The Favorite Child — by Laura
When you have twins, people like to jokingly ask which one is your favorite. You can’t answer them honestly or they would look at you like you’re a cruel, callous mother. Because truth be told: you do have a favorite. You can’t help it. It’s biology at work, and it’s called social smiling, although sometimes I refer to it as passive infant manipulation. The social smile is designed to engage and elicit a positive response from the adult, which thereby creates a bond between parent and child. The parent then feels obligated to take care of the baby in order to ensure a regular source of warm fuzzies.
When my son Lyle was two months old, he began social smiling. He would spread his mouth across his face in a drunken, toothless grin when he saw me, and I would respond in kind. When I came in the room he cooed and beckoned me to him with that smile, and I fell all over myself trying to get to him like a 14-year old girl in love. Wyatt, however, wasn’t ready for the smiling and the engagement. He was born a pound smaller than his brother, and he spent his energy catching up.
My husband got angry with me because at that time I favored Lyle. I couldn’t help it. Mother and son were going through some biological and physiological changes that caused us to bond, thus ensuring Lyle’s survival. I was unsuccessful at getting my husband to understand that Wyatt as not neglected by any means. I still sang to him and fed him and cuddled with him just as much as I did Lyle. I also know that as soon as Wyatt started smiling and engaging I would form the same kind of bond with him, and the one who would get the short end of the stick would be me, because I would be frazzled from giving two babies so much love.
By three months Wyatt began social smiling, and he was better at it than his brother. He beams. Radiates. When Wyatt smiles he does it with his whole head. And he has a really big head. His head is so large I have to cut slits in his onesies to get them over that giant noggin. Wyatt’s grins are so enthusiastic that they often knock his cranium of kilter and he falls right over. And when he does this, he’s my favorite.
Lyle is the leader of their gang of two. He crawls around the house emitting shocks of laughter as he delights in his movement and his autonomy. He is the first to do everything while Wyatt watches with his mouth open and an expression on his face that says: Um! I’m telling! When Lyle doesn’t feel well, he comes to me and hugs my leg or my arm and holds on tight until I gather him in my arms and put him to sleep. Once when the entire family was sick with stomach flu, we all slept on towels and blankets in the living room. Lyle woke up and crawled around hugging us all and nuzzling his head into ours. He’s that kind of baby. Compassionate. Awake. Sensitive. The smile on his face was shy and gentle. And on that day, he was my favorite.
However, Lyle is also very demanding. He wants my attention all the time, and it is beyond exhausting. It becomes a fight to make sure Wyatt gets his needs met. One day when Lyle found new ways to request my time by throwing up, exploding in his diaper, and coloring his mouth with a pen, I was running back and forth with him from the kitchen to the bedroom to the bathroom, and I realized I had not checked in with Wyatt for almost an hour. I had left him playing in the middle of the living room floor with his soda bottle filled with pennies and his magnet dolls. I rushed by with a naked Lyle in my arms, and I paused in the doorway. Wyatt looked up from chewing on a doll, smiled his enormous smile, and fell right over. And at that instant, he was my favorite.