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Playing Favorites

Declaring a favorite ice cream is one thing; a favorite child is another.

There’s nothing better than Peninsula parks in the summer. But I still haven’t declared a favorite.

Most of the parks we frequent have been renovated to newer play and height standards and many are equipped with water features that cool down our kiddos during the hot afternoons. Several even have convenient timers on their water play zones forcing the children to take a break for lunch.

If only the Ice Cream Truck would adhere to such time limits. It seems just as soon as we hit the park with a lunchtime picnic in mind, that annoyingly familiar tune begins blaring and the throngs of children that were torn from the sprinklers and misters are now drawn to the colorful, beat down truck that stuffs more assortments into a small freezer than most Midwest moms during the twister months.

I say no to the ice-cream truck just as much as I concede. I never allow it before lunch, knowing fair well that if that truck drives away while my kids are wolfing down their sandwiches, that another will drive up just as quickly. It’s about as predictable as those timed water features.

One recent afternoon, at a mere 11:34 a.m. the first ice-cream truck of the day pulled up to Burton Park, its tune jingling. You could almost feel the breeze of the collective sighs made by moms and dads attempting to either leave the park for toddler naps or begin their picnic ice cream free.

Wallpapered with pictures of Bratz pops, tearjerker bomb pops, Jolly Rancher snow cones, big sticks and Spiderman-faced, red dye specials, the ice cream man popped his head out of the window, surveying how many weak moms and dads were playing on that particularly warm Tuesday.

I was one of them. Within minutes, my kids were “starving” and asked for their lunches. They ate all their healthy food and then asked if they could have ice cream. Seeing as I had no real reason to say no, I caved.

We walked over to the shady white van and stood in line. My youngest son chose the Spiderman pop. He chooses this one every time. Perhaps it’s the bubble gum eyes or maybe the taste. But it melts more ice cream than he eats, a multitude of brown, red and blue stain his chubby arms for about a day afterward, despite much scrubbing.

My eldest son went for the Jolly Rancher watermelon flavored ice. It’s been his favorite for nearly a year.

But when it came to my daughter, she was torn. She wanted to Bratz girl, but they didn’t have one stuffed in the freezer. And there she stood, staring at the 47 different choices that line the van. Klondike bars, chocolate tacos, Scribblers, Dora pops. She couldn’t choose a favorite.

I told Ashley to choose three or four and then narrow it down. We’ve been here before. Choosing books at the library takes nearly an hour. But it’s a good lesson. She takes her time, copiously deliberating which book to take home. The same process was not so applicable on a hot day at the park with 10 anxious children waiting their turn to choose their treat.

“Ashley, you must have a favorite. There has to be one that you like more than the others,” I said, trying to encourage her to make a speedy choice.

We stood to the side allowing the other sucker parents and their sugar-seeking kids a chance to order. Ashley was still contemplating her choices.

“I just don’t have a favorite,” she said again. In my haste, I told her she must have one she favors just a smidge above the others.

With little conviction, she chose a Jolly Rancher snow cone. By the time it was in her hands, her brothers were slurping up their last dribbles.

On our ride home three hours later, my daughter posed the same question to me, but it had nothing to do with a favorite flavor.

With curious modulation, my near 6-year-old asked, “If you always must have a favorite, then who’s your favorite child?”

It was the first time this summer that my SUV had fallen perfectly silent.

I remember reading an October edition of TIME magazine on the science of favoritism titled, “Why Mom Liked You Best,” and at this moment, I was certainly glad I did. This was a topic that didn’t stop me in my tracks as I had contemplated it before.

I remember reading the article, and, having three kids of my own, feeling that the article did not convince me that a parent had to have one favorite. The article cited birth order, appearance, gender, reproductive narcissisms, family domains, and more as possible reasons for a parent to hold a favorite. And while I thought it was extremely well researched, I felt truly and wholeheartedly convinced that I didn’t have any feelings of favor for one over the other. All three of my kids are very different, from their looks, ages, attitudes, moods, idiosyncrasies and personalities.

Truth be told, I have a favorite child every minute of the day – and it’s never the same one. My favorite child of the moment is the one who’s minding mommy, helping the family, talking nicely, cleaning up his or her mess, smiling for no reason, saying something funny, reading silently, making a new friend, playing quietly, telling me a story … the list goes on and on.

I explained to my kids that they are all my favorites for many reasons, and I offered them a few of my favorite reasons why.

I learned something that day and it had nothing to do with favorites and everything to do with thinking before I speak. These kids have a keen way of twisting ideas around. Because while I am busy not playing favorites, my daughter might be busy playing me.

 

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