Monthly Archives: January 2013

Home Movies Reveal Second Child Woes

After a full day of watching home movies of a decade of my children’s lives, I’ve come away with more than I expected. For one, my husband needs some new clothes. He kept saying, “I still have that shirt” or even, “Look, I’m wearing that one.” I’ve gone through a dozen wardrobes in a decade. For another, I began to see that no matter my efforts, second children simply don’t get all the fuss that first kids do.

After three videos of her brother, my patient daughter wondered when she would make an appearance. Only one more videotape and then the next two were of her, my husband informed her. “What? There are FOUR of him and only TWO of me?” she cried.

My heart sank. It was true. There had been a lot of video of my son. Too many minutes of us anxious new parents hovering and waiting for a smile, a laugh, any sign of fun in our upside-down world. We used that video camera for proof that we weren’t just seeing things in the bleary-eyed haze of sleeplessness. Our new tiny sweetheart by day, insomniac-bloodcurdling-screamer by night did in fact smile, coo, show some sign that he liked us. We needed to record it in case he never did it again.

And so for every new skill, we readied our camera and waited. Ten minutes of video of a staring baby, five minutes of him teetering on wambly legs—not good drama. We realized this as time went on. We got better. But still every other day our son did something cute, like “reading” a book. How could we forget we had recorded that three times before?

When my daughter came along, scenes of her nearly always include big brother. We didn’t hover over her crib waiting for a coo or a gassy smirk. As the parents of two small children, we were quick and to the point.

We created second child syndrome without even realizing it. To our daughter’s eyes, it may look as if our son steals the show in every scene. He’s always there. But the truth is, we never had to wait as long for her smiles or giggles. We didn’t have to choreograph a show with baby talk and rattles to get a second of cute out of her like we did for him. Her brother did all the work for us. We just hit record and watched the action unfold. He could throw a ball in the air and she acted like Elmo had just eaten a banana while standing on his head. She laughed so hard she got hiccups, every single time. At five months old, this was their daily routine.

Our videos revealed that my son had my daughter’s white wicker furniture first, the shelf that hangs in her room, and the plastic Kewpie dolls that were mine as a child. “Why does he have my dresser?”

kewpie dolls

A hand-me-down from Mom to son to sister. She doesn’t know it yet, but Mom is sentimental.

I’m a second child. I know the feeling. Everything looks different when you are always second in line, always waiting your turn, waiting to be old enough. You want videos featuring just you with the same ten minutes of parental torture. You want everything to be the exact same. You keep score even if your parents don’t.

As a survivor of second childhood, I know now things aren’t always what they seem. When I got older, I knew my parents loved me and my sister just like I knew it was possible for me to love both of my parents. That was all I needed to know. Now that I’m a parent, I know what it’s like to feel so full of love in every way possible for two completely different beings. No amount of video or photos can quantify that. But I still make sure her firsts are just as important. I still completed her baby book and wrote down every date.

I don’t want second child syndrome to be part of my daughter’s life, but I know no matter what I do, it will. For now, I hope she’ll be happy with the discovery of two more videotapes…of her. Whew.

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Relaxing My Fears About Potty Talk, Germs, and Kissing Shoes

It always seems to happen around the table. I’m biting into a forkful of food and my son begins a story about the boys’ bathroom.

“Is this appropriate?” I interrupt.

“Yeah, yeah,” he assures me. It’s usually appropriate in the manner that it’s not about him.

I know far too much about the boys’ bathroom already. A mother shouldn’t know these things. Boys rolling on the floor amongst the filth splattered between misses each day. Boys flushing pencils to see if they’ll go down. Urinals for every day of the week. The bad words scratched into the stall doors. Urinals that are too tall. Stall doors that don’t lock and the surprised kids behind them. Boys who have christened the porcelain bowls with wet tongues. And really, you don’t even want to know what gets clogged in there, or so I’ve heard. No, the boys’ bathroom is no place for anyone over 13, the stories not for the weak.

