Friday, April 30, 2010

 

In Which We Play Favorites...

Man, there are a lot of things they never warn you about when you become a parent (in this case, I guess “they” would have to be my own parents, as well as any other well-meaning, child-rearing adult). I either got lots of useless advice, which wasn’t really advice, so much as fortune-cookie sized maxims: “Being a parent changes everything.” “It’s the easiest hard thing you’ll ever do.” Or I got lots of task-specific tips: “Support their heads.” “Don’t shake them.” “Watch out for spraying (for boys).” “Wipe front to back (for girls).”

No one warned me about guilt, for example, which I tend to feel a lot in relation to my kids. For uprooting them to a new place. For being too tired to do much with them when I come home. For snapping at them to quiet down when they get too crazy, or to speak up when they mutter stuff they’re not quite sure they want me to hear. No one warned me how easy it is to get wrapped up in their little lives, to grieve with them over every minor setback, or to overdo my enthusiasm over some daily triumph.

And most especially, no one ever warned me about a parent’s surprising and paradoxical ability to play favorites.

I used to be appalled whenever I heard someone referring to him/herself as their parents’ favorite. It was even worse on those rare occasions when I would hear an actual parent admit that they had a favorite child.

I’m sure my reaction was tied up with some unresolved ball of emotion from my youth. As a kid, I long believed that my Big Brother was my parents’ favorite. Not because my parents were any less affectionate—or any more strict—with me. But it did strike me that BB got a lot of attention, first when we were kids, and then later as we became young adults.

I was in high school by the time I actually voiced this sentiment to my mom. It was in a heated moment and I said it to get a rise out of her. But the joke was on me, because instead of freaking out and vehemently insisting she loved us both equally, my mom simply said I had a point. Not because she favored my brother over me, but because he seemed to require a lot more attention. “You’re very self-sufficient,” she told me. “So I don’t worry about you so much.”

When I first heard this, I took it badly, thinking Mom was only confirming my worst fears. But later it dawned on me that she was paying me a compliment. And over time, I came to realize that, while of course she did love us both equally, there were certain things that she loved about BB more than me, and vice versa.

So as I say, it’s a great parenting paradox, but I’m finally willing to admit to it: It is actually possible to love each of your children in some favorite, special way, and also to love them all with equal fervor.

I wasn’t truly able to embrace this paradox until the Brownie was born, 9 years ago today. When Her Lovely Self was pregnant with our first daughter, we used to have hushed, worried conversations about our impending second child. For two and a half years, Thomas had been the great light of our days, the sun (or son) around which we orbited, the object of more love than either of us would ever have thought possible. We couldn’t imagine how we could divide that love and attention without someone feeling short-changed. What we didn’t realize is that, instead of being halved, your love just spontaneously doubles in a way that borders on the miraculous. The same miracle occurred a third time, when the Éclair came along.

And yet, since I’m being honest, I’m compelled to acknowledge that you do find ways to love each of them in their own special, uniquely favorite manner.

Thomas is my favorite in this manner: I love the way he walks on the razor’s edge of insecurity and confidence. I devote a lot of extra attention to him in trying to help him find courage and self-assuredness. It doesn’t always pay off, but I stick with it, because, as the only other person in the house who has ever been an 11-year-old boy before, I get that this is an ongoing process that may not show any results for years. But what I really love about him is the way he can surprise me with unexpected moments of confidence and even genius, leaving me open-mouthed in admiration and awe. It never gets old.

The Éclair is my favorite in this manner: I love her sense of will. She knows her mind and has no problem articulating this. I love that she simply refuses to accept the fact that she is too young or too little to do whatever the hell she wants. And while this requires a lot of extra attention (especially when it comes to steering her away from deep water, high ledges, and hot surfaces), I can’t imagine having it any other way.

But the Brownie…

She doesn’t seem to require—or desire—any extra attention. There is no razor’s edge for her to walk. She’s all confidence. I’m sure there must be insecurity in there somewhere, but I can’t recall the last time she showed it. Instead, she moves through the world with an attitude that suggests she knows exactly where she’s going and what she’s going to do when she gets there. She exudes complete and total capability, a trait I deeply admire in any person at any age, never mind in a nine-year-old.

