16 December 2005

There's a Reason Three-Year-Olds Can't Drive, or, The Trials of Super Mama

Ok, three year olds can't drive because they can't reach the gas pedal and see over the windshield simultaneously. But they also can't drive because of their atrocious judgement, as in this conversation between Politica and Curious Girl. The time: 9:00 last night. The place: our car, parked outside Aunt In Town's house, where Curious Girl and Wee Scot shared a babysitter while the grownups went out for dinner. As the conversation begins, I'm heading back into the house because I've forgotten my gloves.

Curious Girl: Mommy, let's go!
Politica: No, we need to wait for Mama
CG: No, we go! Mommy and CG, we go home by ourselves!

Politica has been out of town a lot this week: she spent four days visiting her father in a far-away hospital, she came home and had to teach her last evening class of the semester and then attend a meeting another night, and then she got sick and has had a lot of grading. As do I. Curious Girl misses Politica in particular and also generally misses the adult attention we have to give our students this time of year. And she is SO happy to see Politica that she wants to push me out, and not share her other mother with me. Three year olds can be so mean in their honesty. Take this conversation, held at the restaurant we went to immediately after picking up Politica from her visit to her father:

Curious Girl: which car are we taking home?
Me: the Saab
CG: I want Mommy and Curious Girl to go in one car. Mama can go in another car.

On the up side, yesterday at lunch, I had finished, and CG finished her meal, mostly, and wanted to sit on my lap to finish up. She said to me, "pick me up, please" and I reached around the corner to pull her up onto my lap. "Super Mama!" she said, and I laughed. So she said it again, and I smiled. "No, you have to laugh." so I laughed. And I said "Super Curious Girl!" and she laughed. And we took turns praising each other's superherohood and laughing.

I like being Super Mama more than I like being chopped liver. I know this is normal, I know she needs to push away sometimes. And I know I shouldn't take it personally. I know I should think "yay, my child is developing and growing." But I hate it when she pushes me away.


elswhere said...

MG does this too sometimes, even now, and I totally hate it. With her, some of it's baiting, and knowing that helps. But I still hate it.

Scrivener said...

Ella does this peridiocally to me, and Chloe does it quite often. Like you, I know that it's normal and fine and I shouldn't take it personally, and I can generally manage that for a certain amount of time, but Chloe has gone a kicks where it's for a month or more at a time that I am chopped liver whenever mommy is anywhere in the vicinity.

I think those moments have also put a little bit of pressure on the division of family duty along gender lines in our family. I mean, I'm the primary caretaker in the family and mommy works a lot--I've been a SAHD for stretches for the girls, even. So I guess I kind of bristle when despite that fact, the girls still prefer mommy. Sometimes I think it's because there's actually something essential about the mother-child connection, that no matter how involved I am as a father and how much time I spend with them, as small children at least, they will still always just prefer mommy. Which, I have to admit, bugs me.

Sometimes I think that it's because it makes me feel like I've done something wrong as a father, again even knowing that I shouldn't take it personally. Way up there on the list of things I hate is people I assuming that I'm incompetent around kids or don't know how to take care of my daughters because I'm a man. Like when the girls were little and someone would praise me because I'd go change a diaper or find out that I had packed the diaper bag and they'd be impressed with me. They thought they were being nice and praising me, and I wanted to curse them and tell them off because the assumption was that my doing even the most fundamental task was somehow noteworthy, because of course dads are too dumb to handle kids. So I think when the girls prefer mommy, it taps into that same set of feelings.

Ok, sorry for venting in your comment box. I'm debating now deleting all of this and maybe just putting up a post in response. Ah, what the hay, I'll just hit publish.

susan said...

No need for apologies, Scrivener. Obviously the gender-role divisions play out a little differently in our family (and Elswhere's) than yours (although there is a sense in which Politica figures as the daddy in our household--maybe I'll write about that eventually here. Tonight we were amused at dinner when Curious Girl had her baby at the table (invisible baby but real food on her plate), and at one point CG said "there's my baby, and you [Politica] be the daddy, and I'll be the mama, and you [Susan] be the mommy.")

Anyway, fathers can't cut a break sometimes. I've heard some of my friends getting praised in the annoying way you describe (Wee Scot's dad once took him to a doctor's appointment, and the nurse said, "Oh, you're playing daddy today?" and he said "no, I am daddy every day."). That kind of praise for doing small things really suggests that fathers are generally incompetent and it is such an unhelpful trope.

Obviously Curious Girl's preferences for Political, when they raise themselves, don't play into those stereotypes; I think they are more related to the long hours away Politica has had recently. When I'm on the up side, I have to admit I enjoy it. It gratifies me, and I probably shouldn't take so much pleasure in it (or I worry that I shouldn't, anyway). But like you I'm quite capable of wondering whether the reason for the preference of the moment isn't that I've done something wrong, not been patient enough or fun enough or whatever.

Glad to know I have company--of both of you-- in my worries, even if we both know better than to take it personally.

Arwen said...

Oh, me too. Ripley comes and goes, and sometimes I'm his least favorite person in the universe. There are two things that have led to cuddling - 1) when he's sick, and 2) bringing a new baby home. Since I actively dissuade both from happening, I'm not getting as many cuddles as I'd like....

Arwen said...

And Scrivener: I tried to second yesterday, but my laptop crashed. Both my husband and I are so annoyed by the "Wow, amazing, you're a dad and yet you thought to dress your child in more than a onesie to take him out in sub-zero weather? Pin a medal on you!"

It's utterly condesending, among other things. And then there's Daddy Daycare, and Mr. Mom, and the Pacifier, and a million other similar stereotypes.

However, I think that sometimes kids choose best what's most exotic, and sometimes what's most reliable. There are times when my husband's number one, and times when I am. My husband feels the cut much deeper than I, though, because all the stereotypes do tend to undermine his confidence in his own parenting.