I was one of the last great believers in Santa Claus: Fat old man in red suit brings us, a half-Jewish and half-Buddhist family, the presents I’ve seen in my parents’ bedroom closet for the last two months? Great! If I leave my dirty tooth under my pillow, I’ll find money from a full-grown adult fairy who collects them? Fantastic! Those mean kids are “just jealous,” and it’s not because I still play with my Barbies in seventh grade and sleep in my mom’s bed that they tease me? Makes perfect sense!
With this in mind then, you’ll surely understand that when I asked my mom my very favorite question for her, and she gave me her very reasonable and fair answer, I absolutely believed her:
“Mommy, who is your favorite?”
“Honey, I don’t have a favorite. I love you all equally!”
Roses and sunshine ensue. Beautifully put, Mom! Even though my brother is your only son and your firstborn, and my sister is the baby of the family by nearly eight years and the one you always called your “miracle,” you are such a dedicated mom that you see that my worth as a middle child is exactly equal to that of my siblings. Huzzah!
I would probably have still believed this 30 years later, and happily so. I bought it after I had my first child, no easy baby by any means, but heaven help the brave and stupid individual who called him anything less than an angel.
He was my favorite everything, and I couldn’t imagine that anything could ever change that. Now, if you have not yet happened past the golden gates of Eden where you and your perfect angel baby currently reside, feel free to stop reading. Though my guess is that if that’s how you truly feel about your parenting experience, you are probably not on my page literally or figuratively.
Because for me, and I’m thinking for many of my fellow “just okay” givers of life, as with all things parenthood, that all got flipped on its head. Toddlerhood happened. My surprise second pregnancy happened. Two boys under 2 happened. And I got hit with a big, hot stinking mess of a truth bomb.
Here’s what I discovered: My mom was lying. Your mom was lying. All the moms are lying! They do have a favorite child. They don’t love you all equally (not always, anyway), and sometimes, rarely but definitely, they kind of hated us. My mother hated me. Your mother hated you. Mother Teresa didn’t hate any of us, but we weren’t her children.
Now back your finger off that keypad on which you’re dialing child protective services because I’m not saying one of my kids is locked under the stairs Harry Potter-style or cleaning the cinders with her mouse friends. I don’t have a consistent favorite, and your mom probably didn’t either. But I do find that at certain points and under certain conditions, I really do like one of my kids more than the other. Because I have toddlers. And because toddlers can be real dicks.
Actually, having been a middle-school teacher, let me rephrase. Kids, all kids, can be real dicks. So when one of my guys makes me chase him around our house and wrestle him to the ground, pinning him under my thigh while I change his diaper with one hand and try to block my face from flying poop with the other, well, he’s not my favorite. Even if all his brother is doing is picking his nose while he rummages through my wallet, the nose-picker is very much my favorite at that moment.
But, later that evening, when the booger emancipator has begged me to make him pasta with broccoli and then begins to gag and convulse when the pasta hits his plate and starts screaming for chicken nuggets because he abhors that kind of pasta, well congrats, poop-flinging son. You’ve been promoted. Winner winner chicken dinner (but not really, because you’re both eating the damn pasta).
The underlying emotion I feel for my kids, and that I’m sure my parents felt for me and your parents for you, is definitely love. There are moments when I look at them and think my heart could very well explode with all the unbridled and unconditional love I feel for them. And there are moments when one of them does something, says something, hugs me, kisses me, tells me how much they love me or how “handsome” I look in my new dress (the highest of praises in a house full of boys).
Those are the moments when you know you couldn’t possibly love anything more than you do them. And love is big enough in those moments to envelope both all of your kids in its grasp, and thus all benefit from the glow of your motherly love. At those times, no, there is no favorite. Your are just plain #blessed.
But parenting is not a ceaseless flow of those Instagram moments, and it’s an interesting awakening when you can admit that to yourself, say it aloud, and apply that discovery to your own parents’ parenting experiences. It has made me that much more grateful for my parents — because they were great big fat liars. And they did it for years!
But dammit, when my little cherubs look up at me in all of their loud and crazy and dirty little glories and ask me if I have a favorite, I’m gonna lie to them, too, and assure them we could never choose a favorite because we love them all so much and so equally. And then I’m going to delete this post — just to be safe.