was a Northern-Virginia-lifetime-overachiever-first-time-mom, after all. Those classes were invented for people like me. Preschool Picassos. Mommy & Me Yoga. Pacis & Pottery. Womb Ballet. Science for Sippy Cups. Thai & Tummy Time. And, of course, Water Babies. (Well, not babies, really. They had to be at least 6 months old. Teaching a baby younger than that to swim would just be ridiculous.)

When N___ was born, things were different. We had a toddler to care for now, in addition to an infant, and our toddler was not the easygoing type who suffered occasional changes in routine, low blood sugar, or loss of sleep in silence. There seemed to be no time for leisurely snuggling. It was as if each night we stepped out of our cars and directly onto a conveyor belt of dinner, baths, and bedtime.

And those Mommy & Me classes? Um, I think N___ watched a few of those from his stroller. While his sister participated in them, I mean. I can't be sure, though. I certainly don't have many pictures ... and the ones I do have are in a box somewhere, waiting to be put into albums that I'm planning to buy and fill just as soon as I get some spare time.

But I have to admit, it's also a personality thing. Difficult though she may be at times, I "get" A___. I get how she learns. I relate to how she plays. I am fascinated and -- yes -- entertained by her complex dramatic scenarios.

It seems I have to work a little harder to find things N___ and I both enjoy doing. After 5 years, for example, I still do not understand why tackling is a form of entertainment. Or grasp the rules of the let's-pick-up-a-random-object-and-pretend-it's-a-gun game. (Some would say I'm overcomplicating that one, but there must be something I'm missing, right?) My attention span for driving miniature die-cast cars in circles is approximately 8.3 seconds. And try as I might, I can't make sense of his precocious attraction to bad guys. (The bad-boy fascination didn't hit me until around age 13.)

Hey -- it's not all my fault, here. When offered the chance, N___ does not seem the least bit enthusiastic about spending a quality hour with me, a few flashcards, and a good phonics workbook. And when his dad signed N___ up for tee-ball and then conveniently took a job that prevented him from attending any of the practices -- where apparently the parents (dads) were expected to help, by doing ridiculous things like explaining how to stand at bat and fielding balls without hitting any 4-year-olds in the head -- well, it's hard to say which of us dreaded practice days more.

And yet, lately I've been wondering if N___ being the yin to A___'s yang is not so much reality as it is convenience. Or habit. Sure, the surface differences are there: A___ walked at 18 months; N___ came out of the womb crawling. A___ couldn't wait to learn letters and words, while N is more interested in creating with Legos. A___ commands the spotlight; N___ seems content to play a supporting role.

But I also realize that the differences are at least in part a reflection of my own selective attention. It's been easy to find myself more excited about whatever A___ is going through at the moment, because we're going through it all for the first time together. N___ may be the second in our family to hit those milestones, but he's hitting them in his own incredible way. His unique journey also warrants -- and rewards -- my attention.

In other words, his dramatic scenarios may be filled with characters I've never heard of, like Silver Surfer and Wolverine, but it turns out they are every bit as complex and entertaining as A___'s princess tales. And what that boy can build with Legos? Amazing!

I just have to remember to show up, slow down, and really pay attention. To who he is -- not who I thought he'd be, or how I want him to be, or all the ways he is (or is not) different from his sister.

So excuse me for a bit while I put down the phonics workbook, grab a Hot Wheels car or two, and spend some more time playing with my son. Next time you ask, I hope I'll have a better answer to the question: "How's N___?"


  1. I was a fourth child. The amount of pictures from each of mine and my sibling's childhoods decreases exponentially.

    Kudos to you for recognizing that there may be more or different things you want to do with your child.

    Life, of course, is unfair, so I hope you don't beat yourself up to much about not achieving perfection.

  2. Guns are about action at a distance. Same with throwing a ball, whacking a ball with a bat. I'm here and I can make something happen over *there*. Preferably something destructive. This is part of what spurs hand/eye coordination - practicing to be good at throwing a spear, a rabbit stick, a fist sized rock.

  3. Thanks for giving me a picture about what is going on in my own life with my little ones. As a 4th myself, I should know better. At least I do have a lot of pictures of my youngest (since there are only about 10 of me from age baby to teen)but I dare say I talk about the oldest more (he is saying more "funny" things at 3 wherease the 18 month old is just now getting verbal.) Point well taken Jill!

  4. I love the way you can get a "long-distance" view of things when you're still smack in the middle. It takes many of us years and years! Your insights amaze me! But, then, you're my kid. Mom

  5. I think you should call the kids Anne and Nick in your posts. This A__ and N__ thing is hard to follow...

  6. Whenever you want to see what becomes of N____ as a second child, you just have to look in a mirror for encouragement! Somehow you survived the trauma [ ;-)] and flourished. And I did and do love you both equally.


  7. Point well taken, Mr. (Ms.?) Anonymous! I've always been rotten at naming characters, which is why I don't write fiction. Maybe I should hold a "name my children" contest. I'll even give the grandparents a crack at it this time around, since they didn't get any input the first time. :)

  8. It is possible for you as a parent to enjoy the company of one child over another. And love them both, guilt-free. So long as you can show the love is equal to both - and there are crucible moments in which to do this - just not as many of them as you might think. This is natural, but unfortunately my generation labored under different ideas until we got it right. (Did I just sound like Dr. Pill(SP intended)?) Nick needs less - just let him keep trying to hit that curve-ball and recognize his accomplishments. It will be a long time before he is capable of the kind of sensitivity you might be projecting on him (to unwittingly reflect guilt back onto yourself?). Enjoy a guilty pleasure. Nick will always love his Mom. Enjoy the fact of your compatibility with Anne.

    One thing is extremely clear as I look back. I was way more sensitive to the damage my life might be doing to my daughter than she was. Kids are more resilient than we can appreciate. I kept showing up and Sarah found her way. I still wish I could have been a little more sensible and left her with less early challenges; but my whole generation did that.

    Uncle Doug