Playing Favorites

A mother loves all her children equally. That’s the way it is and always has been. It’s a law of nature, an instinct, like a dog knowing how to swim without having to be taught or geese flying in a v-formation. Isn’t it?

Things didn’t bode well for me, then, when I realized only four weeks in that I had a favorite. The thought came to me, and I pushed it away. It wasn’t natural. To let it creep into my thoughts again would be like lingering at a car crash, instead of taking that one, quick, precautionary look.

Except that the thought came back. It came back that night, and the next day, and the day after that. I had a favorite, and I was only just a new mother. Maybe it could happen after a decade or two of parenting, after a child began causing real problems, problems that he or she could control and that were a result of poor decision making, after lots of effort to help on my part. No, it couldn’t happen now. These were babies.

Nonetheless, one baby cried and cried. I fed the baby, I changed the baby, I made the baby warm. The baby cried. Ninety minutes after the last baby was fed, then the next one would need to be fed again. Ninety minutes to get the next round of bottles ready, to empty the trash, to do the laundry. When a baby cried during that 90 minutes, the system failed. My body would break down with exhaustion and depression. Give me my little piece of time back.

Again and again, the baby fussed and cried. It goes against nature to pick favorites, but doesn’t it also go against nature not to sleep, to be deprived of rest for so long that periods of time come up missing, and can’t be remembered?

The thought came back again and again, and it screamed at me louder now than the baby. Finally, I said the words. I said them to my own mother, the person I was convinced loved me the same as all my siblings. She had proved it through the years, again and again.

“I’m having so many problems. I’m so frustrated with that baby. I feel as if I like the other two so much more.” Then, like one always adds after saying those kinds of words, I followed it with the obligatory, “Isn’t that horrible?”

On the other end of the phone, it was greeted with a little bit of a chuckle. A big enough chuckle to add levity, a small enough chuckle not to demean. “No, I think that’s normal,” she said. Normal?  Normal not to love all your babies the same? Was that even possible?  It hit me hard. It never occurred to me that it could even approach normal.

“I think we all have favorites,” she said, “but it’s always changing. Each of you has been my favorite at different points in time, and each of yours will be favorites at different points in time,” she said. “Watch out,” she chuckled again, “your favorite this month, will not be your favorite next month.”

It was subtle, but, for me, it fit so much better. It fit better partly because it helped me through the moment, and partly because it was true. As I think back to that time, I realize I don’t remember which baby was causing me so much angst that I questioned my aptitude for being a mother. Whichever child it was, that child has moved in and out of favor so many times since then, and will undoubtedly, lovingly, move in and out many more times.

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