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___?"