Saturday, May 29, 2010

Playing Favorites

The whole family is in my bed…Sophia, Kevin and I...spending a few intimate moments before we deposit Sophie in her crib for her requisite 12 hours of sleep.

It’s five minutes past her bedtime, Sophie is giddy in an over-tired, second-wind kind of way. She’s rolling between us, taking turns asking us for a specific number of hugs. “Daddy give me five hugs,” and Daddy obliges. “Mommy give me seven,” and I give her seven staccato squeezes, counting them off. Sophie, less than an inch in my face, so close I have to squint to focus on her, says, suddenly serious, “You are my favorite and Daddy is YOUR favorite.”

Fascinating. Kevin attributes this statement to a healthy resolution of the Oedipal Conflict. I’ll try to translate this psycho-analytic jargon into plain English: According to Freud, the Oedipal Conflict arises from unconscious desires to possess the parent of the opposite sex (Kevin) and eliminate the parent of the same sex (me), manifested in declarations such as, “I want to marry daddy.” (Sophie actually said this, while fingering his wedding ring on more than one occasion.) Resolution of the complex takes place when the child beings to identify with the parent of the same sex and rejects the parent of the opposite sex, which (according to classical analytic theory) is the key to the development of gender roles and identity. It’s a theory, which, like any theory, is an attempt to explain a process based on observation. Though it fits nicely with the storyline of Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus Rex, and, it does seem to be a dynamic that is occurring in my household, I don’t wholly embrace it. For one, unsuccessful resolution becomes a disease model of homosexuality, which I reject wholesale. And two, it’s only part of the picture.

I think Sophie’s fantasy was/is more along the lines of fundamental Mormonism—that somehow we could become sister-wives, both married to the man we love, living polygamously ever after. I don’t think she ever wanted me out of the picture. This isn’t hubris. I have evidence. There has not been an evening where she hasn’t wanted me to carry her to bed, a boo boo where she hasn’t looked to me for comfort. I think she has always seen Kevin and me as fulfilling two very distinct and necessary roles in her life. It is rare that I can evoke a belly laugh from her like Daddy can. But there are times when only Mommy will do. Her preferences seem to have more to do with personality than they do with sex.

So how do I read her complex interpretation of our familial relationship to one another? “Favorite” is a new and delicious concept for Sophie. It comes with the understanding that she has agency and choice. These days, she is constantly asserting her own “favorites” and expressing curiosity about mine: While reading Curious George takes a Job, “Mommy this is my favorite page; what’s your favorite page?” Holding up the round duplo pieces she has deemed “her lollipops,” “Mommy this is my favorite lollipop; which one is yours?” Interestingly, she doesn’t want us to have the same favorite. She wants us to have shared interests, but separate likes. She is looking to define herself as other than me, while still maintaining a deep and abiding connection. And, perhaps the most moving aspect of all of this is that she is AS interested in my interests as I am in hers. She understands that I have unique thoughts and preferences different from own. She cares about what I think. She cares about what I like. These are the building blocks of empathy. Her statement, “You’re MY favorite and Daddy is YOUR favorite,” is not globally true. It is true in this moment. She might as well have been saying, “I love you, and you love daddy.” We both love, and we love differently.

No comments: