Sometimes it’s rhetorical. “I’m your favorite, Mom. Right?” A smile and a flimsy veil of hope covering the desire to be the one. Or sometimes it’s a statement demanding an immediate response, even if only a grin and a shrug. “We all know she’s your favorite, Mom!” Occasionally I throw in an eye-roll for fun.
It’s an ongoing conversation in the kitchen, in the car, even on vacation: Who’s my favorite? They share their thoughts on this delicate subject openly with each other and with me, all with pretty accurate reasons why they must be right.
You’re right, kids. You are my favorite. And, in order of oldest to youngest because that’s the order each of you claimed my heart four times over, here’s why:
Oldest child: You are my favorite because you grabbed my heart first. Because you are easygoing and independent and responsible. Because we both love steak but you hate chocolate, and because every Friday night you ask if the challah is homemade. Because you are committed to your football team, and have a dry, witty sense of humor, and you don’t mind when your little brother plays with your ears. Because your denim blue eyes are usually still and steady, but the other day they burned bright with irritation even as you calmly told me my incessant, nagging texts were disrupting you from your history homework. You walked upstairs, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mom, I will do what you ask. But right now I am trying to work. And you are disturbing me.” I thought that was brave and honest, and I was proud of you for speaking up for yourself. Especially to me.
Second born: You’re my favorite. You are passionate, sensitive, social and too-easily frustrated — the most like me. You stomp your feet hard enough for both of us when we don’t get our own way. And you’re you: the heart of our family. Sometimes you come home with difficult bits of the school day stuck to your backpack and your cheeks. With angry sadness swimming in your liquid brown eyes, the first question you always ask is how my day was. You are compassion and honesty and fun and courage every time you skateboard down the street, or read Torah at your friend’s bar mitzvah. Almost a year past your own bar mitzvah, you studied and you practiced and you sang the words that don’t come easily to you over and over until they were perfect. Because he asked you to, and he’s your friend.
Daughter: You’re my favorite because you are wise and fresh and calm and helpful, with your sage-colored eyes and glittering of freckles that twinkle when you laugh. You are my favorite because you love to read and write and make up stories, just like I do, and you also run wild with your brothers and friends. Once, a girl you thought was your friend called you a “demon” and your green eyes deepened to gray as you tried to understand why. You’ve never forgotten how that felt. You’re my favorite because you kiss me goodbye every time you leave the house, even if you’re just taking the dog for a walk.
Youngest: You were the last to hold my whole heart and you will always be my favorite because you will always be my baby. Even when you’re a dad! Because you are strong and fearless and love to hug me, and you drink tea every day like I do. You play every soccer game as if it’s your last, and you ask complicated questions about Mars and Jupiter and where will we all live when there are too many people on Earth? You are my favorite because you spray deodorant all over your 8-year-old self, and then ask me to tie your shoes.
“You’re all my favorite,” I say. Every time. The littlest one smiles, happy to hear the answer.
“Sure Mom, you always say that,” says my brown-eyed boy.
“Yeah, Mom, that’s the right thing to say,” noticeable, good-natured sarcasm in the oldest’s voice.
I look at my daughter. She nods solemnly.
Who’s my favorite? They already know the answer. It never changes. Because it’s true.