Kids: They're Just Like Us!
I'm not quite sure what wins out in the battle of nature vs. nurture but, one way or the other, kids are a product of their parents. They look like us, talk like us and they share many of our little quirks. My wife Allie and I have many things in common, but we're also a bit of an opposites attract kind of couple. So there are certain behavioral characteristics we see in our kids that are a clear reflection of one, or the other, of us. And that's when we find it fun and amusing to play: the Blame Game! The rules are simple, when we observe a familiar characteristic in one of our kids we either lay "blame" or take "credit."
Rules of the Game
This "game" could, of course, go horribly wrong and be used to passive-aggressively point out the other's shortcomings. There are some (until now) unwritten safeguards. First, it helps that my wife and I love each other very much and that we think our kids are funny and awesome. Second, we play at the right time. If we're in one of those patches, common in most marriages, when we're kind of getting on each other's nerves or are not quite seeing eye-to-eye, we do not play the Blame Game. This is a silly little distraction, not a match to the death. Third, we don't reveal anything "new" or that we've been holding back. Allie and I have been together for fifteen years; we're both well aware of the individual idiosyncrasies that annoy the crap out of the other person. If there is some new troublesome habit, the Blame Game is not the right venue to bring it up.
Let the Games Begin
One of my many flaws that tick Allie off is that I become completely deaf and unresponsive when I watch TV or work -- OK, play -- on the computer. The fact that our daughter Penny is the same way serves as my comeuppance. It is really goddamn annoying! In fact, it bothers me more than Allie. I guess because she's used to dealing with it. Plus, I know it's a terrible attribute and I don't want my kids to inherit the things that suck about me.
Allie knows that I would love if her culinary tastes were more diverse. She's not just a picky eater, she's a world class pain in the a** when it comes to food. But Penny makes her look like a gourmand. With enough prodding, bribes and threats, Penny will try small bites of new foods, but it's always with a "yuck, I don't like that." The girl won't eat chicken nuggets... chicken friggin' nuggets! And she gets way too excited when the item she did enjoy is some kind of new cookie. She seems to subsist entirely on yogurt, string cheese, pb&j, pancakes, apples and treats. Even if it is nature not nurture, Allie gets the blame on that one. Simon eats everything. That's my kid.
Except when he's not. Like in the morning; he wakes up chirping, with a smile on his face. I wake up still asleep. Penny knows to tread lightly before I've had at least one cup of coffee. She's going to be a coffee drinker, too. She is not a morning person.
Most of the various characteristics we point out in the Blame Game are actually behaviors we find endearing, or at least charming, in the other person. Allie is adorably clutzy. So is Penny. I'm somewhat cavalier with my own safety; Allie might use the term reckless. She calls me an idiot, but I think she likes it (at least a little). Unfortunately, Penny lacks both grace and the good sense not to do crazy a** sh*t. It is not a good combination, though it can be fun to watch. She actually tends to get hurt more often just walking from Point A to Point B than she does jumping from Point A, over Point B, rolling under Point C and somehow landing at Point D. I've pointed out to Allie that she never gets injured pretending to run a Spartan Race; her knees are all scraped up from that less than treacherous jaunt to the kitchen for yet another yogurt drink.
I think we play the Blame Game because we want our kids to be the best they can be. When they were born, they were all potential. We couldn't do anything but start screwing them up from day one. So, when we see characteristics in our kids that are reflections of our best selves, it's a big check in the win column. When we see things in our kids that are less than ideal imitations of ourselves... it's kind of what we expected. But it's also an opportunity to do better, for them and for us. It's hard to change bad habits, but kids provide powerful motivation. These days, when Allie asks me something while I'm zoned out in front of the tube, I try to snap out of it long enough to mute or pause my show and ask her to repeat what she said. It's not perfect, but it's an improvement. And hopefully, Penny and Simon subconsciously take note.
It's fun to watch your children's personalities take shape. Right now, Allie and I are far and away the biggest influences in our kids' lives, so it's easy and amusing to pick out their attributes that remind us of each other. Soon enough though, they'll be inundated with influences ranging from friends to television to, well, each other. There are already things they do that make us wonder, "where did that come from?" Penny has her own circa-early-'90s-era sitcom catchphrase, where she puts her hands on her hips, speaks into a camera only she can see, and exclaims, "Holy shockamole, I sure am a handful!" Seriously, where did that come from?
As parents, we know (though we don't always like to admit it) our kids are going to keep growing and changing and becoming less and less like "us" and more like "themselves." Sigh. But as cute as they are as babies and toddlers, they become so much more interesting as they get older. Even at 4, I love the conversations I have with Penny. She makes connections and draws conclusions and has her own personal preferences that have nothing to do with Allie or me. She and Simon are full of surprises and the real joy of the Blame Game is taking note of the funny little things they do on a daily basis, wherever those things may come from.