Whenever my son starts a sentence with “Today in the boys’ bathroom,” I cringe. Part of me doesn’t want to hear it, but another part of me wants to know if I need to rush my child in for shots.

I’ve always thought a dog’s mouth was disgusting, but elementary school has shed some light on boys and what they do with theirs. They follow their turkey on soft bread at lunch with a slobbery swipe of their tongue across the sole of their grimy shoe. In truth or dare, that seems to be the better option over giving up the name of the girl you like.

I’ve seen how kids wash their hands. The foaming action doesn’t resemble mine. The nails and areas between fingers don’t get scrubbed. The soap sits in the palm and gets blasted off the second water makes contact. Little disinfecting goes on.

clean hands

Not what usually goes on in the bathroom sink.

I’ve come to terms with this I think, but I don’t like it and the girl part of my brain still can’t understand it. The mom part of me still insists on soap and water every afternoon before my son touches anything in this house.

I’m learning to let go of germophobic tendencies. So far, the CDC hasn’t come knocking on our door. While my son rolls on a public floor proudly marking his territory, his sister fears the crusty bits stuck to the pages in her books. I’m learning not to be so reliant on a little bottle of sanitizing gel. While one child invites germs to every meal, the other has an increasingly unhealthy fear of them. I can’t help but think I’ve contributed to this in some way. Each time I’ve flinched at dirty hands or used my foot to prop open a public door, my daughter took note. Kids shouldn’t be so afraid of germs. I’ve read the articles. They need exposure to ward off sickness.

Since my family manages to be reasonably healthy, I need to relax and let go of my fears, let my son be a boy, and help us all find some middle ground for sanity’s sake. I’m not saying we should kiss the bottom of our shoe as thanks for every meal, but maybe I shouldn’t fear everything my kids touch. We can’t live our lives under the covers, even though sometimes I’d prefer it to sitting in a crowded room with coughing strangers. I’ll still tell my son he doesn’t have to touch every nasty thing he sees. And I’m still not letting him kiss me with that mouth, just in case.

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I Admit It: Sometimes I’m Wrong

My daughter has a finicky palate, downright picky if you want to know the truth. Oh, she covers all the food groups, but each meal sits in plain, depressing piles on her plate. In my gut I know things will eventually be all right. I also know our battles are just that, battles.

Left free to graze in the open spaces of someone else’s pantry, she’s a bit less stubborn. I’ve stolen glances from the corner of my eye as she nibbled a hard-boiled egg at a Brownie troop meeting. “Are they eating hard-boiled eggs?” I asked another mom in bewilderment. I swore my eyes deceived me. Another time she held sushi to her lips while I waited for pigs with wings to burst into the room and buzz around our heads.

If you ask my opinion about my daughter’s menu selections, I will often tell you, “She won’t eat that” because I know she’ll scrunch up her nose, supersize her frown, and turn her head in disgust like a disapproving toddler. But I’ll tell you to try her anyway, just in case. Sometimes, though rarely, I’m flabbergasted when my daughter eats a plateful of rice at a friend’s house just because she wanted to have dinner there.

Sometimes I only think I know my kids.

I’ve dreaded soccer games because I didn’t want to see my kid skipping and hopping all over the field only to be surprised with a goal. I’ve skimmed math homework and felt my stomach sink with the weight of a concrete pill only to have my daughter’s mental math work five times more quickly than my own. I’ve taken chances on clothes for my kids that I didn’t think they’d wear once I cut the tags off. Now I can’t get those same clothes off them long enough for a spin in the wash.

Sometimes it feels good to be wrong.

My son wanted to try out for Elementary Battle of the Books this year. The team reads twelve assigned books and then competes in a Jeopardy-like competition against other schools. When he expressed his interest, I was doubtful and, to be honest, not very supportive. He likes to pick his own fantasy-based books. Some of the books on this list deal with real-life issues, not wizards and hobbits. Some of the main characters are girls for Pete’s sake. And he struggles with reading comprehension. Against the group of kids competing for a team spot, I wasn’t sure he could do it.

