Saturday, April 8, 2017

Playing Favorites; or, My Baby Girl

Today was my baby girl's birthday.

I spoke of her as being one year old in my last post because she nearly was.  But actually, today was the day she turned one.

She is beautiful.  She is precious.  She is adored and cherished and celebrated.

She is my husband's firstborn, and she has a lot in common with him in both looks and personality.  Since she's also terribly cute, charming and precocious, it's only to be expected that she's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger.

As for me -- after she was born, I felt the natural bond of connection with and love for her that I unfortunately did not enjoy with my sweet, precious, vulnerable son.

I was 25 years old when my son was born -- a perfectly reasonable and appropriate age to give birth to one's first baby, I would say.  But I still had so many unfulfilled dreams that I was trying to work on fulfilling.  I honestly wasn't ready for a baby.  I thought I was ready enough, because I thought I would have enough time during my pregnancy with him to get the research project I was working on completed by the time he arrived, but that was not to be.  The physical misery of pregnancy took me completely by surprise.  I had imagined that pregnancy would be a wonderful thing to go through.  Instead, I discovered that I was one of those lucky women for whom the morning sickness phase never goes away.  I was sick to my stomach and throwing up food right up to the day I gave birth to him.  I was suffering so much that there was no question of being able to work on my research.  I couldn't even keep up with emptying my throw-up containers, what to speak of keeping the rest of the house clean -- and since my ex-husband was a neat freak, this traumatized him so much that it resulted in our having to separate.  We had marriage counseling visits to go to -- and of course I had a whole bunch of new, baby-related stuff to research and make decisions about.  My personal dreams and projects had to go on the back burner.

So yeah... I was not really ready for motherhood.  Luckily, we lived close to my mom.  She and I hung out at each other's houses a lot, and she helped so much in taking care of my son -- as well as of me!  I often felt as if my son was really my little brother.  He was a burden for me -- of duty more than of love.  I didn't feel like he and I had much in common.  I was an introvert, he was an extrovert.  I wanted time alone, he wanted to be social.  I had low energy; he had endless energy.  I was intellectual; he was physical.  Internally and often externally, I was always pushing him away.  Poor baby.  Clinginess and insecurity seemed like part of his nature, but I'm sure I exacerbated those traits in him by my behavior.  But I couldn't help it.  I did the best I could (in general), given the nature I had and the situation I was in.  I wasn't the best mom, but I wasn't the worst either.  I did things I regret (like exploding at him for getting pee and poop on the floor when he was a mere infant -- which of course terrified him to tears -- although it was obviously my own fault for failing to diaper him properly), but I also made countless sacrifices.  I played the part of his mom as well as I could, and for the most part I didn't do too badly.  But I never FELT like his mom until years later.  My feelings throughout his babyhood and toddlerhood were more like those of a big sister or a baby-sitter.

But with my daughter, I was ready.  My mood had evolved into the selflessly loving and giving motherly instinct before she was even conceived.  Becoming pregnant with her satisfied a deep longing in me.  I wanted a baby so much right then.  While I had never found it easy to understand my son when he was preverbal, and I was incredibly antsy for him to learn how to speak -- with my daughter, it's been effortless.  She was and is so communicative that words have been unnecessary.  I just get her.  Even when she was a tiny baby, I always seemed to know what she was feeling and what she needed without any trouble at all.  Our connection has been strong and deep from the beginning.  Despite how different she and I are from each other, it always seemed like we were on the same wavelength, speaking the same emotional language.

Although she takes after her father in many ways, he and I have a lot in common, which means my daughter and I do too.  She is clearly very much in touch with her emotions and good at expressing them.  She obviously enjoys making sounds with her mouth and voice, and I foresee her talking nonstop as soon as she learns how.  She is smart as a whip, endlessly and insatiably curious about the world and voraciously bent on learning about it as much as she can.  She is extremely independent and when told "no," will look you straight in the eye and deliberately disobey you.  Relationships are frequently treated as lower in priority for her as compared to her passion for learning.  However, that relationship-oriented side is very much present in her as well.  She knows she's loved, and she eats it up.  She loves being the center of attention and adoration.  When she's in the mood, she's a precious little cuddle-bug, and in fact she often displays a vulnerable, clingy and needy side.  With that combination of traits, I'm guessing she'll not only find schoolwork easy and fun, but will really enjoy the positive attention she'll garner by doing well, and will thus be motivated to excel academically.

