When my Mom and Dad were younger, they had a baby. It was 1974 and everyone else was having kids, so they knocked one out. And then there he was, perfect, dependent, theirs. Immediately following my oldest brother's birth, my mom went through a phase of wondering who was going feed that screaming thing in the other room. All had been fine in the hospital, someone would sneak out the baby after she fell asleep, feed him all night long, then sneak him back in the morning. Well, at home she was the only one with boobs and therefore the only one to get the job done. She found it a bit thoughtless of her new son to want to eat every two hours though, she supposed, it was decent of him to empty the burgeoning bulges banging between her shuttering seemingly slender shoulders. It wasn't until a tear duct didn't open and she had to take him back to the hospital to have it gently opened--in those days they used a large fish hook and pressed it deep into the duct of the newborn's eye and gave it a slight jiggle to insure a reasonable passageway for the tears, which at this point were bountiful, as he was far too young for any sort of pain medicating, but was a ripe age for a hook in the eye. (None of the last sentence was an exaggeration.) Holding her screaming, eye-bleeding son, she vowed to never, ever, let anything else ever harm him. And he was hers. And she was his.
They named him Michael John. Michael because it was the cutest name of 1974 and John after his father...and mine.
And then another thing happened.
A few weeks after having her firstborn...she wanted another one. As a parent myself, I think this must have happend durring the soft cooing cry, breast milk poop-phase, when babies are hot water bottles who sleep 23 hours a day and the parent accidentally bonds to the singular expression of their love's affection. Well, she did and then she went for it and four months after having a baby and three months after liking it, she was carrying her second in her freshly broken-in belly.
They are 13 months apart.
It was another son. This one whose tear ducts worked on their own, which was good 'cause she never would have elected for the fish hook surgery and he would have never cried and would have died in 1991 when he saw 'My Girl.'
And then they named him.
You should know that both my Father and my Mother are the second children in their families. And both of them the same gender as their older sibling. So real seconds. They both grew up in the shade cast off the family's first explorer. They never got new clothes, they never got first pick, they never had their own stuff, they never, they never, they never. Also, they were always shorter, they were always dumber, they were always slower, they were always, they were always, they were always.
And so they named him John.
John Spencer. Spencer cause it was the cutest name of 1975 and John after his father...and mine.
Tonight, I was cleaning my son's pink bib that was, of course, once my daughter's bib, but I just bought bibs two years ago and I wasn't about to shell out another five bucks for "more manly" bibs?! (Here's a secret: they don't exist.) And I got to thinking about the seconds. Now I have a son and a daughter, and because adoption is both emotionally and financially expensive, I doubt we will have any more children. So he is not really a second, but another first...and an only...and a last, but not really a second. And I remembered my parents and the decision they made to name their first two sons John because they didn't want the second to feel like the second. And then when I showed up, they didn't want me to feel like a second either so they named me John. And then when my two younger brothers toddled in, they didn't want them to feel like seconds either so they named them both John, too.*
And it wasn't the fact they did it. That has always made sense to me, it's the fact that it worked. Five boys and each one actually and totally believes that they are my parents' favorite, though I still can't see how my brothers still can't see that I am so obviously the favorite, I mean, they read this blog, they see Momma's comments, she doesn't read their blogs, she doesn't leave them comments...though I suppose if they had them she would read them and she would comment and they would be fooled again, but again (and still) they would be wrong.
I think it all comes from my mom telling me I was her favorite. Yes, I think that's what it was. And not in some funny way that she sometimes does when two of us ask her point blank, "Mom which one of us is your favorite?!"
"You are, dear."
"WHAT?! I thought I was your favorite?!"
"You are sweetie, my very favorite."
"BUT YOU JUST SAID I WAS!!"
"That's right, darling, you are."
Though we did have those off-handed bouts for her affection, they were for sport and we all knew the lines and we all played our parts. But there were other times, when things were quiet and you had just come home from closing night of your Jr High play and you were certain of the answer, because none of these other Johns were in plays, they all auditioned for sports and forced this poor woman to sit on splintered bleachers watching other people's kids strikeout with an iceless diet coke between her legs. I brought in culture, I gave her class, and I did it with padded folding seats!
"Mom? Who's your favorite kid?"
"For reals? Like really?"
"Yes. It's you."
She never wavered. Though, I suppose that means she never wavered when the others asked either. And don't think they didn't. They still do. Just last week my oldest brother, the one will the bum duct (not the one with the duck bum) sent out a text to my mother clarifying his status in her affections; he also copied all four other brothers to make sure we got the message...he's 39.
So, scrubbing my son's powder pink bib I silently said a prayer, or wished, or hoped, for two things:
One: That he would never feel like a second child.
Two: That he and his sister will somehow make their way through a whole childhood, and a whole adolescence, and a whole rest of their lives, knowing, that of the two of them, they are my favorite one.
*Michael John, John Spencer, John Patrick, Christopher John, John Casey.