Suburban Snapshots

Where We Feel Loved

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Dada, can you help me put this slide together?" Steve had just walked in from work, barely taken off his boots and was making a beeline for Anna's new bedroom, where trim was waiting to be fastened to the walls.

"Kiddo, do you want a toy slide or do you want me to finish your new bedroom this week?" I suggested that maybe she just wanted a couple minutes of his time before he disappeared into the back of the house as he's been doing after work for the past few weeks. He'd argue that she's so attached to me she barely notices his absence, I'd imply that maybe assembling the Barbie slide would help.

Steve and I have had this conversation often. His side is that he wants her to be self sufficient, or that he doesn't understand why I wait for him to go into the kitchen before asking for a glass of water. It drives him crazy still that I ask to taste his meal when we eat out. He's practical and disciplined, and I've spent sixteen years explaining that sometimes when people ask for a favor or a bite or help opening a jar, they just want to feel a little loved, taken care of.

"But how hard is it to get off the couch and pour yourself a glass of water?"
He misses the point.

"I want her to be able to do things for herself."
Usually she does. Sometimes she just wants Daddy.

The line I use on him when we get on the topic is that not everything needs to be a lesson. She's learning all the time, she's learning by watching what we do. I spend days feeling like not a word I say registers on her synapses and then she'll wander into my room to help me fold clothes or ask to set the table, she makes appetizers for guests and draws cheer-up cards for her friends. I think she has a solid foundation but like any kid, she needs almost constant reminders. She is capable of tying her shoes, brushing her hair, walking to bed, but sometimes she needs to watch our hands make a tighter knot, unsnare a tangle, or carry her to her bedroom. I wish he'd relent more often, but it's a struggle to convince him that she won't be calling us from college to double-knot her sneakers if we help her sometimes at age seven.

I know that Steve thinks I'm a good mom, but I'm also aware that he feels very much like the heavy. He doesn't witness our mornings, when it's all I can do to not exhaust my monthly reserve of yells to get her to M-O-V-E. I don't think he considers it the same kind of discipline when, over the course of our walk to school, I remind her to stay to the side and watch for cars, or when we're at a crowded grocery store on Sunday and I direct her to look out for other people. My lessons aren't as structured as his and maybe less obvious, and my affection is more blatant. He sees the learning during baseball practices, in using restaurant manners, in tying shoes and cleaning up. He tells her when he's proud and when he knows she can try harder.

He takes his work as a father very seriously: to raise her into a capable, compassionate, motivated person. And he's not all business—he's definitely the funner bedtime parent, more likely to let her pile tons of garbage on top of her frozen yogurt, more willing to drop what he's doing to go for a bike ride or spend an hour at Y family swim, he's the reason she climbed to the top of the jungle gym before she turned three and she'll still share the couch with him for a Sunday nap.

I get on him when I think he's being too overbearing and he lets me know when he thinks I'm coddling her. He parents in the way that makes sense to him, and I want to be sure that she understands where his love is.

I also want him to understand where she feels loved. He doesn't need to cater to her, or to be always nuzzling her, I don't expect him to spoon feed her or leap at her beck and call, but sometimes tie her shoes, sometimes bring her a snack, sometimes carry her just because she's tired. I remind him: she's just a little girl, and just for the moment.

We give love in the ways we've received it. Part of loving someone, though, has to be giving love in the way they understand. It's one thing to recognize that you're loved, to appreciate being loved, it's another to feel it. We all want to feel it.

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