By BETH VRABEL
Which dress to wear in the morning takes Emma, 6, a good half-hour each night.
I narrow her choices to three. She must choose one of those three or I will choose for her.
The pink one with the half-sleeves and silver heart? The jumper with polka dots? The plaid skirt with sparkly T-shirt? Oh, the decision-making! I lay them across her bed while she decides.
But somehow, this makes that purple dress with the buttons all the way down the front, the one still hanging in the closet, just so, so pretty. So perfect. And it doesn’t matter that it will be among tomorrow’s choices, when all she feels is its loss today.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jonah Lehrer, the author of “How We Decide” and who will be in town Oct. 22 at Martin Library in York.
Lehrer explained loss aversion, a concept for how the brain retains the feeling of loss much more acutely than the feeling of gaining something. It’s what prompts us to hold off selling a house during poor economies and keeps us from getting rid of failing stocks.
I wonder how much loss aversion influences my parenting. How what I’ve gained slips through my fingers like a minnow, flashing away before I appreciate its beauty, while what I’ve lost crashes like a boulder into still water, rippling through me long after first impact.
I miss Emma’s sleepy face, dawdling over her cinnamon-and-sugar toast while we plan our day’s adventures — the library, the sprinkler, a bug-hunt — on summer’s endless days.
Now our mornings are rushed affairs, with her coming down for a bowl of cereal already dressed, hair combed and face washed and book bag packed.
I see Benny, who turns 3 next month, with his close-cropped hair and sly grin, and I miss his baby chipmunk cheeks and the way his hair used to fluff the top of his head like cupcake icing. I love the kid he’s becoming, of course I do, but I miss the tender sweetness of his babyhood.
The trick to avoid loss aversion’s influence, Lehrer said, is to think more about thinking. Reflect — and cling to — those gains and the losses will lighten.
So when Emma disappears behind those folding school bus doors in the morning, I don’t wish for summer’s freedoms. I smile at Benny, who tries to mimic the way I wave the sign-language symbol for “I love you” to Emma (but usually ends up unknowingly flashing the bus an obscene gesture). I realize I get to spend all day with this funny, sweet boy who will too soon become a man.
And, in a few hours, I’ll be back at this bus stop, waiting with Benny for what has become both of our favorite moment of the day — when that bus with our girl inside flashes its yellow lights and she comes stumbling down those stairs with a face-splitting grin and arms out for a hug.
Of course, she promptly shoves her backpack at me and ignores her brother so she can race down the sidewalk with her friends, but still, I’m going to hold on to that moment.
Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 2. For more Smart Mama click here.