She's been so much better than my son at remaining in good spirits no matter what life throws at her.  She does ride on high/low emotional roller-coasters way more than I ever did as a child, but at the same time, she has appeared in general to exhibit a cheerful, optimistic spirit.  She's physically surprisingly tough, letting minor injuries roll off her, whereas my son cries hysterically and ear-splittingly when the slightest thing happens to him.  Emotionally as well, any kind of difficulty or setback in what he's trying to do has stumped and discouraged my son, whereas my daughter has let nothing steal the wind from her sails.  Either she has kept trying until she gets what she's after, or she has easily let it go and shifted her attention to something else instead.  This trait in her of generally not letting anything get her down has been so pleasing to me after years of seeing my son make mountains out of molehills.

The marked difference in my feelings toward and relationship with each of my children has been a source of anxiety for me, not surprisingly.  When I was growing up, I never felt that my mother played favorites, but my father clearly did.  He and my older brother (who's actually a half-brother on my mom's side -- so, my dad's stepson) never saw eye to eye or had a good relationship.  My younger brother, too, took more after Mom in many ways, and he and Dad had lots of difficulties in their relationship.  I, on the other hand, had exactly the sort of nature that my dad really clicked with, so I was his sweetheart, always adored and praised by him and never, ever yelled at, even though he had an explosive temper that my mom and brothers all bore the brunt of time and time again throughout the years.

I love my brothers, and it always gave me pain to see my dad prefer me over them so obviously.  He always admitted honestly that it was hard to love a stepson as much as your own flesh and blood, and I suppose that's understandable, although sad.  But he always claimed to love me and my younger brother equally, but to find my younger brother a more difficult child to raise.  I'm sure he was being honest in saying that, as well.  But however he FELT, the truth was that his method of raising my younger brother was less helpful and more harmful compared with his method of raising me.  Or at least that's how I've always perceived it.  I believe he did the best he could -- the best he knew how.  But the rest of us felt like I was the most loved and favored one in the family.  And that made me sad.

I never wanted to repeat that dynamic with my own kids, so I have striven to treat them equally.  But when one of them is a constant strain on your tolerance while the other is a genuine pleasure to be around, how can you avoid letting any evidence of that ever slip through the cracks in your self-control?  The year my daughter was born was the hardest year we've ever had with my son.

Fortunately, since he turned seven, things have been much easier with him.  Also, things have gotten more difficult for me with my daughter.  Her constant demands and melodramatic reactions if they aren't met have really started driving me bonkers.  That, plus her ceaseless incidents of hurting me and turning the house upside down have all begun to act like corrosive acid on my tolerance levels, causing me to flinch away from her sometimes.  The other day, she was fussing so much that it was completely beyond my ability to handle.  I felt like she was a natural disaster, and I just had to cover my ears, hunker down and wait for her to blow over.

There's nothing mild about her -- I've said it from the beginning.  I'm a pretty mild person -- like oatmeal, as I told my husband.  My daughter, on the other hand, is like chutney -- which traditionally is supposed to be too spicy to endure, but too sweet to resist.  Sugar and spice -- that's my girl.  Can't live with her, can't live without her.

All I need is a little break sometimes.  It just takes a brief respite from her too-muchness; then I'm refreshed and ready to shower on her all the love she deserves once again.  What wouldn't I give for a live-in grandma or regular baby-sitter!!!!

Let's hope I can get through her toddler years with my sanity intact.  I have a feeling it'll be a wild ride -- especially with a new baby coming.  I'm scared.  But I'll hold on and do my best.

I have a feeling the woman she'll turn out to be will be a comfort and help to me as well as my pride and joy.

But oh, those days seem so far off right now.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Couldn't put it down, Kamalini! That was such an absorbing read, I am at a loss for how I can match you with something as fascinating on my own blog! Thanks for inspiring me, my darling daughter.