Parent Moments: Embracing the Middle Child
I do not have an abundance of skills. I'm not very handy, I can't pick stocks, I don't swim very well, and I can barely hit a baseball. However, I do possess one talent that proved its worth once fatherhood hit: I will make a long-distance basketball shot for a large stuffed animal at an amusement park or carnival every time. My kids' room is full of oversized prizes from carnivals past -- from a great yellow elephant big enough to ride to a regulation-size Shrek basketball.
And so it was with complete confidence that I strode up to the game booth at an amusement park this summer, slapped down a dollar, and calmly drained my shot. All that was left was to choose my prize. There was a large bear in a Red Sox shirt, which I knew my 6-year-old would love, because he's as big a fan as I am. There was a cute black-and-white horse that I was sure my toddler son would immediately snuggle up to. It was a tough call, but I went with the horse, figuring that my oldest still possessed the giant elephant from the game I'd won when he was the only child.
As we walked away from the booth and down the boardwalk, I noticed my 4-year-old daughter, Tiny, straggling behind, clearly sad about something, though I wasn't quite sure about what. She wasn't whining or complaining, which usually meant that whatever was bothering her wasn't just one of a preschooler's run-of-the-mill troubles.
Near the end of the boardwalk, I watched my toddler ignoring his new horse and my 6-year-old racing along as he happily anticipated a bumper-car ride. Then, like a CSI flashback, I began to replay the scene at the basketball booth in my head, and suddenly realized what I'd missed -- Tiny standing at my side as I took the shot, Tiny eyeing the prizes longingly, Tiny sulking off as I talked over my choices with my older son. I also realized that amid the rows of stuffed prizes was an adorable Hello Kitty doll.
"Tiny, come with me!" I called to her, scooping up the untouched horse from the stroller as we walked back to the booth, where I threw myself on the mercy of the barker, asking him to make an exchange for Hello Kitty. He agreed, and my daughter skipped away happily, telling me that she had already planned where her new Hello Kitty would go in her room, and which friends she'd show it to first.
I was relieved that I'd made things right, but also stricken with guilt. Not only had I ignored my daughter, I'd treated her like a classic Middle Child. I resolved then and there to do better. In a couple of weeks, I'd planned on bringing my oldest to his first Red Sox game at Fenway Park. Before we left the amusement park that day, I decided that Tiny needed a special day, too. So a few days before the trip to Boston, I took a day off and brought my little girl to the Museum of Modern Art, taking in the exhibits, running up and down the escalators, enjoying pasta in the café, but mostly validating that she was as deserving of special things, and special times, as any oldest or youngest child. I hope I don't slip up again.