This isn’t to suggest that I let the Brownie do whatever she wants. When my sweet angel child of light morphs into Anna, the mouthy harpy, I take her to task for it. The same holds true anytime I find myself in the glare of her Facial Features of Evil, which I get whenever I ask her about her day, or try to understand her interest in iCarly. And don’t even get me started on makeup. Oh hell, too late. I’m already started. We got into an actual argument not long ago when she came downstairs one day wearing lipstick.

“What is that?” I asked.

She gave me the Look of Disdain—narrowed eyes, jutted chin, lower lip stuck slightly out. Which of course accentuated the makeup. “What is what?” she asked. (Speaking in Snarky Italics is also part of the Facial Features of Evil.)

“The lipstick.”

She switched to an Eye Roll. “I’m not wearing lipstick.”

“I can see it. It’s right there. On your lips. Are you telling me your lips are normally as shiny as a candy apple?”

“It’s not lipstick. It’s lip gloss.”

“Your lips are glossy all right. They’re also purple.”

“It’s colored lip gloss.”

Why are they glinting like bike reflectors?”

She threw in a Freighted Sigh. “It’s shimmery colored lip gloss.” Then, to stop me from saying anything else that might be unbearably stupid, she added, “Dad. I'm just trying it out. I'm not wearing it to school. I know what I'm doing. You have to trust me on this.”

And here’s the thing: I totally do trust her on most things (if not on makeup). In fact, I trust her more than most adults, and certainly more than my mother trusted me. For instance, I no longer ask her if she’s finished her homework—it’s usually done before I even get home, freeing me to spend time with Thomas and his homework (which he would otherwise forget to do without someone reminding him). Her Lovely Self and I have begun granting her kitchen privileges--she can cook eggs and flip pancakes with the best of them, while her older brother still has to be reminded not to stick his head all the way into the oven to see if the cookies have baked. And If I’m alone with the kids and something comes up requiring my attention—the toilet starts leaking, the dog runs off, the zombies are closing in—my first reaction is to yell, “Anna, watch your little sister til I get back!” I’ve done it so often that recently, Thomas called me on it. “I’m the older one!" he protested. "I should be the one you tell to watch the baby. You just love Anna more than me!” Which is not true. But it is true that I mark his sister as more responsible.

And more self-sufficient, sometimes to an almost painful degree. When I asked the Brownie what she wanted for her birthday, she made it very clear she didn’t want me to buy her anything. “Money or a gift card would be awesome,” she said. “That way I can just pick out my own gifts and you won’t have to feel bad about getting me something I don’t want.” Then she patted me reassuringly on the shoulder. “It’ll be easier for both of us this way, trust me,” she said.

So I will. Although I do plan to give her one small present. In fact, I’m off to the mall right now to find the latest in shimmery lip gloss.

Happy birthday, Anna. Today, you are my favorite.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead

Comments:
Awesome, my friend. And you're not going to believe this, but I just had a similar conversation with my dad. Now keep in mind, I'm not a child (physically, that is. Intellectually? Another question entirely.), and my dad is approaching 70. We were just talking, and he said, "Chris, you're my favorite child and here's why." He went on to list a number of things. He paused, and then said, "And here's why your brother Eric is my favorite..." And then he went on to my two other siblings.

What I guess I'm trying to say is, since my dad is awesome and should be enshrined in the Fathers' Hall of Fame, you're in pretty good company.
 
Boy, is the Brownie going to be trouble in a few years. Good luck, MM and enjoy your daughter's birthday.
 
you mean shimmery *coloered lip gloss.
 
Very nice post. Some of my kids (3 of them in fact) would have said #2 son was my favorite during their childhood, because he got the lion's share of our attention.
News Flash kids- truancy, court dates and dropping out of school do not a favorite make!
#2 son, on the other hand would have said #3 daughter was the favorite, because she also received attention due to a health problem, medication and resulting school issues.

I love them all and definitely liked some more than others on different days.

Happy Birthday to Brownie- sounds like she's a keeper!
 
