a tale of two children
If pressed on which of their children they like more, most parents would demur – we certainly would – and claim, perhaps implausibly, that they have no favorites and that they love all of their children equally. Of course, at any given moment in time, one of the kids may be acting out while another magically transforms into the epitome of cuddly cuteness, making it challenging to treat both with evenhandedness and avoid the appearance of favoritism. And then, we’re only human; surely we sometimes play favorites – even if we won’t admit it, not even to ourselves?!
“You baby her so much! You were never like this with him. It must be because she’s a girl,” S remarked the other day, looking on as D and Junebug locked into one of their frequent snuggle-fests. The observation rang only partially true to D, who was quick to retort that Munchkin was never one for snuggles. At four or five months he started giving D the stiff arm, and at one-and-a-half (roughly the age Junebug is now), he would begrudgingly consent to being hugged without moving a muscle to return the gesture. Junebug, on the other hand, is a hug machine and loves cuddling. In many ways, D feels like he is making up for the baby snuggles he missed out on with Munchkin.
“Besides,” D went on, “you don’t baby her nearly as much as you did him. In fact, you still baby him too much!” This observation too comes down to a matter of perspective and causality: was S quicker to scoop Munchkin up and comfort him after a fall because he was her firstborn and she felt overprotective in a way she does not with Junebug? Was he quicker to cry as a result? Or is it simply the case that he was more sensitive than his sister and needed his mother’s love more? Whichever way you slice it, Junebug is the toughie in the family, bouncing back up from most falls without a cry while Munchkin – several years her senior – still demands hugs and kisses for almost every bump and scrape.
The big challenge, of course – at least as far as the appearance of favoritism is concerned – is that our kids are not the same age. It’s no use comparing what Junebug is like now to how Munchkin behaved when he was her age. The important point of comparison is how they both are now: how easy (or not) they make it to shower them with love, and how they perceive our treatment of them, which Munchkin, at least, is old enough to notice and interpret.
At seventeen months, Junebug is, by and large, a dream child. She eats heartily – considerably more than Munchkin does, in fact. She sleeps through the night, though she fights her naps and sometimes wakes up too early for our liking. She is largely good-natured and quick to laugh, and she loves to snuggle.
The big problem we face is that there is no halfway point with her. During the rare moments that Junebug gets upset – usually when fighting sleep – she really loses it. She gets apoplectic and descends into a self-destructive frenzy that is difficult to break. D has had to physically wrestle her into submission to get her to sleep in the middle of the night. During one episode when she objected to being carried upstairs for bath time, she tore at her own face with such vehemence that the bathroom came to resemble a murder scene, with blood and drool covering the tiled floor, sink, mirror, tub, and walls.
Munchkin, meanwhile, is four-and-a-half going on fifteen. We knew of course that a day would come when he would tell us that we are ruining his life; we just didn’t think it would come so quickly. And yet, that is exactly what he told S one recent evening – “You’re killing me! You’re ruining my life!” – when she put the exact dinner he had just requested in front of him. He then ran out of the house and slammed the door behind him. Other favorite refrains include, “You’re not being nice to me,” “I’m not going to be your friend,” “I won’t give you any cake at my birthday party,” etc.
If sleep is our daily battlefield with Junebug, then meals are the analog with Munchkin. He is a sweet and inquisitive kid when we engage him and focus attention on him, but that’s hard to always accomplish when we’re rushing around after work and have to divide our energy between him, Junebug, and the mundane tasks of keeping house and getting dinner on the table. And whereas Junebug is constantly eating – and demanding that we share whatever we are having – Munchkin frequently digs in his heels about food, with the predictable result of becoming hangry and acting out.
So, do we have favorites? There are moments when our kids act like jerks and drive us bonkers and others when they make our hearts burst with love. But they’re our kids and we love them equally. Of course we do.