You Love Him More Than You Love Me!

It wasn’t out of the mouths of my babes this time; it was Jim who said that my two recent posts – first about Nick and then about Ellie – showed a measurable difference in the way I feel about my kids. There’s Nick, the ne’er do wrong angel, and Ellie, the demanding princess. Let me set the record straight. I love my kids unconditionally and – above all – equally.

I just don’t relate to them or like them in the same way.

Alas, that wouldn’t be possible, no more so than thinking any two people could be viewed – much less treated – alike. I’ve often described Nick as our “just because” kid, the kind that challenges a request with, “Why do I have to [fill in the blank]?” and since day one, “just because” has been reply enough to satisfy his query and end the debate. When Ellie asks why, she needs the anthropological and psychological explanation of reason before she’ll ever consider complying. I could go into the merits of and challenges of each syle, but suffice it to say, it was abundantly clear just as soon as she – child #2 – exited my body that I had two completely different humans on my hands.

There are tomes written about the personalities of children as a result of birth order, and I’m going to add my two cents. Bottom line is (if we’re lucky enough to be able to plan) that we have our second (and third and fourth, etc.) children when we think we have a handle on parenting the child that came before. And because we’ve cut our parental teeth on that first one, the second inevitably throws us for a loop. Whether numero uno was an angel or a nightmare, dos is going to be a struggle from the get-go. Everything we learned, arranged, scheduled, and planned gets turned upside down so that we can try to master Parenting 2.0. There are myriad situations when we literally beg #2 to be like #1, and it’s not because one is better than the other. It’s because we can’t imagine surviving parenthood at all if something doesn’t give. Of course, by the time we figure it out – assuming we are lucky enough to do so – we’ve already created a pattern that sets the stage for a lifetime of “you love him more than you love me.”

No, I don’t. It’s just that my foundational training was on a different model.

Ditto grown up relationships.  Case in point, since returning from vacation, Jim and I have been struggling to find our groove. Reentry has been draining, and we’ve been clumsily – and exhaustingly – trying to tease apart why. There’s the obvious – who ever wants to go back to real life from the fantasyland of time off? – and the practical – my brain no longer remembers how to multitask. We’re in lockstep on both these fronts. Those realities, though, prompt completely different emotions in us. I scroll through photos, wander through memories of our time away, and focus on planning our next escape…all the while going through the motions of work and home. Jim, on the other hand, digs much deeper by examining the discomfort of the “loss” and by shining a spotlight on the reasons why life back in the grind is so unfulfilling.

The result? He’s a bit morose and all inside his head. And I’m on some kind of autopilot. I want him to make me feel that everything is going to be alright by gritting his teeth and waxing poetic about our time together. He wants me to see how stark things are.

But I haven’t been trained that way.

“Quit your bitching” has been more of the Frost family’s theme. Just do, and don’t ask why. And if you need to know why or – worse yet – think you know why, keep it to yourself. (Needless to say, analysis is not our resting position.) Examination is clearly felt like judgment, and so we avoid it at all costs. Or worse yet, we get our defenses up in preparation for the mere suggestion that what we see or feel isn’t absolutely “right.” So, we do… quickly and instinctively. And we adjust on the fly if intuition suggests we do so. Done.

There is no “done” for Jim. There’s a never-ending journey of exploration – both inward and outward – and an unrelenting quest to get to the bottom (or top?) of this thing called life. Every minute of every day, there are holes to poke, theories to challenge, humans to analyze, and disappointments to face. His mind is always grinding, grinding, grinding. It’s absolutely one of the top three reasons why I love him. He’s never met a challenge or problem – big or small – that he can’t make his way through. He has an amazing ability to sit for what feels like interminable amounts of time among the broken and disfigured pieces until the way to unite them into a thing of beauty presents itself.

What do I do? I prod and push and maybe even fight just a little, looking for proof that he loves me, for clues that he and I are alright, and for any indication that we soon will enjoy yet another turquoise-water, pink-sand vacation. And what does he do? He waits for me to join him intellectually and emotionally in examining the pieces. Consequently, groove continues to allude us.

Argh! I was never trained on how to be patient, and he was never trained on how to see the bright side.

And so, here we are, feeling a bit like second children, trying not to let the comfort of our foundational training overshadow the opportunity to grow through the other person. It feels as though the parenting gods are looking down on me and saying, “Remember how you felt when Ellie put her hair in a ponytail when she was two, when perfect Nick wouldn’t even hold a pencil.?” Yes, yes, I do. It was at that moment that I realized that Ellie had something special of her own to offer and that I had been holding on too tightly to surviving that I had yet to welcome wholeheartedly her differences.

As “second children” – whether literally and/or as the other person in a relationship – we know we have much to offer. It is important, though, that we never forget that we also have a lot to learn. When we love equally and like differently, we strengthen our ability to evolve. And when we push through the logjam of how we’ve been trained, only then will we get to find – much less enjoy – the groove.

I’m on it!