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Playing Favorites

07/19/2012 09:28 am ET | Updated Sep 18, 2012

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On Saturday morning, Caroline, Jay, Wally and I pulled up in front of Ann Arbor's popular Northside Grill. Caroline and Jay got out to put our names in for a table while Wally and I swung around back to look for a parking spot. After I'd parked, I took Wally out of his carseat. I perched him on my hip and he threw an arm over my shoulder. My heart went weak, and when we found Caroline and Jay inside, I told her I've been feeling particularly close to Wally these last few days.

Kids with siblings always want to know: "Who do you love more?" Parents inevitably answer: "We love you all the same." I never believed it. What were the odds, I thought, that my mom and dad could take whatever quantum of love they had in their hearts and divide it up exactly equally between me and my brothers and sister?

Of course, I understand now that love doesn't work that way. I love Jay and Wally the same, but I've also discovered that I don't always feel equally close to both of them.

Saturday was a Wally day. While Caroline accompanied Jay to get his haircut, Wally and I walked down the street for a cup of coffee. Then there was our trip to the diner. Later that afternoon, Caroline got Jay situated in the playroom for quiet time while I put Wally down for his nap upstairs. At night we repeated the division of labor: Caroline read Jay his books; I gave Wally his bottle. At the end of the day, when both boys were asleep, Wally was a little more vivid in my mind; Jay felt just an inch more like a stranger.

Caroline and I find that when it comes to something like deciding which boy to take care of before bed, our choices run in streaks. We don't have any deliberate rotation. It's more just a matter of which of the boys, when bedtime rolls around, we're feeling more in synch with, and we find that's as changeable as the weather. Some days Jay feels like an extension of my own body; others it feels like he's floating somewhere beyond me in space.

For most of last week, I was feeling particularly close to Wally and wanted to be the one to put him to sleep each night. But then yesterday, Jay and I had a really nice afternoon together while Wally napped (we talked about trucks on the couch and ate popsicles on the stoop), and as a result, at the end of the day I was feeling more eager to help him brush his teeth and read him his bedtime stories -- to, in a sense, bring our relationship to a close for the day.

I haven't discerned any real pattern to how my sense of closeness with Jay and Wally moves over time. Often it seems like as soon as I realize I've been feeling closer to one or the other of them the balance starts to swing again, as if in response to some natural law of relationships that impels people apart when they get too close together. I'd like to feel equally close to both of them all the time; short of that I feel like things are okay as long as I don't go too long between Jay days and Wally weeks.

The biggest surprise for me in all of this is just how subtle and elusive intimacy can be, even with a really little kid: Here today, gone tomorrow and entirely absent unless I work for it.

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Parenting Love