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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Midstokke: How to build a pedestal

By Ammi Midstokke The Spokesman-Review

Recently, while criticizing my husband for something fundamentally flawed in his person, like how he laces his boots or something, I was struck by a realization: Either I am perfect or my husband enjoys the relative peace that reigns when we both pretend I am.

As a middle child born into a family addled by poverty and the kind of trauma that’s passed down in utero via Crisco, cocktails and cruelty in preceding generations, I am hard-wired to impress. Some kids respond to the neglect of busy and burdened parents by becoming pyromaniacs or joining the Communist party or something. I swung to the other side of the attention-seeking spectrum in a spectacular, disastrous attempt to be the favorite child.

I read in a National Geographic article that it is true parents have a favorite child, although it is recommended they fervently deny this until their estates have been settled. Which is to say, forever.

I have avoided this potential conundrum by having only one biological child and squashing any doubts by announcing often, “You are my favorite biological child!” It has the added benefit of suggesting that bodily fluids were involved in their creation, which also happens to be my favorite way to disturb teenagers. The only thing they find more horrifying is when we attempt to use their lingo.

Having survived childhood prior to the studies on child favoritism, I went about my campaign all wrong. The evidence shows that parents tend to prefer the child that is most like them because it affirms their parenting ego. My mother had about two emotions (precoffee, postcoffee) while I had all the emotions all the time. My introspective and private father was bludgeoned by my ceaseless chattering, mostly about Mel Gibson (before I knew he was an antisemite!). I’m pretty sure I caused his deafness, which must have come as a great relief during my adolescence.

I proudly brought home stellar report cards to parents who were skeptical about the public education system. I recited Shakespeare while they listened to Bill Cosby tapes (before we knew he was a predator!). If I thought they’d approve of something, I’d do it bigger, better, further, more. But somehow I always picked the wrong things, tried too hard, or succeeded too much.

If I could have tattooed my heart’s need on my forehead, it would have said, “LIKE ME.”

I was told they didn’t know if liking me was possible. Which is strange, because I only called the cops on them like twice. And, sure, I liked “The Motorcycle Diaries,” but I didn’t actually become a Communist and any fires I’ve made have been mostly accidental.

It’s a dangerous thing to raise yourself into a need for differentiation. It is the birthplace of narcissists. Yet one might argue that needing to be seen is not, in itself, the beginning of a pathology of mind. Nor is the social and familial bonding mechanism of approval. Likely that would have sufficed and I could have spared myself the wasted goal of “favorite” and all the marathons I ran or weight I lost or political opinions I stifled trying to get there.

Which brings me to the importance of the pedestal. I am told they are topple-tippy things, a precarious risk to be stood upon. Once placed up there, the only place we can go is down. I disagree. We should be put on pedestals all the time, preferably for the most mundane things. I know this because my husband has healed a thousands wounds of my inner child by doing just that.

He literally told me he was proud of me for taking a nap the other day. This is brilliant because I’m really good at taking naps. What I’m learning is that it is often these nearly microscopic acknowledgments, the tiny affirmations of our choices, the nods of empathy when we wrestle with our mistakes, that give us our sense of place, belonging, worth.

We all need more of that these days. And we can offer it to each other in these tiny doses of observation – seeing the wonders in each other that we take for granted every day. And then saying them out loud. They remind us that we’re perfect – or at least good enough – just as we are, blemishes and baggage and all.

At the next opportunity, tell someone how much you like how they tie their boots, or pour a drink, or fold towels. Then watch their face as see your kindness reflected. That’s another thing we all need more of.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at