‘Which one is your favourite?’ a woman asks when I tell her I have three children.
‘See!’ she says, when I pause. ‘You do have a favourite!’
I once read an article whereby a mother confessed; ‘I don’t love my children the same, I love them differently.’ Like their individuality was some kind of revelation. I too, love my children differently, for their own unique qualities.
As I consider how to respond to this woman’s question, it occurs to me that, perhaps, the question itself is more telling. In the absence of a response, the woman adds, ‘I was one of three – and my parents didn’t love us equally.’
It is my belief that parents, as a rule, have only the best of intentions when dishing out their love. But isn’t everything a matter of perspective?
I can serve up two perfectly identical peanut-butter sandwiches, with sliced apple and a piece of cheese. Yet our eldest son will immediately form an opinion about which of the two identical lunches is the biggest, and thus the best.
‘Who do you love the most?’ he asks me one night, as I tuck him into bed.
I hesitate; a question to be answered with care.
‘You can’t answer the question, can you?’ our son says – because I hesitate or because he’s asked this question before. ‘But you love us all the same, don’t you?’
I nod – Though, I guess, in hindsight, it would be more accurate to say; ‘It’s true, I love you all so much my heart could burst. But I love you for the different ways you enhance my life; which, like my love, are wholly immeasurable.’
During our usual morning walk, I comment to my husband how beautiful it is to watch our boys run. How freeing. The wind in their hair, their eager, quickened steps as they come to share with us their discovery of finding worms in the gutter. And the way they describe the worms brought out by the rain. Purple and pink with sections of gold. I never thought of worms in this way, nor would I have noticed them there in the first place were it not for the boys’ discovery. The worms, perhaps, a metaphor for the ways our children enrich our life. For the things they make us see.
I recall a kinder mum describing her son as a ‘Unit’. I hadn’t fully understood the term, but from her tone, the glint in her eye, I understood that she was still working him out. And that her discovery of him, of his own unique self, was a delight to witness. The beauty of having children; what we may discover in knowing them.
My mother tells of when I was born, a daughter after three sons. My father looked at his newborn, a chubby baby in pink and said, ‘Who’s this?’ – Clearly, he was still working me out. And I like to think that, mostly, I’ve surprised and delighted him ever since.
Though our eldest is only seven, I know that sometimes – maybe because he’s always been big for his age or because he’s the oldest child – we are probably guilty of treating him older than he actually is; expecting him to be responsible, reliable, forgetting he’s still very much just a little boy with a fantastic sense of fun and a wonderful imagination. Sometimes he can be infused with so much energy that the best thing for him is to run laps outside. I love that about him. His energy, his enthusiasm. His zest for life.
Our second child has always been fiercely independent, stubborn, affectionate, extremely charismatic. An interesting mix. Stubbornly, my husband and I both credit each other for our son’s stubbornness. Whether he is in the midst of asserting his own independence or giving one of the best cuddles I may ever experience in my life, he is so endearing that it is impossible to ever imagine this ‘baby in the corner’.
Our third (and final) child holds the position of the youngest and the only girl. She is demanding and beautiful, playful and sweet. Possessing qualities similar to our second child that had me wondering how on earth we would manage not one, but two strong-willed children; and yet she is entirely her own person. While, at times, the parent in me struggles to keep up with her fast pace, her determined, head-strong nature; the feminist in me loves that she is a girl who knows her own mind. That she is capable and smart and demands to be heard. That she does not fit any of the pre-conceived notions I may have had about how different it might be to raise a girl. It is an absolute joy to be continually delighted and surprised by her. And I’m sure, I’m still working her out.
My mother says of her mother that she had this ability to make each child feel as though she was their mum; to each feel the uniqueness of their own special bond between mother and child. A tradition that continues, I believe, as I, myself, have been pulled up by my brother for referring to our mother as ‘my mum’.
While often, I must ask for our children’s patience, their acceptance that there are three of them whose demands I must meet; it is my hope that all three of our children will feel my love in its own unique form, and that in years to come, they will remember, that I am, was, and forever shall be; their mum.