"You're the kid I choose to watch the baby when the zombies are closing in," is a very high compliment indeed!

Happy Birthday to her, from Australia.
 
Loved this post. The Brownie is quite a character. I am glad to hear you don't let her steamroll you; from previous posts I sort of wondered about that ;>

Happy birthday to the Brownie!
 
Happy birthday, Anna!

And MM, I get the favorite thing. I have two girls, and I was recently telling my husband that I feel like whichever girl I'm hanging out with is my favorite (um, assuming good behavior).

One last thing, how could you not love iCarly? It's freaking hilarious. Did you not see the episode when Spencer and Sam had the blow dart paint ball assassination game? Yeah, yeah, yeah, Carly saved Freddie's life and then Freddie and Carly kissed and blah blah blah but we loved the lollipop/sucker line.
 
these things have a way of working out.

happy birthday, brownie. may the gods watch over your poor father in a couple of years.
 
Good the you know that they are all your favorite and each their own way. They are all special individual people and will always be loved that way.

Happy Birthday Anna!! You keep up being who you are. JAG
 
I never felt like my mother played favorites, although she did seem to worry about me more, growing up. And happy birthday to the Brownie! Hope it is a joyously festive day.
 
Happy Birthday Brownie! 9 years old huh, enjoy your last year of single digits! I hope you have a great day!
 
Happy (belated) Birthday to Anna, aka The Brownie!
 
Bravo to you for even broaching this subject. I have only one child so I have no experience on that end but I have a big brother and always thought my parents liked him better. But like you, it was because I was more reliable, responsible and easy-going that I needed less attention. At the other end of the spectrum I have witnessed large families where favoritism was grossly obvious. In one particular family all 6 kids (as adults) agreed on the order. It was weird.
 
I just wanted to state how much I love reading about your love of your kids. I have known so many men where you can know them for months and not even know they have children. Your kids are very lucky to have you.
 
Ah the chuckles you bring forth in me! I have three children. Well considering their ages now (43, 36 and 34) perhaps I shouldn't us the word "children" but maybe offspring would be more appropriate. Mine are girl, boy, girl and each of them has a favorite label from me -eldest is "favorite big baby" -the son is "Favorite son" and the youngest is simply, "My baby!" I know -really original labels aren't they? My son started this labeling thing though when, back in 1993, he enlisted in the Army and when, on those rare occasions he found the time and energy to write home, he always put "Favorite Son" up in the return address part of the envelope. Older daughter then later pretty much necessitated this labeling as she, with all her insecurities -as well as a bit more than a smattering of sibling envy/jealousy -needed for me to call her something a bit special and the bit of Favorite Big Baby is appropriate as she was the firstborn and also, the biggest of the three when she was born. The youngest -well, she is,always will be, just "my baby" no other words necessary there since it is her status within the family. Each of them has -as you stated about your three -specific talents as well as sometimes some weird, even annoying, little quirks but the bottom line is even as I admire and try to point out to each their strengths, and harp at them at times too over some of their quirks too, I still do love each of them for those things more than this or that sibling at times and yet, each is loved equally too. Sometimes they vie for a new label because they try to outdo each other in the "favorite" spotlight now and again, but they usually announce it too when they are trying to get the upper hand on each other.
They rag me too because as an only child they say my Mom, their grandmother, had no choice but to have me as her favorite and I saw that I pulled so many rotten stunts on her over the years, I'm surprised she even acknowledge me as her daughter much less ever thought of me as her favorite, albeit her ONLY one ya know. (Actually I always believe my oldest male first cousin was really her "favorite" though.
Great post -as always -and so telling of the great regard and love you have for your family.
 
Dearest Anna/Brownie girl:

Happy Happy Happy (belated!) Number Nine!

Next year, it's the double digits for you, Miss! :)

Be sure to remind your Dad that you are a Pre-Tween now. That should drive him just a *little bit* crazier than he already is! ;)

I hope you had an excellent birthday - I'm sorry I missed it!

Twinks sends big Hello's and Yay for 9's as well!

Love Always,

Your Old Auntie Thim :)
 
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