Dear and plump little arms around my neck, a sweaty child’s palm cupping my cheek, a flash of glaring brown eyes looking at her dad and then back at me. “NO, MY MAMA!” my first daughter would assert, while my husband tried to give me a kiss after coming home from work. And I would blissfully smile and sink back in my chair, thoroughly enjoying being the favorite parent.
Five years later, her little sister came along and I was unceremoniously relieved of my post as “The Favored One.” Now Big Blue Eyes was sitting serenely, tucked right next to her dad on the couch eating chips and yogurt. My winning season was over – there was a new top dog in town and daily reminders that I was of about as much consequence as the walls.
When the children heard their dad’s keys in the lock at 6 o’clock, the littlest one would yell, “Yippee! Daddy’s home!” and run to meet him. Kisses, hugs, screams, and then being tossed up in the air.
Meanwhile, I was hunched over the sink, digging play-doh out of the tiny crevices of the cookie cutters. There was newspaper spread over the kitchen counter where an “art project” was drying, and leftovers from our afternoon snack were still out on the table. Yes, we had been having lots of messy fun, and I had been the Recreation Coordinator, Visual Arts Teacher, and Tea Party Hostess, but somehow. . . somehow with my second daughter, her dad was always the Main Attraction.
He got the fun gene, and I got the practical gene, and the fact is, DEEP DOWN, she is very serious and earnest like me. She really NEEDS the fun and lightheartedness that her dad brings to their relationship.
She and her dad are partners in Wii, swinging and batting and heckling each other while I putter around the kitchen. One time I tried to join them in a game of Wii golf, but I played so miserably that the game politely suggested that I “should try another sport.” That made them collapse with laughter – so I moseyed back to the kitchen.
They love to watch game shows together pre-dinner hour. While I chop and cook, Steve Harvey keeps them in stitches and they coach “tonight’s contestant” to “BUY AN A!” They pick on each other endlessly. He steals food from her plate, and she watches him like a hawk and comments on every bite of sugar he consumes. “I only want you to live to be 104!” she exclaims, as if this is “Sooooo obvious!” (eye roll).
And so it hurts, to not be the favorite parent anymore. But it only hurts a little, and only my ego is bruised, not my heart. Because I know that what her dad is giving her is irreplaceable.
There is no substitute for her dad’s way of wrapping up a deep feeling of security with a sense of fun, sport, and enjoying life. He displays a belief in her and in all her potential, urging her to “Try again! You can do it!” whether she is biking up the mountain in Wii, trying to whup him in ping-pong, or learning to master geometry.
As parents, we try to provide for each child what they specifically need from us as individuals. Her dad is like the roof of a house, providing shelter and aspiring to always reach higher. His role is to protect her and also show her what a husband and father should be. She needs him to show her that; I can tell her to try to marry a good man, but her dad can show her what that really means.
Meanwhile, my daughter comes to me when her shirt has a tear, if she is worried about school, or if something funny is going on with her body. I am glad that she comes to me for these mundane things. I am delighted to mother her and take care of her the little bit that she allows me to anymore.
So I accept that I am not the favorite parent for this child of mine. But when you are ranked #2, and #1 is such a great guy, those are stats that I can live with.