In their quest to discover the truth about where my heart really lies, my children are sneaky.
Consider this: a fight with my daughter that ended in her declaring that she feels like I hate her. I respond by telling her all of the things I love about her, ending with the line, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. At this, the tears miraculously stop. The sobbing pauses. She glances at me out of the corner of her eye, then asks, what about my brother? Well, I say, without missing a beat, him too, of course.
Or, how about this: a bedtime cuddle-fest with my son, who is kissing me up and down my arms and telling me that I’m the best mommy ever. To which I reply, you are the sweetest child in the entire world. There’s a pause. Then the glance. And then he asks, but what about my sister? She is, too, I say, quickly. You’re the sweetest boy in the world, and she’s the sweetest girl. And then I sigh to myself. You can’t get anything past these kids.
It’s funny to me, the way they’re always trying to trip me up, as if I might one day accidentally slip and admit that one or the other of them is better, or favored, or loved more. On Mother’s Day, they made me beautiful cards and adorable presents, and from the way they presented them it was clear that they were trying to outdo each other in the hopes that I might like one better than the other. I love them all, I told them, their faces lighting up with pride and falling with disappointment all at the same time. I think they truly believe that I’m BS-ing them when I say that I love them both equally. I think that on this issue, my sincerity will always be in doubt. What I find funny, though, is how easy it is to see that neither of them really wants to know the answer. Because while they hope it’s them, I think they both secretly fear that it’s actually the other.
Of course, I remember feeling the same way about my mother. I always suspected that she loved me more than my brother, but just when I would start to get cocky, I’d notice how proud she was of his artwork, or how relaxed she looked when he would give her a backrub, and that little germ of self-doubt would creep in. Does she like him better? When she tells me how great I am, does she tell him the same thing? I never knew for sure. I never really wanted to.
I know now, obviously, that she loved me and brother the same, just as I love both of my kids the same. I love them for different reasons and I love different things about them, but the only possible measurement of my love for either of them is infiniteness. What my kids don’t understand – couldn’t possibly understand – is that a mother’s love doesn’t make choices; it’s boundless, and just when you think it can’t get any deeper it goes and unlocks a new level that you didn’t even know was there.
Asking which of my kids I love more is like asking which of my arms I love more. I love them both the same. I need them both equally as much, although for different things. My kids can wait for me to slip up for the rest of my life. I think they’ll both be relieved to know that it’s never going to happen.