My son doesn’t like me very much at the moment. I’m trying not to overthink it but, unfortunately, overthinking is one of my favourite pastimes.
As a child, I dissected the trite aphorisms I was given by adults. How was it that you were never too old to learn, so long as that thing wasn’t ‘new tricks’, in which case you were no better than the proverbial old dog?
How come many hands made light work, except when it came to broth-making, in which case a surplus of cooks was said to spoil things entirely? (I often followed up with a sincere battery of questions on how broth-making ever got so ubiquitous that its axioms entered common speech.)
I never got answers to any of these – adults usually found it a better approach to wander off while I spoke – but I’m reminded of such paradoxes a lot these days, since they’re often deployed in relation to my retreat in my son’s affections.
My wife, who can be quite sympathetic when she puts her mind to it, attempts to make me feel better by suggesting it’s only a case of overfamiliarity. Our nursery was closed recently, so I was looking after him all day for two weeks. During this time, he was ratty and bored in my presence and overjoyed when she descended the stairs from our box-room office, like a siren of joy and delight relieving him from the horror of my company.
‘He’s excited to see me, because he sees you all the time,’ she’d console, our son clamped to her torso like a small bird just rescued from an oil spill. This ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ explanation was a touching attempt to buoy my spirits, and would be easier to accept had she not used the opposite reasoning during those times where he’d seen more of her. Then, his clear preference for his mother was put down to my being ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
It’s in this paradox I find myself, but I shouldn’t take it personally. He’s two. He says goodbye to clouds when they pass out of view and kisses his trains every morning, so it’s fair to say his social skills are still a work in progress.
I, on the other hand, am 34 and should be able to rationalise that this is a normal part of parenting and his loyalties will wax back and forth between us, without cause or meaning, well into his teens. I know this. It’s just easier to speak this sentiment – or write it down in a gently humorous parenting column – than feel it in my heart of hearts as he wails in my face.
For the time being, I hang on for those moments when he does seek my affection. When she clips his fingernails, he clambers toward me, pleading for me to save him from her shiny, snipping instruments of death. I console him avidly, and refuse to repay the kindness she gives me in such situations. I tut at her cruel machinations and tell him I’d never do such things. I’ll do what I can to get the cuddles I need; I just hope she doesn’t overthink it.
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