“Who do you love most?" My siblings and I must have asked our mom this question a thousand times throughout the years.
She never answered, though. Not once did our mother slip up and let a single tell-tale syllable roll off of her tongue, disbursing into a million tiny pieces that couldn't be unheard. Never once did her eyes dart to one of us instinctually, giving her away.
Each time we asked, she maintained the same poker face; the same knowing twinkle in her eyes as she assured us that she loved us all equally.
Unsatisfied, we never stopped asking; yet time and time again, her response was always the same.
This memory crept to the surface of my mind almost two years ago as I faced the transition from being a mother of one, to becoming a mother of two.
The thought came to me in an instant.
It presented itself in the middle of the night, as I stood at the doorway to my son's room staring in awe at the subtle rise and fall of his tiny chest; listening to his breaths that seemed to simultaneously give me life of my own.
It found me during the moments spent watching my toddler run through the sprinkler with total abandon, while a new set of joyful flutters filled my belly from within.
It occurred in the exact second when I looked down to see two pink lines materializing on that cheap plastic stick.
Each time it entered my mind, the fear consumed me: “What if I don't love my kids the same?" This ever-nagging question rang in my ears throughout my entire second pregnancy.
It was this worry that stole my peace night after night, as I lay in bed wondering how I could make enough room in my already bursting heart for another.
It was this unsettled feeling that I cried over on the way to the hospital after dropping our oldest boy off. The next time we saw him he would be a big brother, and I wondered how I could ever match the same overwhelming love I felt for him.
As with so many other things—if only I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have wasted all of that worry.
When our second child was born, my heart grew exponentially in an instant, surpassing anything I ever could have imagined. I loved this new baby with my whole heart. And his big brother? I somehow loved him even more than I had before.
The truth is, I don't love my kids the same at all, but I realize now that that was never the goal. My love for my them is as unique as they are from one another.
I love my oldest as the perfect replica of the best guy I know; his Daddy.
I love my youngest in the way that his smile reflects my own, right down to his full lips and the gap between his two front teeth.
I love my big as my sidekick; always up for exploration and adventure.
I love my little for his closeness; for the way that he nestles into my neck and lays the whole weight of his body against me, sinking into my own.
I love the ornery gleam in my oldest's eyes, and the way that his wit is far beyond his two years.
I love my little one for the way that his blue eyes shine with delight as he takes in the big wide world around him.
I love my big for his spunk, and I love my little for his sweet.
“Who do you love most?" It's the same unanswered question from all of those years ago, except that now I'm the one with the knowing smile and the twinkle in my eye.
For so very long, I thought my mom was pulling one over on the three of us kids. It wasn't until I became a mother myself that I finally recognized the sincerity behind her very diplomatic answer.
I get it now, though. Truly.
These babies of mine?
I love them in the way that I love both sunshine and moonlight; not one more than the other. Each one just as much, but never the same.