Playing Favorites

NapkinheadJulianna is in love with Mary Poppins at the moment. She asks for the movie virtually every day the instant she gets off the bus, and sometimes before (although it comes out sounding more like “Harry Potter”). But Mary Poppins is a long movie, and there’s crying and drama every time we have to turn it off to come to the table for dinner. Last night, though, was a leftover pasta night–and fresh gingerbread cookies for dessert–so the drama dissipated quickly. “Hay-ee Pah-ee?” she said hopefully as she nibbled her cookie.

“First we have to write letters to Santa,” I said. “And then yes, you can finish Mary Poppins.”

The squeal of delight took me by surprise. She flung her arms open wide and sat there bouncing in her chair until I came over, laughing, to give her a hug.

It was particularly gratifying because, although my daughter loves everyone in the entire universe with a love that knows no bounds, if you had to put rankings on everyone, I come in somewhere in the bottom quarter.

Parents aren’t allowed to have favorites, but children don’t feel any such compunction. You sort of expect it with babies. Christian always says Michael views him as “That Man.” You know. That Man is talking to me again, Mommy.

My boys are all Mama’s boys to some extent, but they love their daddy and crave his attention and approval too. But Julianna? Julianna’s a Daddy’s girl through and through. In the morning I come in to wake her up. I pull her up onto my lap, and she whimpers, “I wah Dah-ee.” At school, she talks constantly about going to swim lessons with Daddy, even though I’m the one that takes her at least half the time. The day Christian and I went to her school to talk about Down syndrome, I was sitting in her chair when she came back from OT or wherever she was…and she screamed, “Dah-ee! Look evee bah-ee, it’s my Dah-ee!” Then she paused and said nonchalantly, “Ee Mah-ee.” (Ee is “and.”) Daddy got a hug.

Mommy did not.

Not that I’m keeping score or anything.

I keep a sense of humor about it, but like everything else about parenthood, it causes me angst. Am I too grumpy? Is that why she gives me the cold shoulder? Is it because most of the time I spend with her doing homework? Is it because she can sense my impatience when she wants to read an entire book to me? (I know, I know, but she is sooooo slow. And she won’t take turns. She wants to say every word herself, but every word takes two seconds, between pointing to it and saying it aloud. Think about that for a minute. Think about reading Green Eggs and Ham at that rate, for instance.)

The trouble, in part, is that a mom who stays home is tasked with all the taking-care-of jobs. It’s my job to get food on the table, make the doctor appointments and hold her still while she’s poked and prodded. You get the idea. My job is chaufferring and carpool and putting-coats-on and put-those-DVDs-back-where-you-found-them and you-must-eat-your vegetables.

Daddy does those things too, when he’s here, but he’s at work a lot. So he has the advantage of novelty. And although the whining and bickering gets to him as much as it does to me–although he has plenty of his evenings and weekends taken up by grown-up concerns–he’s not emotionally saturated with kid presence the way I am. So he tends to be more the “fun” guy. (Of course, it helps that he enjoys playing more than I do.)

The other factor is the sheer power of her brothers to overwhelm her. She just kind of hangs out most of the time while the boys are pummeling me with their need for attention. It’s harder for her to communicate. I wish I knew what the solution was to that, but I’m always having to yell at some XY in the house to stop fill-in-the-blank or go-fill-in-the-blank-that-I-told-you-three-times-already. I try to take time for Julianna, but I know my relationship with her gets overwhelmed by boys’ needs.

I suspect that Julianna and I will really become close when the boys start separating from home. It makes me wince to think of waiting that long to get close to her, but in the meantime I just have to do the best I can.