The road we’re driving on is twisty and quiet. It’s early Saturday morning and we pass a few energetic cyclists bravely making their way up. The still-winter but feels-like-summer sun glints off the faint dust on the windscreen, obscuring my vision every now and then. I pay close attention to the road and my distance from the cyclists, almost completely oblivious to the conversation behind me. When I realize Maroon 5 is playing on the radio, I quickly change it. He’s still cute, but Adam Levine’s whiny singing voice is not welcome at this tranquil hour. Or any hour.
“You’re the favorite,” I hear on the periphery of a sharp hairpin bend. I don’t know who says it. And I don’t know whom they’re saying it to. The details aren’t important to me. It’s an ongoing conversation in our house that I don’t engage in: who’s the favorite. My favorite, they mean. They share their thoughts on this delicate subject openly with each other, all with pretty accurate reasons why they must be right. According to them, my favorite is never the one leading the discussion.
The Urban Dictionary definition of favorite is “most wanted or desired.”
Yes. You’re right. You are my favorite. And, in order of oldest to youngest because that’s the order each of you claimed my whole heart four times over, here’s why:
Daniel, you are my favorite because you got my heart first. Because you are easy-going and independent and responsible. Because you love steak but hate chocolate, and ask every Friday night if the challah is homemade. Because you take school seriously, 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 calm and steady, but this one time when Dad and I yelled at each other from opposite sides of a cold, hard London street they burned bright with tears and confusion. They looked straight into mine and your broken teenage voice poked holes of relief in my anger. “When you guys walk off in different directions, away from us, we don’t know who to follow.” You spoke for all four of you.
Zak, you’re my favorite. You are the most like me: passionate, sensitive, social and too-easily frustrated. 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. One time, you tumbled into the car 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 asked was how my day was. You are compassion and honesty and fun and courage every time you butt-board down the street, do your Math with a pencil that is difficult to grasp, or use your parkour moves to navigate the wet grass wearing only socks.
Sage, you’re my favorite because I got to name you Sage, a name I have loved forever. And 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. One time, 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’re my favorite because even though I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day, you do and you helped your little brother do this:
Jed, 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. This one time, we went for a hike and you grabbed a stick and led the way. “For freedom,” you yelled as we all followed in a line behind you, your little body barely visible in its white T-shirt as you charged forward along the trail. You are my favorite because you spray deodorant all over your five-year-old self every morning, and then ask me to tie your shoes.
The drive is over and I pull into a spot. I kill the engine and half turn in my seat to look at them. Echoes of “favorite” bounce in the space between us, like a buoyant balloon expected to pop any second.
“You’re all my favorite,” I say. Jed smiles, happy to hear the answer.
“Sure Mom, you always say that,” says Zak.
“Yeah, Mom, that’s the right thing to say,” noticeable, good-natured sarcasm in Daniel’s voice.
I look at Sage. She nods solemnly.
Yep. I do always say that. It is the right thing to say. Because it’s true.