October 22, 2013

I want a cocktail that reflects the mix of happiness and jealousy that I am feeling right now. Two parts happiness, one part jealousy. Or maybe three parts happiness and one part jealousy.

I want to make the jealousy component smaller than it is because jealousy is an ugly thing and because I don’t want it to distract from the happiness that is mine since my brother informed me last week that he and his lovely wife are expecting. They are nearing the end of the first trimester, so only a few family members know right now, but after long years of trying this is incredibly good news. I want to be an aunt. I want to see my brother get to be a dad. I want to see my sis in law holding a baby in her arms. My fingers are crossed and will remain so until May.

But they have everything. They did everything right. They are both successful and organized and have the baby-ready house and the large family car. My sister-in-law is professionally beautiful and works in television, and I am guessing that six months after giving birth she will probably be back to wearing a size three. And writing these things here makes me feel like an un-funny Bridget Jones, all petty and silly and focusing on the wrong things, but I had one thing that they didn’t have. One thing that made me think that in the grand scheme of things, if you measured my life and my brother’s they came out about even. He had the money and the smart career and the house and the savings account and I had my daughter.

And my  mom and dad visited this past weekend and it became very clear to me that I am the family screw-up, with my credit card debts (that I’m paying off, but still) and my rental home and my husband who is killing himself to finish his dissertation and my three-year-old who is strong-willed, not yet potty trained, has imperfect table manners, doesn’t listen when her grandmother tells her “no” and who spent a good part of the visit wanting to watch My Little Pony videos instead of playing with her grandparents. My mother, who loves me and has raised me well, is also the person in my life who makes me feel scruffy and insecure. She loves me, but I don’t think she’s ever been satisfied with me (except for the year when I lost forty pounds). And she made it pretty clear when she was here that she thinks I don’t know what I’m doing as a parent –  that I let Dot have too much screen time (probably true, that last, but not something you want to hear as criticism from your mother) and that I should invoke more discipline, push the toilet and the table manners and the respect for elders more than I have. I know it’s hard for Mom – she raised us by adhering to James Dobson’s books, and whenever we misbehaved, spanking could be easily invoked. We weren’t spanked often, but the threat of it played a large role in keeping us in line. And while I don’t think my brother and I had unhappy childhoods (quite the opposite) or grew up maladjusted, I do sometimes wonder what or who I might have been if corporal discipline had been out of the picture.

I spend a lot of time talking with Dot when she’s angry. I spend a lot of time telling her the whys of our rules, a lot of time sitting with her when she is mad or crying or screaming, a lot of time helping her to tell me why she is angry or why she wants to do things that she knows she shouldn’t do. I am doing my darndest to raise her well, to raise her to ask good questions, to know her own mind, to be compassionate and caring but not nice in the way I was raised to be nice. I don’t want her to always put others’ feelings before her own, but I still want her to know that the feelings of others are important. And she is very strong-willed, and sometimes I think being an only child makes her see herself more as another adult than as a child, partly because outside of school her playmates are me and N, so sometimes telling her no is hard, and sometimes getting her to do things she doesn’t want to do is hard, and this method (not that it’s anything so formal as a method, really) of parenting takes a long time, and it’s not quick or neat, and it hurts that my mother doesn’t see this as valuable parenting work, but as a problem that I’ve failed to solve.

The thing that hurts most is the fear that I have spoiled, that I am actively spoiling, my daughter. Because I do hand her the tablet after school so that she can watch videos while I cook dinner. I do let her eat too many sweet snacks, I haven’t been able to turn myself into the type of drill sergeant who could easily make both Dot and her father agree to an earlier bedtime. And on top of this, I don’t own a house, am decidedly overweight, rarely spend time on hair and makeup, only made tenure by the skin of my teeth, and have to take a day off work in order to clean up my home. It is all too easy to worry about what kind of role model I am, what kinds of bad behaviors I am modeling. I don’t get to raise Teddy, and somehow, having lost that experience, it feels extra important that I do a good job with Dot.

And now my brother and his wife are (hopefully, hopefully) going to have a wonderful little baby who will grow into a wonderful child who will most likely never through tantrums when the grandparents are visiting, who will be polite, go to bed at seven pm every night, and will be relatively perfectly raised. I can’t wait to meet this little baby, but I am having difficulty shaking off the fear that his or her existence is going to mean that my darling Dot will also be cast as the family screw-up.

