You wrote a song recently. Your Dad was away for the weekend and we had his car so you were right beside me when you started singing. The song went like this:
I love my Mom. I love my Mom. I love my Mom. But I love my Dad more.
I was in the middle of saying, “Oh, honey I love this song…” when that last line came and I felt as if I’d been doused in water.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I know you love me. You need me for chats and fears and snuggles and hurts but, for the last six months I’ve played second fiddle to anything your Dad. I get it. Your Dad works a lot. He’s busy. You don’t get to spend as much time with him, so your time together is special. Combine that with the fact that he’s 100% yours when he is around – full of exciting role playing games, outdoor adventures and full fledged wrestling matches – and your Dad’s a God. He doesn’t drag you around doing errands. He defeats giant underground worms, builds forts that take up entire rooms and fashions elaborate creations out of legos. Your Dad’s the man. I’m just the Mom.
In contrast to the rare and special times the two of you spend together, you see me every single day. Intellectually I can comprehend why you’re sick of me. I’m old news. It’s natural to take the thing you’re most confident in for granted. I suppose I should take it as a sign I’ve done something right. But, it’s hard not to feel under appreciated and, if I’m being honest, hurt.
Your Dad and I have different strengths. He’s able to meet your childhood energy and I’m not. He’s available for brief stints and I’m around all the time. He does the fun stuff, I do the necessary stuff and we’re both well suited to our jobs. When it comes right down to it, he’s dessert and I’m the vegetable, and we all know how kids feel about their vegetables. You don’t care that I spent two years inundated with essays and applications to get you in to just the right school. It doesn’t register with you that I buy all the presents or ensure the house never runs out of food or toilet paper. You’re not interested in who makes your bed or buys your clothes. You’re aware that people like you but not how much of that is due to the fact that we’ve worked so hard together on your manners and attitude. Your Daddy is the shining star and I have bad breath in the morning. You once told me, “Daddy is the King. I’m the Prince, and you’re the maid.” I asked you to leave my room.
Being taken for granted, marginalized or discredited hurts no matter who does it. I know I’m the adult. I realize I should have the capacity to rise above my sore feelings. For goodness sakes you’re five and I’m the one who needs to grow up! But when you tell me after a three hour playdate at a friend’s house it would’ve been more fun if I wasn’t there, or I ask if you had a good time at the Aquarium and you tell me it would have been better if I was Daddy, I want to cry. I also want to scream, “You know what kid? I had other things to do today too you know! It would have been better for me if Daddy was there too!” Of course I’m happy doing things with you. I love spending time together. I know you’re starting Kindergarden is the beginning of the end of our extended one-on-one relationship, and I’m thrilled I was able to be there for so much of it, but I was a fully realized person before you were born and as much as I’m honored to have played such a big part in your childhood, I put a lot of myself on hold to do it, and your complete dismissal of my contribution makes me sad.
I’m sensitive. You say hurtful things and I get hurt. My face gets screwed up. I look at you and say, “that was mean” or “Loch, how d’you think your saying that makes me feel?” I suppose it’s better you learn from me how much words can hurt rather than discovering it after you say something thoughtless to a friend, but it doesn’t make it feel any better. You’ve actually taken to apologizing lately without any prompting. It’s as if you’ve learned to recognize from my reactive body language that you’ve done something unkind. This summer when we were walking around Disney you said, “I like you this much (indicating a bench mark with your hand) and I like Daddy this much (indicating a higher mark). Sometimes you’re here (meeting Dad’s high level) but most of the time you’re here (back to my original lower position)”. You followed that comment directly with a quick “Sorry Mommy. Sorry, sorry. I love you both the same!” but I got your message. At this point I’ve learned to bite my tongue and say something like “I understand Loch. Your Dad is very special and you love him very much”, but that doesn’t mean I don’t do it with a big sigh in my heart.
The reality is you appreciate things more when you don’t have them all the time (that, and your Dad rocks) but it’s hard for me to think of the future without worrying if I’ll be around or not, and when you say things like you wish you wasn’t here, it breaks my heart. Sometimes all I can hear when you say that sort of things is, “Well, you might get your wish…” and that scares me. As I said when I started this whole process, I want to be around as long as I can and I hope you always feel confident enough to take my presence for granted, but it’s something I can’t guarantee. Recently I wasn’t feeling very well and you were so mean to me. I couldn’t do anything right. It was as if you were punishing me for being sick. It made you mad. I’m sure what you were really feeling was nervous, but anger was your way of processing the fear.
I understand as annoying as this behavior is, it’s also very normal. I’m a grown woman and I know my parents would still love it if I called them more. I have to remind myself constantly to make sure I actively acknowledge how much I appreciate your Dad. It’s all too easy to take those we count on most and love the deepest for granted. I don’t take care of you for credit. It just stings to be discredited. But I’ll take that feeling any day over the alternative. I’d rather you not know what you have than be aware of what you’re missing.
So go ahead. Dole it out. I can take it. I know you love me and, no matter where life takes us, I hope you always know that I love you.