We were waiting for the train the other day when Little Miss informed me that her baby brother was one of her favorite people. I told her that he’s one of my favorite people too, along with her and Manchild and Squish and their dad. It turns out that there is a lot of overlap in our list of favorite people. But unlike my list, hers doesn’t have any girls on it. Just boys. Three brothers and a dad.
I didn’t make the list, she said, because she doesn’t like to go running with me. And I know that. But I’m over half way through my current marathon training cycle (race day: November 12th, near LA) and some of my weekday runs are too long for me to finish before the boys have to go to school. So she rides along and keeps the baby company as I do laps around the park. She sometimes takes books or toys or snacks. Last run, it was sunny and in the low 70s. She had a cheese stick and a hard boiled egg and she took a nap for a couple of miles. And for this I am not one of her favorite people.
I was a little surprised that she didn’t also mention the reading. She can read now, though it is slow going. She needs practice, so when we have story time I have her read to me. It has just been in the past week or two that she has really made a lot of progress and one day last week as I was searching for a book on the bookshelf, she was standing next to me and saw one with “Boy” in the title. She read it and I, being somewhat surprised, praised her effusively and sincerely. I was hit in the face several times for my troubles.
So she dislikes that I make her read, too. And that is probably another reason why I am not one of her favorite people.
(If pressed, she might also add to the list the fact that I strongly encourage her to eat her breakfast, but I don’t press.)
Honestly, aside from the baby—who does bite the hand that feeds him but also looks so longingly at me when we are more than a few feet away from each other that I forgive him every time—I don’t think I am a favorite with any of the kids.
When I tell Manchild that I am the best mom he’s ever had, he’ll point out that I’m also the worst mom he’s ever had. And Squish will think carefully before coming to the conclusion that Dad is actually superior in just about every way. When Micah bemoans the fact that the baby doesn’t give him the time of day, I remind him that I get them for the first two years, and then I become chopped liver.
But that’s fine by me. I’m not competing with Micah for favorite parent, and I am grateful that they think their dad is the best because he is.
More than that, however, I’m willing to sacrifice being the favorite for a few years—or even a couple of decades—in the hope that my patience and persistence in simply being there will pay off and in 20 years or so, with a little more wisdom and perspective, the kids will be able to say, My mom was always there for me.
When I got out of school, there she was, waiting outside the door.
She sat through my piano lessons and got me to practice better.
Every morning when I woke up, she was there, asking me how I slept.
When I came home from a friend’s house, there she was with a glass of milk and a listening ear.
She waited outside my door until I was ready to talk.
At the school there is another mom, quite a few years older than me, whose son is a year or two older than Manchild. She loves to see our little family and often brings treats from the dollar store to share with the kids. She moved to New York from Bangladesh 20 years ago. One day last year, after I had carried sleeping Little Miss from the train station while wearing the baby in a wrap, she sat and talked to me as we waited for the kids to be dismissed.
“Your children,” she said, “they will be like flowers in a garden. They will surround you, they will be beautiful surrounding you, when they grow. Right now it is hard, but you are always there. You are always with them, and when they grow, they will be beautiful around you.”
It was a message I needed to hear on a day when I was worn down physically and emotionally, wondering if I just make my own life harder than it needs to be. A reminder that really, I just need to be there, available, attentive.
I am always there, I am always with them. Sometimes I am invisible to them and they don’t see me picking up their dirty clothes or packing up their backpacks or scheduling their appointments. Sometimes I am the punching bag, the scapegoat, the reason they hate reading and playing the piano. Sometimes I am annoyingly cheerful—laughing while the rest of them are crying in the elevator. (And if you have never been in an elevator with 4 crying children I highly recommend it. It’s an unworldly kind of music.)
But there I always am. I see when they are hurt or confused or excited or sad. I am aware of the stresses and the struggles and the joys and the anticipations. I can tell when they need a break and when they need a push, when they need a treat and when they need a nap. I’m willing to listen to the rambling recaps of the book they read or the movie they watched or the game they played at school. I am also willing to be pushed or yelled at or pinched or ignored without reacting in kind. (Though with a good talking to later, when tempers have cooled.)
As time goes on, if my game plays out right, as they look back on the story of their lives they’ll see things they didn’t see before and understand in a new way. And they’ll realize, I hope, that Mom was always there. And while it was annoying and weird and startling and embarrassing at the time, well . . . *fingers crossed* it worked.
Mom isn’t so bad. She’s actually not the worst. In fact, she may even be one of my favorite people. Because she listens. She won’t react. She’ll always be there.