Surprise, surprise – I am not the favorite parent. My husband is much more entertaining and fun to be around. I have known this for seventeen years and it doesn’t surprise me or hurt my feelings. One year, my husband was out of town for my son’s fourteenth birthday so the poor boy had to go out for the traditional birthday dinner with me instead. I drove him an hour to the restaurant he’d requested and as we sat across from each other, he said, “This is boring. I’d rather be here with Dad.” I told him I didn’t blame him because I’d rather be there with his dad too.
I completely understand why my kids prefer Dad – I’m always around, I’m always nagging them to get their work done, not to mention the fact that I say things like, “I’d rather be here with Dad, too.” My husband is funny and smart and sweet and likeable. I don’t harbor any disappointment or resentment that I’m not the favorite. I think my kids are pretty lucky to have him for a dad and I’m glad they recognize and appreciate that.
This year for Christmas, we decided to give our boys experience gifts instead of more stuff – gift cards for activities to try with one of us. I naturally assumed this would mean my husband would be the one chosen to go with each child and I was fine with that. But my youngest surprised me by insisting that he wanted me to go with him to paint some ceramics at Color Me Mine. Me? But I’m not the fun one! I’m not even a good artist! But he insisted he wanted to go with me.
I’m not sure why I thought this would make a good blog post. I mean, sure, it’s out of my comfort zone. But posting about it meant that I would have to take pictures of my creation for everyone to see. To paraphrase Keira Knightley who’s paraphrasing Jane Austen, I am not afflicted with false modesty when I say I’m terrible at anything artistic.
Because I was so worried about not looking dumb, I listened carefully to the speedy instructions, read all the signs posted with helpful hints, and worked hard to get all three base coats on my plate.
My son took the opposite approach: diving in, slapping on some paint, and then instantly regretting it. He loves drawing and will spend hours filling notebooks with picture after picture, but he’s all about speed, never technique. His purpose in art is to get whatever thoughts he has in his brain down on paper as quickly as possible.
He was disappointed when he realized that, unlike the pages and pages of legal pads I buy him in bulk, there was only one plate. He was stuck with his first draft.
I tried to get him to spend more time on it so he’d feel better about the results, but he just sighed and said, “Mine doesn’t look good. You’re way better at this than I am.” He started to get increasingly uncomfortable looking at his plate and wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. As one who feels self-conscious about my perceived failures quite often, I understood how he felt. But I also really wanted to spend more than ten minutes there, especially after investing time, money, and my pride in this project.
I tried to keep him occupied by letting him take selfies on my phone, buying myself more time to finish my plate, but the more details I added, the more he compared my plate to his. “You’re good at this. Mine looks stupid.” He seemed to be approaching our fun day of painting the way he does any board game we try to play. To him, it was a competition to be won or lost, and he really hates losing. It started to dawn on me that maybe that’s why he chose me over my husband. I had the sneaking suspicion that he didn’t want the pressure of painting with someone who’s actually good at it, and that’s why he chose me as his partner.
My husband tells me I’m crazy for thinking this, that I might just have to admit that my son actually likes me. And as I write this, I realize that all of Fritz’s comparing, of seeing life in terms of winners and losers, isn’t very different from the way I’ve always perceived my boys’ affection for their dad. I didn’t think I was viewing it as a competition because I’d naturally assumed I was the loser and I was okay with that. But just because I’m not a sore loser, it doesn’t make my long-held perception any less warped than Fritz’s. It could even be damaging, like the times I think to myself, “They don’t like hanging out with me anyway, so why bother?”
Maybe I should adjust my way of looking at our family dynamic and think of it like our painting session. My plate might not be as snazzy looking (or even centered as properly) as others’, but I’m still there, putting in the time and effort. It will still be just as useful when serving a meal. And when I stop to think about it, just like Fritz, I’m really the only one who thinks what I have to offer isn’t good enough. And that’s just silly.
When we left the shop, I told Fritz that the baking and glazing would make his plate look so much cooler but I’m not sure he believed me. For several days he worried about it and even suggested that maybe it would accidentally break in the oven so he wouldn’t have to bring it home. But when we finally got the finished product, we were both pretty pleased with the results. Look what we did!