It's not politically correct to say that you love one child more than you love your others. I love of my kids, period, and they're all your favorites in different ways. But ask any parent who's been through some kind of crisis surrounding a child--a health scare, an academic snarl, an emotional problem--and we will tell you the truth. When something upends the equilibrium--when one child needs you more than the others--that imbalance becomes a black hole. You may never admit it out loud, but the one you love the most is the one who needs you more desperately than his siblings. What we really hope is that each child gets a turn. That we have deep enough reserves to be there for each of them, at different times. All this goes to hell when two of your children are pitted against each other, and both of them want you on their side.
Was it the act of giving birth that made you a mother? Did you lose that label when you relinquished your child? If people were measured by their deeds, on the one hand, I had a woman who had chosen to give me up; on the other, I had a woman who'd sat up with me at night when I was sick as a child, who'd cried with me over boyfriends, who'd clapped fiercely at my law school graduation. Which acts made you more of a mother?Both, I realized. Being a parent wasn't just about bearing a child. It was about bearing witness to its life.
It was so damn hard to find love in this world, to locate someone who could make you feel that there was a reason you'd been put on this earth. A child, I imagined, was the purest form of that. A child was the love you didn't have to look for, didn't have to prove anything to, didn't have to worry about losing. Which is why, when it happened, it hurt so badly.
Sometimes parents don't find what they're looking for it their child, so they plant seeds for what they'd like to grow there instead. I've witnessed this with the former hockey player who takes his son out to skate before he can even walk. Or in the mother who gave up her ballet dreams when she married, but now scrapes her daughter's hair into a bun and watched from the wings of the stage. We are not, as you'd expect, orchestrating their lives; we are not even trying for a second chance. We are hoping that if this one thing takes root, it might take up enough light and space to keep something else from developing in our children: the disappointment we've already lived.
We pretend that we know our children, because it's easier than admitting the truth--from the minute that cord is cut, they are strangers. It's far easier to tell yourself your daughter is still a little girl than to see her in a bikini and realize she has the curves of a young woman; it's safer to say you're a good parent who has all the right conversations about drugs and sex than to acknowledge there are a thousand things she would never tell you.