Kids, by nature, are scorekeepers. Meaning they’re constantly comparing what they have — or more specifically, what they don’t have — with other kids, and keeping track.
I know this because I was a kid and I knew plenty of other kids, too. We all kept score, whether it was a blockbuster movie another classmate got to see first, a neighbor’s vacation to Disney World or trip to Action Park, or everyone having Reebok Pumps except for you.
This is all especially true among siblings, and in many cases the score-keeping persists well into adulthood, but that’s another column for another day.
Being the youngest of three brothers — by 8 and 10 years, mind you — I would periodically comb through our family photo albums that were stacked in a bookshelf up in our large, unfinished attic in Rosedale, Queens. After finding a comfortable spot where I wouldn’t have to worry about falling through the floor, I’d flip through the albums, their designs a mix of floral, paisley and stripes, already relics of the late 1960s and ’70s.
Upon opening these albums, the first thing I’d always notice was that I wasn’t in any of the pictures. This is because by the time I was born, my mother had lost interest in putting family photos in albums. She would deny this, but the evidence speaks for itself: photos from my childhood never made it to an album, but instead ended up in shoeboxes or zippered-up plastic sacks that originally held curtain panels.
In looking through these family chronicles, I’d also take note of all the cool places my parents took my brothers. I’d often lament to the family that they did all the “fun stuff” before I was born. Of course, I did plenty of fun stuff — I just wanted to do exactly what my brothers did, too, for I was keeping score.
So, in the spirit of fairness — and, obviously, with my own childhood recollections in mind — I’m now writing about the expected birth of my son, who we will name Owen Edward. He’s due in just a few weeks, May 14. In 2013, I wrote a column about our daughter, Abigail Serafina, before she was born. The column was about how my wife and I were experiencing what’s called “nesting.” That is, running around like nuts trying to get the house ready in time.
I’ve been picturing showing Abby that column later in her childhood, then having Owen question why I hadn’t written any birth column about him.
I couldn’t say anything like this: “You see, I had lost interest in writing about upcoming kids after Abby was born, and I suspected my readers had, too.”
An excuse would sound equally ridiculous: “Your birth sort of just crept up on us.”
So here it goes; thoughts before Owen Edward White’s arrival to the world:
In pondering having a son and daughter, my wife and I have often discussed the sexes, and how we want the kids to gravitate to what they like — not have activities like dance and baseball shoved down their throats. Hence, our decision not to bombard our firstborn in everything pink. “We don’t even know if our daughter will like pink!” I’d often say as the pressure mounted from the family to buy more pink stuff.
There was also my decision to get Abby a Fisher Price baseball/football/basketball toy for her birthday, specifically from her dad. This shouldn’t be a radical idea, but for some reason no girls appear on the boxes of sports-related toys, so people shopping for girls might avoid them. Of course, Suzanne and I aren’t dictators about all this, but we feel it makes sense to be mindful of not predisposing the kids toward anything, or allowing society to do that either.
Suzanne and I often repeat to each other — and sometimes the family — a word of caution on parenting told to us by an old friend and former colleague of mine, Brian Harmon, who has a son and daughter of his own. He had found that a big problem with raising kids is that girls tend to receive compliments on how they look, while boys get compliments on what they do.
He has stressed to me that we should notice these positive reinforcement discrepancies when they occur and take whatever action we can to provide some balance. So, we do plan to keep our focus on Abby’s and Owen’s actions and accomplishments.
And every once in a while, we’ll let Owen know that he looks pretty good, too.
He just may be keeping score.
Michael White is editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected] or 298-3200, ext. 152.