The births of both my oldest and youngest were a long time coming. The same OB delivered them, and they arrived into the world bald, cone-headed, and screaming for the breast. They latched eagerly, easily.
My middle son August, on the other hand, was born in four hours, start to finish, and will forever be known as the baby almost born in the Chinese restaurant. With a shock of black hair, he came quiet and latched slow. He was always different.
Let me be clear: I love all my children equally.
But. (There is always a but).
I do not love all my children the same.
I like hanging out and doing stuff with my oldest and youngest, especially my oldest, so much more. It’s not like I don’t try to connect with my middle son; it just comes so much more easily with the others.
And something tells me I’m not alone.
My oldest can hold a conversation about things I actually care about. He is curious, this boy, and his interests wide-ranging. Now that he can read, and reads voraciously about things I don’t know — like the intricacies of the Olympian gods, and specific strategies at various Revolutionary War battles — Blaise and I can have a true conversation. I can tell him secrets, trust him with things I can’t tell the others. We can talk seriously about my mental health issues, our mutual cases of ADHD, and how to move through the world as a non-neurotypical person.
He is, in a nutshell, an interesting child. We all have that kid, the one we can talk to, unload on, chatter at. They are easy to form a rapport with.
More than that, Blaise has opinions. In Target, he will advise me to buy this and not that. He will express a desire to go home instead of continuing to shop, and refrain from a throw-down tantrum when we don’t look at the toys. I buy him another book instead. We talk about the Star Wars expanded universe. He asks polite, insightful questions: “What are you sewing, mama? Oh, it looks nice. I like that fabric.” Blaise is simply, generally, delightful, easy to love, easy to be around, easy to bond with. Some kids are like that. One of your kids is probably like that. They’re just easy, all around.
And my youngest, my last baby, my Sunny: he is the baby and he is my baby, and that is enough. At barely four, he rocks his long, flowing rocker-blond locks and his tiny baby voice says, “Me hungry, mama” and “Me love you, mama” and “Me want to cuddle, mama.”
Sunny sleeps in our bed. He burrows under the sheets, pokes me with his cold, cold toes and nestles his warm little body against mine, and I can’t help but hold hard to these moments as they pass. There is a magic to being the last, the baby, the end of the line. A warmth in the heart and a special sparkle to their cuddle. You know this, if you have more than one kid. The youngest is easiest to hold in your arms.
Sunny concocts intricate sticker creations, which he gives to his father and me; they have long stories attached to them we must attend to. He sleeps with about six hundred stuffies, and he is cuteness epitomized. I dress him up and I cuddle him and all is right in the world. It is so easy to love this small creature. They are easy, when they are small, at least for me and I know for so many of us.
Then there is my August.
August loves many things. Like the color black. I try to let him pick my outfits, but he just picks the blackest one. August also loves animals — to distraction. He’s that kid with a knack for them, the one all dogs love, the one cats approach purring. This would be no problem if he fixated on the cute and fuzzy. But August loves the creepy, the crawly, the things I don’t want to touch. Right now, he’s obsessed with cultivating his worm farm, which lives under my kitchen table, because I am nothing if not indulgent. But when spring rolls around, he will also obsess over catching slimy or not-so-slimy critters like frogs, toads, and tadpoles.
His mode of engagement is not to have a conversation, but to ask questions. Question after question after question. Often questions about when will we and how long until we that do nothing but stress me out. I snap. I try not to. I try to remind myself that he wants engagement. But I snap anyway. We don’t mesh. And then he can be difficult on top of it. If you have a child like that, you know it’s hard.
August is not easy. If he doesn’t want to ask questions, he wants to talk about salamanders. He doesn’t want to wear the cute clothes I pick out. It’s his Spinosaurus shirt or nothing; the shortie pajamas mid-winter instead of the pajamas I lovingly sewed for him.
I try to care about all the things he cares about. When he’s asking questions that aren’t when and where, I answer them patiently. I defend his right to always find the giant salamander at the zoo first. I cuddle with him on the couch, and these cuddles are all the more precious because of the space between us. I try so hard. We all do, we mothers that secretly know. That secretly admit it.
So, yes, I have favorite children. It’s hard to say it, let alone type it. It’s gutting, in fact. I look at my dear, darling, beloved August eating his breakfast, watching TV in his Hamilton shirt, and I tear up. Sweet baby, mama loves you just as much as she loves your brothers. Even if it comes more easily with them — especially because it comes more easily with them. Because with Blaise and Sunny, I don’t much have to try.
With August, though, I have to push. I push myself to care that he thinks the salamander he found in North Carolina was a baby hellbender. I push myself to care about Spinosaurus Egypticus in all its permutations. I push myself to remember all the nets and drag us all to the faraway frog-pond park, where he can hunt amphibians all afternoon. I push myself out in the freezing rain, in owl slippers and a robe, to collect rainwater to moisten the substrate for his worm farm. I try to show him I love him. And I hope he feels loved.
But it’s so much harder. It’s so, so, so much harder than it is with the other two. I love them all equally. But that love comes much easier for my oldest and youngest sons. I think of the blue baby breathing laboriously, staring up into my eyes, the skinny frog of a child. The one I’d claim, deep-down, as my real favorite, because he does his own thing and doesn’t give a rat’s ass what other people think. But when it comes to my day to day favorites, I’d name my oldest and youngest. Because they are easier. Because we have more in common. Because it’s just easier to enjoy them.
But I love my August equally. Guilty, this love. But love, nonetheless.