Love Is Not Finite
“You’re my favorite,” I winked conspiratorially at my son.
My 17-year-old daughter was packing for Spain and having a conniption about not being able to use her phone (the terribly backward iPhone 4). We had arranged for a loaner Droid, but it was not up to her standards. It was my fault.
My husband was scornfully not eating his delicious crabcakes for dinner, because I had forgotten to get tartar sauce to accompany them. His dinner was ruined. It was my fault.
My son had dutifully done his homework and uncomplainingly eaten his crabcake. He pointed both out to me, leveraging the opportunity to come out on top of the family rating scale that evening. And so, what else could I say but “You’re my favorite.”
“Ah! Mom, do you know that that is the first time you’ve said that to me?” he replied with an earnest look into my eyes and a catch in his voice.
He is almost 14. How could that be?
“Kiera, Daddy, even Cooper! (our beloved parakeet) but never me,” he added, inserting knife and twisting.
Maternal guilt strikes.
“Who’s Your Favorite” had become a family joke. All Aidan’s life, he has anxiously and eagerly demanded to know who was our favorite. So sure it was his ambitious, obedient, over-achieving big sister. So desperate for it to be him, we dealt with it by:
- Refusing to answer the question.
- Answering the question by naming anyone in our family community except for him – teasingly.
- Engaging in long, philosophical conversations about love.
How could he possibly be insecure about our love for him?! We have enfolded him, literally and figuratively, into our arms, our lives, our hearts, profoundly. I know no deeper love. How does he not know this to the core of his soul?
When I was pregnant with him, I confided to my husband: “I love Kiera so much. I am afraid I won’t love another child as much.” As an insecure only child, I had little-to-no experience with groupings of people, waxing and waning of friendships, sibling rivalry. I did know what it was like to want to be the favorite of my parents in our dysfunctional triangle. I, like Aidan, wanted people all to myself. If there was fighting, it meant the love was gone. I never experienced “normal” family fighting and making up and loving each other even when you disagreed or thought the other person was annoying. My husband, one of three children, said gently to me: “Love is not finite. You will make room in your heart for another child.” How did he know?
Sure enough, when Aidan was born, my heart burst open more and there it was: deep, profound, maternal love for this amazing creature. So different from my first child. He is sweet, sensitive, eager to please yet stubborn, charming, competitive, funny, empathetic, motivated by avoiding parental displeasure, disarmingly naïve, and deeply honest and transparent. He pretty much would be happy staying home 24-7 and hanging out with us all day long. He tolerates school, mainly because it is important to us. His is a tough personality to have in a family where everyone else is busy being an over-achiever.
How can I help him feel secure that we love him and confident that his qualities are valuable? It is challenging for me to not focus on academic and competitive achievements, because that is what I have spent my life valuing. Aidan’s interests and talents lie elsewhere.
He is the best hugger I know and will happily spend unlimited amounts of time just being close. Just being. Not my comfort zone. I want to encourage healthy, loving touch between mother and son. Since I did not have that with my father, nor with my mother, it is difficult to know how best to be close. Am I helping or hindering his appropriate development and eventual independence and separation?
He is not self-conscious. He says what he thinks; he asks what he doesn’t know; and he is loyal to his family and his friends with intensity and without embarrassment. There is no calculus of how is behavior or his words will impact his social standing or his cool factor. He wears his heart on his sleeve. As first grade teacher Mrs. Goldman whispered to me at our parent-teacher conference, “Aidan is a treasure.” Yes, he is.
He plugs away at all that we ask of him, with mixed ability and mixed results. He is diligent, resistant, a procrastinator, a day-dreamer, hard-working, lazy, thoughtful, creative.
He makes me laugh.
He remembers the words to all the tv commercial jingles. (But not the words to all the math theorems.)
My interactions with him frequently take the form of nagging. Did you do your homework? When is your next math exam? Did you read the chapter for ELA yet? Pick up your clothes. Make your bed. Set the table. Take a shower. The time we spend together revolves around working on homework or driving to tennis clinic. It is wearing us both out. Surely there is more for us to talk about and do together? I am at fault. On the treadmill of life and achievement, I want to make sure he is keeping up. Instead of quizzing him, perhaps I should listen to him, say yes more, and be open to what he has to teach me, to offer me. Lessons on how to love, how to relax and have fun, how to be.
A few weeks ago, Aidan invited me to go to the movies with him. I suppressed my impulse to say “No, I’m too tired on Fridays and just want to go home and relax.” After all, how much longer will a 13-year-old boy want to go to the movies with his mom? We went out to dinner afterwards and shared our thoughts about the movie. And then we did it again the following week. And again the following week. Maybe this will be our thing. It is for now. When I get out of the house I’m not consumed with all the chores I should be doing and all the homework he should be doing. When we get out of the house, we can just be ourselves, having fun together.