Sunday, April 28, 2013

Second Best

I'm currently the second-best mother in our family.  I hear "NO! Mommy! No Mama!" way too often.  This regime started slowly around the same time I started doing overnights in Baltimore.  It's good that LB and B function really well while I'm gone, and LB feels safe and secure with her Mommy, but it sucks being second best.  I know it sucks for all those dads and straight-moms who are second best, but from my humble perspective, being the second best of two moms digs just a little bit deeper.  A parent who is second best in an opposite couple at least has the excuse of "of course a small child would feel closer to her [insert mother or father] at this stage in her development."  Meanwhile, I'll I've got is "of course it's natural for a young child to prefer a mom who is more fun and entertaining, and generally less pissy."

We hit a low point when LB was sick and shrieky and miserable.  I spent five solid days with her and could not maintain a good attitude about not only dealing with a miserable child, but a miserable child who wanted me to go away so that she could have Mommy.  Since then I've been redoubling my efforts to find joy with LB on her terms.  Although we've only been once so far, swimming is a good activity we both enjoy, and one during which she is happy to cling to me without thinking of Mommy.  When I can get past my grumpiness and be silly with her, we can have a good time, and even if it's only for a few minutes, I try to focus on that time.

My second-best-ness in motherhood has dovetailed nicely with my second-best-ness in employment-and sadly that is probably a massive overestimation.  I assume that when you send out your employment materials and hear nothing, you aren't second best, you are hundred-and-something best.  These are times when it sucks to be an academic, and not only because I am the most overqualified underqualified person out there (or rather one among too many such people, I read this post and felt sympathy, empathy, and fear).  Academic life habituates the experience of failure.  Of course, there is the job market.  When I was still young and tender, I sent out my tens of dossiers each season.  I did reasonably well in the getting of interviews, and spent a good amount of time on long, awkward interview visits.  The worst were the ones when I realized a few hours after hitting campus that it was highly unlikely anyone would vote for me, and I was only there because of a favor to an old friend or a departmental rivalry, neither of which would get me an offer.  Slightly better were the visit where I didn't bomb, was reasonably witty during dinner, and held out hope that maybe I might get a call for a job that was too much work for too little money in a place I had no desire to live.  Then hope would die slowly over the silent weeks that followed.

Eventually after what felt like a few hundred application packets, I did get a job.  I'm trying to remember that you don't need to get every job, you just need one.  Beyond the brutalities of "the market," academia teaches you that anything good is suspect, that you're not smart until you disassemble something and reveal its flaws.  That training did make me smarter, but it also made me aware of my flaws to a degree too honest to be useful in an entrepreneurial society.  Maybe I could monetize second-best-ness by inventing a new genre, not the failure memoir, but the not quite good enough memoir.  Probably that already exists.

I welcome advice, and that is not something I say very often.


  1. No advice, but the never-hear-back that has become so prevalent in our society infuriates me to no end. We have the capability to so easily be in contact with people and yet it's too much to ask to get a form letter saying "sorry, the position has been filled" or even a "you're not what we want." END RANT. I think that your response to LB sounds great in terms of thinking about things you can both enjoy.

  2. It's really frustrating, particularly for jobs where you apply online. You would think they could at least post a generic "this is where were at in our process" update. But, at least project "enjoy the child" has been going pretty well. She like to hear me sing, even though I am always off-key, so we've been singing a lot.

  3. I wish I had advice that worked. I am also the second best mother which frankly, most of the time, feels like last best mother. Like any other mother would be preferable to me. I remind myself that I am still better than everyone else (even though it doesn't feel like it) and that there are things I am best at. I ask my wife to leave those things to me so that I have something that makes me feel first and she graciously allows it. In writing, it seems as ridiculous as I'm sure it sounds but waiting for this developmental stage to pass doesn't make me feel better so I grab what I can - for me, singing songs and telling stories before bed. My wife *could* do it but doesn't and for a minute, I'm the best mama.

  4. I've also been doing a lot of singing, which a child really likes-even though I have an objectively awful singing voice-so I guess that's a win/win. I think part of the suckage is definitely not just the feeling of being non-preferred, but also feeling like a loser because I care so much. As my mom use to say, oh so helpfully, when I was a kid, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."