By Rachel Pieh Jones
I love all my children the same. But I don’t love all my children the same. I love them all the same amount. Endlessly, to the moon and back, from Djibouti to Minnesota and back, forever and no matter what. But I don’t love them all in the same way. I don’t know why this realization surprised me. I mean, of course I don’t love them all in the same way. They are unique individuals and I have a unique, individual relationship with each one. But I was still surprised when that sentence came out through my fingers.
In particular, I’ve noticed singular aspects of my love for my son. I don’t understand why specifically, but have some theories.
Theory #1: Gender
He’s a boy. Sometimes I just stop there and think, woah dude, that’s a boy. He stuns me and confuses me and intrigues me. Though I am married to one, birthed one, and have lived around many for my entire life, males remain an enigma. I enjoy watching a sports event or two and am decent with a ball, I can even catch a Frisbee behind my back or between my legs. But I have no soccer team to which I am devoted and my favorite sports games to watch are the ones my children are playing in.
There are other things I don’t understand about the men in my life. The inability to find something when it is sitting on the countertop directly in front of them. The need to tackle people, throw things, or generally jump around the house in order to fall asleep at night. The stink and the aversion to removing the stink whether through showering or deodorizing. The way men make friends, maintain friendships, and communicate with those friends.
I suspect this general confusion about the other gender adds a factor of mystery to my love for him. I’m intrigued by this world of men that as a mother I’m both pulled into and kept out of. I’m drawn in, want to understand, to discover if this mystery of my delightful son is solvable even while I know that there is nothing to solve, just a bundle of energy to love.
Theory #2: The Unexpected
Often the things my son loves to do are things I never would have considered. When he was little we played dinosaur and everyone had to lumber around the room like a Diplodocus or a Tyrannosaurus Rex and he could tell if our movements weren’t accurate or wholehearted. On hikes, I walk and enjoy the scenery. He engages the scenery, scrambles up trees and boulders. Or he hunts frogs, which he then cooks on top of knife blades over open campfires and offers to me, still warm on the knife blade, to eat.
I suspect his ability to come up with surprising, resourceful, and creative activities adds a factor of fascination to my love for him. He brings unique experiences and ways of seeing the world into my vicinity and I have the privilege of expanding myself as we interact.
Theory #3: Physicality
Both my husband and my son are physical people. They are wrestlers, affectionate, and playful. I used to be able to catch my son, beat him in a race at the playground, pin him to the floor, dunk him under water, and generally crush him when it came time to roughhouse. I can’t do that anymore. This past summer, my dad offered my son one dollar to dunk me in the lake (I was trying to keep my hair dry). He took the challenge and swarmed like an octopus on steroids. I held my ground for a few minutes but soon enough, he had me under and proudly collected his dollar.
He can also be tender and gentle at times but the force of his growing power stuns me. I no longer walk through airports lugging all of our carry-ons, he does that willingly and capably. He even retrieves roller bags from their overhead compartments. He heaves stones out of my path. I love his strength.
I suspect his physical strength adds a factor of awe to my love for him.
If I thought more about it, I could come up with more theories. I also know I could come up with categories in which my love for each of my daughters is singular. They are all mysteries to me, strange and beautiful people who came out of my body. Came out of my body but are now infinitely individual, yet related somehow. I have empathy for all of them when I see my weaknesses reflected but I also have awe for all of them, when I see them overcome those weaknesses in fascinating ways I might not ever have thought of. They aren’t me, they aren’t even, ultimately, a reflection of me. They are fully themselves and I love them all the same. But different.
Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband Tom Jones (not the singer, though he thinks life might be more interesting as a musical) and three children. Raised in the Christian west, she used to say ‘you betcha,’ and ate Jell-O salads. Now she lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas.