In some respects, motherhood brings out qualities you didn't know you possessed, like patience, skill at using your forearms to hold down a squirming, furious child who would rather dive head-first off the changing table than let you open his diaper, or the ability to use a bathroom while still wearing a baby in a Bjorn dangling from your chest. But it also unearths a few ugly things now and again, and I'm grappling with one of mine now: jealousy.
The other day, I emerged from my office at 4 p.m. to take the reins from Maria. She hugged Dylan and set him down next to the coffee table, and he looked up at her -- eyes wide as saucers -- and stuck out his lower lip in a mighty, cartoonish frown. So she hugged him one more time, then handed him to me. Dylan took one look at me, one look at Maria, and burst into tears. He twisted, he turned, he threw an elbow into my throat, he reached for her. And a tiny piece of my heart broke off and went down into my feet.
This is exactly the friendship and love I want my kids to feel for Maria -- for anyone taking care of them, spending this kind of time with them, as she does. I don't begrudge them their playtime, their closeness. But I also can't escape how much it hurts when Dylan is like, "YOU? OH HELL NO." Liam manages to be thrilled to see Maria while also clutching for me sometimes, and deriving comfort from being in my arms. Dylan does not.
It doesn't have to do with Maria directly, either. Once Kevin went on hiatus, he spent more time with the boys in the evenings, because Jessica and I were scrambling to hit deadlines. Knowing he was there and that I didn't have to finish my work cold-turkey at 4 p.m. made life easier for me and I wanted to make the most of it. I was still there for dinner time, still there for the bedtime bottle and pre-bed roughhousing that helps them burn off that last bit of energy. But I've grown to suspect that it affected Dylan weirdly -- that, or I did something else to upset or offend or hurt him. Because in the past few months, I am Dylan's no. 3 choice behind Maria and Kevin, and it's not even close. In fact, put anyone else in my house, and they're probably right up there in that three spot with me.
Maybe they're more comfortable, and so when he's tired or scared he can snuggle up to them better. Maybe I messed up and was trying too much to work like it's the old days, pre-kids. Or maybe, on some subconscious level Dylan doesn't understand, he associates me with being scared and distressed in utero, when he was starving and basically had to engineer a prison break. I don't think it's always been this way, although I don't think he's ever been a mama's boy, either. All I know is, recently Maria put him in my arms while she took a bathroom break, and when she returned, he all but took flight leaping out of my lap toward her. And it really hurt. Because at the end of the day, I'm flawed enough to be jealous of my nanny. To wish they could always love me best. It's funny how parenting brings out the selflessness and selfishness all at once. The kids come first, but why can't I come first for them, too, and ME ME ME ME.
People laugh at me, say it's just a phase. "He loves his mommy," they oh-silly-you, and they're probably right on some level, but that doesn't solve anything for now. It doesn't make it sting less when my son would rather go to someone else. It doesn't make me any less self-conscious when Dylan is upset at PT and bypasses me in favor of seeking solace with Maria. I feel like the perpetual bad cop, the torturer who enforces physical therapy regimens and makes him eat dinner and go to bed and brush his teeth. It doesn't help me understand how to reinforce the bond without treating him differently or making Liam feel excluded.
Jealousy is an awful, stupid thing that colors my vision. I'm embarrassed that I've given it any credence at all. Although I admit sometimes I wish I'd hired a nanny whose name wasn't so close to "mama," because when they call her that -- and they do -- it rips another tiny piece of me and flushes it away, as if the word isn't uniquely ours. I'm supposed to be their mommy. That's supposed to be for us. Why can't I wait patiently for the day when it will be, when they can verbalize and understand? Because I'm jealous. I hate it, and I am it.
It's getting better, slowly but surely. In some areas. Since Kevin's been back to work and I'm on the afternoon/evening patrol, Dylan is seeking me out a bit more, but still more so when I'm the only option. Last night, as he woke up screaming his lungs out from teething pain and exhaustion, Kevin handed him to me to see if I could get him to take some water. He wouldn't, so I stood up to rock him and make up silly songs to comfort him. He tensed and fought and yelled, then Kevin reached to take him back, and he burrowed into Kevin's neck and went quiet. (I would've liked to have kept him until he calmed down, just to establish that kind of connection, but Kevin thought he was doing me a favor by taking him back because it was Kevin's turn to do the night-to-5 a.m. shift. I'm only mentioning that misunderstanding -- which we sorted out later -- because I want to make it clear that I don't just hand Dylan off every time he protests.)
Seeing all the other kids who show up for therapy, kids with very real problems, puts it into perspective a bit. Some days I'm calm and practical about it. Others, I'm emotionally turgid. Nothing is easy, and that's part of the point. It's a lifetime of getting to know each other. I just wish he'd trust me more unconditionally, because it makes me wonder what I did to violate his trust along the line. I want to be his safe haven, not just the most convenient port in the storm. I want him to love Maria, to want to be with her, but not to the exclusion of me. But I guess in some ways, it's an early reminder of how I have to be there for him while letting him find his own path. I don't love him less because he wants other people more. I just respect myself a tiny bit less for making the comparison.