We were sitting on the ferry as the sunset painted the New York skyline a rosy gold. It was an unseasonably warm January day, and I’d taken my boys and baby daughter with my husband to the museum at Ellis Island.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself, truth be told. After overhearing a discussion between the boys, I’d been floored by their general ignorance of history (who knew Pearl Harbor was in England?) and decided I should try to do something to rectify it myself. So I’d gone to the library the day before and had sat on the floor as the baby slept, perusing books on immigration and Ellis Island in the kids’ section in order to find two that my 6- and 8-year-old boys would find most interesting. I’d gone online to look for teaching materials for elementary school age kids about the site. I’d read to them that morning about Ellis Island as the gateway to America for immigrants. I’d had the boys call my mother to talk to her about our relatives who had come through Ellis Island. And then, at the museum itself, I’d walked them through with audioguides, explaining things and answering their questions. Did I mention that I also remembered to bring all the baby stuff, including her hat for the ferry’s breezes? I ROCK.
“So what did you think of our day?” I asked my husband, ready to hear paeans of appreciation for my parenting prowess.
“It was good,” he said. “I’m not sure how much the boys got out of it.”
“Good”??? Not sure how much the genius boys took away from it?? Pardon my Internet-speak, but WTF?????? The pink glow of the sunset turned to red, as my rose-colored glasses steamed up from my chagrin. We proceeded to have a discussion that could most easily be summed up as the following words, few of which were actually said:
Me: Praise me, damn it!
Husband: I didn’t criticize you. I just said I wasn’t sure how much the boys got out of it.
Me: You didn’t criticize me, true. You simply failed to express undying appreciation. And THAT was your mistake.
I have remarked before that one of the most unfair things about motherhood is that there is no gold-star rewards system. I mean, I get a free frozen yogurt, for example, after I buy 10, right? But what do I get after successfully making two lunches and two snacks every school day for weeks on end? Bubkes, that’s what. There’s no applause, there’s no rose bouquet. We don’t even get stickers. Not that I want stickers.
I get it: at this point in my life, I’m supposed to be mature enough that my good deeds are the reward in and of themselves. So why do I still thirst for the applause and praise? As it turns out, it’s a problem that was fed to me with my baby formula.
At lunch the following day with my parents, I re-opened the topic of what a wonderful parent I’d been on this intensive educational field trip. I admit that I fully expected to get at least one throwaway compliment from my mother. I recounted how I felt my husband (sitting at the table) had been insufficiently effusive in his praise.
My mother sighed.
“Now, you and I have the same problem,” she said to my husband, sort of like I wasn’t there. “When you have a child who is the only child for a while [I didn’t get a sibling till I was 4], you create someone who thinks the world should praise them all the time just because they are so fantastic.”
My husband laughed and nodded. In the meantime, I sipped my coffee thinking, Um…of COURSE the world should praise me! Where is she going with this?
My mother looked over at Baby G. “You’d better get a little sister or a brother, kid,” she said knowingly. “Or the same thing is going to happen to you, what with everyone thinking you’re the best thing that ever happened in the universe.”
Baby G smiled a sweet, angelic, dimply smile, a thin thread of drool emerging from her rosy lips.
“God, isn’t she cute?” my husband said.
“See, it’s already started,” my mother said.
And it certainly has. This little girl is perfect – provided that you pay her non-stop attention all the time. She’s the best behaved baby around – if you’re talking to her, holding her, playing with her or engaging her. If she doesn’t have your total attention, though, she gets pretty annoyed, and she lets you know.
I’m trying to figure out who she reminds me of.