Have you met families in which everyone seems to like all the same things? You know, the kind of people who say, “We took the kids skiing and they ALL loved it!” or “The girls can hardly WAIT to go camping every year!” or “This is EVERYONE’s favorite restaurant!”
We are not one of those families.
I’m not really sure why. Sure, we have two girls and one boy, so there are bound to be some gender-related issues. But still. Only six years separate the oldest and youngest – not an overwhelming age difference – and their childhoods have all been remarkably similar – they’ve attended the same schools and had all the same opportunities. And, lest we forget, they share the same two parents. But the connection ends there, and so does their ability to come to a unanimous decision on anything.
Over the years, I’ve developed an internal mechanism that automatically calculates my kids’ likely response to any situation. For example: Meatloaf for dinner? 1 for, 2 against. A night out at the movies? 2 for, 1 against (too boring). Attending a sporting event? 1 for, 1 against, 1 maybe (depending on snack availability). A trip to the zoo? 2 for, 1 against (animal rights). Scrambled eggs for breakfast? 1 for, 2 against. Off the top of my head, I can think of only about a half dozen things that all three kids would go for, and a split decision can lead to anything from stoic acceptance to wily negotiation to a serious sulk-a-thon.
Sometimes I wonder if we’re less like an actual family and more like the ensemble cast on a TV sitcom, where a wacky bunch of diverse personalities are thrown together and hilarious conflict ensues. I can almost picture each of my kids being introduced in the opening credits…
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s meet our cast! (Applause)
The Athlete: a 14-year-old girl who loves soccer; competitive, goal-oriented; a thrill-seeker
The Actress: an 11-year-old girl with a passion for the stage; expressive, emotive; a drama queen
The Mathematician: an 8-year-old boy with a thing for numbers; curious, questioning; a collector of facts
There they are, folks! Now let’s put them all together in a house in the suburbs and see what happens! (Laughter)
The pilot episode could take place at an amusement park (1 for, 2 against), where God knows we’ve tried our best to experience family fun. The Athlete is pumped up to ride every ride – the scarier, the better – and sprints from one roller coaster to the next. The Actress enjoys riding some of the rides, but not the most extreme ones. She spends a lot of time in line trying to decide if she will actually board the roller coaster. (To ride or not to ride? That is the question.) The Mathematician is not interested in rides at all. Instead, he wants to play arcade games. When he runs out of money, he will happily watch complete strangers play and memorize their high scores. If we’re lucky, we’ll all spend 15 minutes together eating lunch.
Episode 2 could have been filmed on our Spring Break trip to Hawaii this year. My husband and I lived there in the 1990’s and were thrilled to finally go back for a family vacation. We woke up early the first morning and decided to hike Diamond Head, the volcanic crater at the edge of Waikiki (2 for, 1 against). The trail is steep, but less than two miles round trip, and there’s a dazzling view of Oahu from the top. After a quick stop at Starbucks (2 for, 1 against – no chocolate chip muffins) we were on our way.
The Athlete took the lead early. “Race you to the top!” Before long, the Actress had to stop and articulate her feelings. “I think my blood sugar is crashing. Can I rest for a minute?” The Mathematician wandered on and off the trail, inspecting rocks and foliage. “I’m over here! I found something!” After a while, our little hiking party was spread out along a quarter mile of the trail. The Athlete grew impatient. “Come ON, you guys! Let’s go!” The Actress swayed and grasped the guard rail. “Thirsty. So…thirsty.” The Mathematician continued to collect and analyze data. “Will lava come out of this volcano? Are those people speaking Japanese?” This was not exactly the family outing I had in mind. Why couldn’t we be more like that family over there, all walking together up the trail? They were probably going out for breakfast afterward at some mutually agreed-upon restaurant, too. Sigh.
Eventually, the Mathematician was persuaded to race the Athlete up the stairs to the very top (counting each stair as he went), and the Actress got her second wind and decided that the hike must go on. We all found each other at the summit and took a moment to look around. And it was incredible. I took in the beautiful view, the cool breeze, and yes, even the three unique little people standing between my husband and me. There was no denying that each was blessed with singular gifts, character traits and yes, even the odd quirk or two. These are the things that make them so interesting. And so vexing, darn it. But maybe consensus is overrated. And maybe our mission as parents isn’t to make everyone like the same things, but to encourage everyone to pursue the things they do like – to follow their own path.
After a few minutes, we moved aside to make room for other hikers and began our descent. I realized that I probably had many, many more sulk-a-thons ahead of me.
“Let’s go to the beach now!” shouted the Athlete.
“No, I want to go to the pool!” cried the Mathematician.