Riding in Cars with Boys

If I want to know what Andrew is thinking, I just need to put him in the car. The five minutes between dropping Jordan off at preschool and dropping Andrew off at his elementary school are often the five most informative minutes of my day. I find out all kinds of things — did he get in trouble at school yesterday? does he have a new best friend? is he worried about something? All kinds of things that I’d never hear about if we weren’t in the car together for a few minutes.

This morning, I spent the entire ride to school being compared, unfavorably, to their mother. The boys were telling me that their mother loved Halloween, and always had the best Halloween decorations. Apparently she baked special Halloween desserts, too. Now, I can’t say how much of it is true, but I can tell you that my sons, especially Andrew, believe it. He spent a lot of time and energy telling me how much better Halloween, and life, would be, if I had more Halloween decorations and made more Halloween desserts.

Now, I’m no stranger to being compared to others and found to be wanting. My kids compare me to my husband all the time, and tell me how much more fun he is, how much more reasonable, and how much better. I make the rules, and like that episode of Modern Family where Claire and Phil traded roles, it wouldn’t work any other way. Still, when the boys ask, “Is Mark coming to the zoo with us?” and cheer when the answer is no, it stings a little.

I know they don’t really mean it, and they fall over each other in a race to tell me all about whatever adventure they had.

It’s harder when I’m compared to their mother. I know a lot about the reality, and they mostly just have mythology. To them, Mommy was perfect, a mythical creature made out of hugs and love.

Really, isn’t it better to remember her that way? There’s no question in my mind that she loved her sons, and that’s certainly what they remember. If nothing else, showing her children that she loved them was something she did well. A success in a long, sad string of failures.

I’m never sure how best to respond to their grief over losing their mother. All responses seem insufficient.

The other day, again alone in the car with the boys, Adele’s “Someone Like You” came on the radio. Now, that cd was in my car for months. They’ve probably heard the song hundreds of times. This day, though, Andrew said, “This song makes me think of Mommy. I really miss her.” Suddenly, a car ride to Nana and Grandpa’s for dinner was filled with sobbing from both my children, crying over the loss of their mother.

When we got to my parents’ house, grief was quickly forgotten in the impulse to look at Grandpa’s pumpkins and ask Nana to sew a rip in a stuffed animal. My mother could see it in my face, though, and we spoke about it briefly.

“You know,” she said, “Jordan is older now than Andrew was when the boys moved in with you.”

I nodded, not sure where she was going.

“At the time, we talked about how mature Andrew tried to be, and how he used to have such adult conversations. Try to imagine Jordan having the kind of conversations that Andrew used to have when he was four.”

It’s impossible. Jordan has the kind of conversations that four-year-olds have. He tells you about his toys. He tells you what camouflage is. Andrew used to say things like, “I know that Mommy can’t take care of me now, but how does the judge know that she’ll never be able to take care of me? I don’t think he can really know that.”

Carrying that weight on his shoulders, it seems only fair that I should have to carry the weight of subpar Halloween decorations.


About Mark

I'm a stay-at-home dad with a husband and two young sons. When I'm not driving the kids to school or camp or swimming lessons or cleaning up bathroom accidents, I try to remember to update my blog.

Posted on October 10, 2012, in Parenting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I know that you KNOW this…but you probably just need the reminder anyway – You gave those boys a chance at BEING boys. At having a real childhood. That they romanticize their memories of their mom is natural and would happen no matter who adopted them and how fantastic their Halloween decorations and treats may have been.

    They will thank you and thank you and thank you in so many ways as they grow into adults who will then understand what you did for them.


  2. Also – I fixed my profile link so it goes back to my personal blog again instead of my in transition always fluctuating 2nd business site.

  3. Don’t forget that kids who’ve suffered trauma have a very developed survival instinct. And they are masters of manipulation, because they probably had to learn how to get something out of adults for whom they may not have been the first priority. So forgive me if I’m completely wrong, but it sounds awfully to me as though they’re comparing you to their birth mother so that you’ll want to overcompensate and buy lots of Halloween decorations. the question is: do you buy them because you know they clearly really want them and it’ll make them feel listened to? Or do you not buy them because it’ll only reinforce that being manipulative works and it’s a technique worth using? I’d probably take them to the shop and tell them they can choose one each and no more. That way it’s something special you did together and not an exaggerated response to their comparisons with birth mother.

    As for your husband being the favourite, this is something I have experience of first hand, as you know. Do your best not take it personally, although it definitely stings, like you say. They will always do the to the rule maker and enforcer. An adoption counsellor told me it’s also a way for the kids to keep testing your commitment, even years after being adopted.

    I’m no expert, so forgive me if I’ve got this completely wrong.

    Keep well.


    • No, I think there’s a lot of truth there, Fernando. My older son definitely learned the art of manipulation, and uses it whenever he can. Younger son really didn’t.

  4. Great post, Mark. I’ve been thinking about doing a post about being the less-favorite Daddy myself. I’m the rule-maker because I’m home with them all day. When Daddy’s home, it’s party, party, party. They won’t even let me pick them up out of the bathtub.

    As for the Mommy stuff, that must really sting. How can you compete with someone who’s not even in the picture? Your story reminded me of this excellent essay from Dan Savage, called DJ’s Homeless Mommy. Maybe you’ve already read it:


    • Thanks for that link, Jerry, I hadn’t seen it. My sons’ mother is more functional than that, but those anxieties are definitely part of the landscape.

  5. Whew, this is my first time reading your blog and what an emotional vulnerable post this is. My husband is “daddy no” in our family, but our girl loves him unconditionally as I am sure your boys do with you. Sounds like their Nana was able to sew you up a bit too. 🙂

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