Also, I really want Dot to have a living sibling. I really want another child. I’ve been feeling this longing for a baby like a sneaky, stabbing pain for the past couple months, but it would be irresponsible on several levels to pursue another pregnancy. N is just not into the idea, and at this point, I think we can either eventually own a house or have another child, but not both. Which feels like another failure on my part, actually.

Maybe writing this all out will help me to let the next few months be about my brother and his family instead of giving into the temptation to make their good news somehow all about me, which would be a pretty horrible thing to do. I am giddily happy for them, in spite of my own baggage. And giddily nervous for them, too. Unfortunately, we all know more about what sorts of things can go wrong than most families.

So I need a cocktail. So far I’m thinking of calling it a Friendly Nemesis or a Smiling Green-Eyed Monster. Maybe gin, maybe absinthe. Definitely bitters. Name and mixology suggestions welcome.




  1. Ugh. There’s so much pressure to do everything perfectly, and it’s impossible to keep up with others’ expectations of us. The one thing that comes to mind is the adage, “Don’t compare your insides to other peoples’ outsides.” They may appear to have it all from the outside, but you’re not in their marriage. We can never really know what struggles others have.


  2. I think it’s natural to be happy for someone else–truly, deeply, genuinely happy–and also find sadness for yourself pooling up at the same time. Quantitative comparisons are impossible, of course, but in situations like this, qualitative comparisons are also impossible.

    Here’s your situation from outside: You have a solid marriage that has weathered some incredibly tumultuous times and survived. You are raising a bright, curious, occasionally incorrigible three-year-old (and all the best children are somewhat incorrigible, if literature teaches us anything). You are tenured in a job you love. Your husband will soon have completed his PhD. You’re living in a cute little rental and saving to purchase a house.

    Those are enviable and impressive things. Your brother will probably have a sweet kid, but it won’t be Teddy and it won’t be Dot and it won’t be perfect.

    (And parenting advice from one’s own parents is patently ridiculous and should be taken with an enormous lump of salt and/or ignored immediately.)

  3. Ah Erica – I have not been able to get this post out of my mind since I read it last night. My cocktails are always just ever so slightly . . . sour these days. With little reason in many respects. Kind of lemon-y based?

    I have many of the same fears about my two living children, that I have spoiled them, that I AM spoiling them still. I second guess every single thing that I do, too soft, too mean, too much explanation, too little. That I’m raising them horribly. It’s exhausting.

    And I know what it is like to have a parent who is never satisfied with you. Doesn’t really trouble me apart from when it is refracted back at me through my relationship with own children and now I feel judged all over again somehow.

    For what it’s worth, I would take you as a role model for my own kids any day of the week. Intelligent, kind, curious, nonjudgemental and supplier of My Little Pony videos. What’s not to like?

    I hope that you find the portion of bitters in your cocktail decreasing. I’m really happy for your brother and sister in law as I know that this has been a difficult road for them but, like you, I can’t help the occasional twinge of the sours when confronted by those who appear to have it all and to do the ‘having it all’ so much more competently than I feel I do myself.

  4. You sound like a lovely parent. Food spoils, not children 🙂

  5. Spanking is easy. Parenting is hard. You’re parenting Dot. Be proud of that. And she may be indulged, but as AlwaysMy3Boys says, children don’t spoil. Also, in ten years, I don’t think it will matter – she’s here in your arms, and it’s wonderful that you take so much joy in bringing her happiness. I may be the only woman I know without a college degree. TENURE? You’re kicking ass. We rent, and my husband is still building up his second career. The first one was killing him – changes had to be made. No one gets us, but we love each other, and we take care of our kids and ourselves just fine.

    I guess I felt your pain – I just wanted to encourage you. I know how it feels to have parents who mean well, but still leave you feeling like a child. Dot is going to grow up knowing her very existence brings you happiness, and everything else is gravy, no matter what path she chooses. Whatever cycle of madness your mother is, hopefully, unknowingly perpetuating and putting you through, it seems clear to me that you’re breaking it, Well played, all around!

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