Book after book, my son fussed and complained. He didn’t like it. It was boring after the first chapter. “Give it time,” I said. “You have to get into the story.” The next thing I knew, he couldn’t put the book down and he proclaimed it the best book ever, even some with girls as the stars.

My son talked about quitting, but after reading five books he had dedicated so much time. He couldn’t walk away. He wanted to see whether he made the team. I was proud of him for making the effort. I saw such transformation: He went from a boy who would only read fantasy to a boy who could appreciate a good story, who no longer judged a book by its cover.

He made the team.

Just when I think I know my kids, they prove how much they change and grow every day. So being wrong sometimes feels like a victory. And it feels good to admit it.

summer reading

Some of my son’s summer reading selections. Will a battle of the books change that?

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What Do I Have to Show for a Year as a Mom?

My husband decided to begin the New Year by watching a slideshow of the past year so the kids could see what they’ve accomplished, where they’ve been, how they’ve grown.

The year’s opportunities, adventures, and stories did not disappoint: beach trips, a 40th birthday, the Atlanta aquarium, zoos, camping, Hershey Park, the Amish countryside, horseback riding.

stingray

The Atlanta Aquarium

The scariest moment? On a bike trip, I watched my speeding son fly over his handlebars. Motherly instinct set in, the one that told me not to panic, to not gag when I saw a bloody mess under his shirt, to be strong when the bandage later became one with his scab.

Our year was filled with many small moments and firsts that added up to big things for our young kids: a better basketball season, an overnight trip without us parents, new glasses, lost teeth, spelling bee success, slumber parties, acing spelling tests.

As I watched a year of their young lives flicker by—baby faces transform even more into those of kids masking bigger problems, deeper emotions—I saw glimpses into unknown futures that I dreamed of when my children were nothing more than strange movements in my round belly.

But for all of the joys, victories, and triumphs of the year, I also saw something missing. Me. As my kids get older and do things on their own merit, how does a mother measure up? Most days, I’m the cheerleader, the coach, the teacher, the pusher, but my kids do all the work. From year to year, what is there to show for what I’ve done? When you’re a stay-at-home mom, the loads of laundry, clean toilets, nightly meals, and clean sheets don’t make the cut into the year’s highlights. After-school meltdowns, sex talks, and the truth about Santa don’t quite have heartwarming memories to fill slideshows.

Sure, pictures of the birthday table show off my confetti sandwich cookies. The Lord of the Rings Halloween costume my husband and I made for my son—that I swore he wouldn’t wear at the last minute—did meet his expectations. Of course, I had to make Gimli’s beard twice.

But as a person, I don’t have much to show from 2012. Some pay stubs from freelance work. A house where the cleanliness ebbs and flows like the tide on any given day. Stacks of magazines still wait to be riffled through, just like last January when I swore I’d get to them. I’ve added new recipes to our repertoire, but they haven’t made mealtimes any smoother or the family any more agreeable.magstack

It’s hard as a parent sometimes to not have a team to make or a test grade to show your worth. I get no job performance reviews each year, and the feedback I do get often comes in shouts of anger followed by a slammed door. When my kids hurt and come to me, they still hurt when the crying is over but maybe a little less. I can’t solve my kids’ problems the way I could solve a client’s. If I make a suggestion, it’s the sure route not taken. The fine line between manipulation and real pain is hard for me to gauge sometimes, so I dangerously let myself get pulled across it. Many days, I don’t know where I stand in my parenting job but I know at the end of the day, I just want a drink or a chocolate or to climb into bed and hide hoping I’ll get it right tomorrow.

I guess as a parent you trudge along from year to year and never really know how you’re doing, but you do it anyway. As a mom, I never quite know where mothering ends and I begin. In time, I guess we’ve become the same person.

The only thing I am certain of is that mothering is somehow the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s not measured in time. One hug or smile, one simple moment makes being the mom behind it all worth it.

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