|Not exactly how my daughters and I look.|
There is mostly calm in our house. My wife is takes most everything in stride and mostly so do I, though I go off on flights of frustration and anxiety more than I care to admit. Our daughters are as calm and collected more than should be expected of teenagers. My wife and I don’t argue much and never loudly. We disagree separately until one decides the other was right and we come back together. Even our dog has been super chill since she was a puppy. We run a calm house.
Last night our older daughter revived a recurring theme saying we love her sister more. She had come to our room before bed asking my wife to diagnose some ailment. She was perfectly healthy over Christmas break but with the return to school imminent, she wasn’t quite right. Our girl is so finely attuned to her body and its anomalies such that she finds trouble in the slightest itch especially at bedtime. She has never much liked going to sleep.
I made the mistake of mentioning the coincidence of her health collapsing the day before school. That roughly translates into “you’re faking it” but she also heard, “we don’t love you as much as your sister which is why we ignore you and your life.”
She went downstairs for something rattling the steps as she went. Coming back up, we called her into our room, smiled, explained ourselves, reminded her we love her dearly (I resisted the urge to joke, “just not as much as we love your sister”), and sent her to bed partially mollified. She woke this morning healthy enough for school and secure in our love. No big deal.
I keep thinking about the idea of loving one child more than the other. In E.B. White’s essay “The Flocks We Watch By Night” a neighbor shows points to a photograph and says, “That son’s my favorite, I guess.” It’s a mysterious and troubling line in a mysterious and troubling essay. How is it possible to love one over the other?
When they were babies, we read You’re All My Favorites, a picture book in which a parent explains this to her cubs. I remember thinking that Sam McBratney was trying to work it out himself. I didn’t get it or believe it right away. I thought, favorite is a singular; you can’t have more than one. But I looked from one daughter’s face to the other and thought to myself, you don’t know shit. I’ve learned some since then.
Parenthood is a host of paradoxes. I love both daughters equally but differently. Both really are my favorites. My life was transformed on the days they were born. I look, sound, and think the same, but I was a man one day and a father the next. I was a father of one and then I was a father of two. Each time it was a whole new world. It still is. I don’t understand it but I feel and know it for sure.
I can’t explain to my daughters how they’re both my favorites, that I couldn’t possibly love over the other. That’s beyond words, but it’s okay. Love translates. They know it somewhere beyond words. They feel the quiet calm that only love provides.