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Same Genes, Different Mommy

My two girls are as different as two sisters could be. And it goes deeper than superficial characteristics such as looks – Big Girl is a redhead; Little Girl is blond – and birth dates (Big Girl just started first grade, while Little Girl turned one in June).

Big Girl is a quiet, thoughtful child. By the time she was a year old she was sitting for hours playing with toys or listening to stories. She’s always been cautious and shy, too, personality traits she exhibited from the time she was born. She wasn’t one to jump into a family friend’s arms, or flirt with the Trader Joe’s cashier. In fact, if a stranger got too far in her face she wailed pitifully and wrapped herself around me.

Little Girl, on the other hand, is our little one-the-go girl. While she enjoys books and toys, she would much rather be running around the house playing chase with Daddy. She takes so many risks that she gets bumped or falls on a daily basis. But then she simply gets up and keeps running. When Little Girl cries, it’s because she is really hurt. Big Girl, my sensitive one, still cries if she gets so much as a hangnail. Little Girl doesn’t have any fear of strangers, either. We tool around the supermarket like it’s her personal single-babies’ bar. She beams at everyone that she makes eye contact with, all the while waving and smiling and saying, “Hi, hi!” New-to-her children are potential playmates, and she never ceases to amaze me when she goes up to them and asks them to “Pway.”

How is it possible that we have two children who have the same parents, live in the same environment, and interact with the same toys, people and activities, but are turning out totally different?

“Second child syndrome,” my friends with more than one tell me, nodding their heads sagely. “They get less attention, and have to struggle to keep up with their siblings.” I’d buy that except for one thing: Big Girl was in full-day kindergarten last year. Little Girl got the same amount of attention as her sister did as a baby. After careful consideration I came up with my own theory: Little Girl doesn’t have the same parents as Big Girl did. I may only be four-plus years older, but I am decades wiser so my interactions with Little Girl have been different. Profoundly different since the moments before she was born.

When I went into labor with Big Girl it took 12 hours to get her to crown, and another almost three hours to push her out. I fought with myself and the hospital staff during the entire process, terrified to become a mother. When she emerged, pink and screaming, I told the midwife I needed a moment to rest before holding my newborn daughter – not my proudest moment. Still, once I gathered my strength and held her, so fragile and beautiful, I vowed to become Supermom. From that moment on, everything had to be perfect for that tiny little bundle. I agonized over every decision from when she ate her first taste of cereal to where I held her birthday parties right down to the favor selection. Ask my friends and they will tell you it could take me a month to decide on what to stick in the goody bags. (And don’t ask them what it was like when it came to picking schools!)

Little Girl’s birth was so different. I got to the hospital already six centimeters dilated, but not before stopping off on my way to the hospital for a roast beef sandwich. At the hospital, I still fought with the staff – I wanted to deliver in the birthing room, have intermittent monitoring, do my HypnoBirthing, and wear my bra when I was doing it, damn it– but I was totally at peace with myself. Bring it on, I thought. And when it was time, I pushed that little girl out in three pushes, touching her head as she crowned and watching the entire process from my seated position. I sobbed tears of joy when they laid her in my arms – it felt so right.

From then on it seemed like everything was easier than it had been the first time around. I used a baby monitor with Big Girl, jumping up at every whimper and coo. I didn’t bother with a monitor the second time around. With Big Girl, we also kept a running list of her feedings and dirty diapers. “I ate three ounces. No dirty diaper, though. Daddy is worried,” is just one of the notes my husband and I wrote to each other during our early days of new parenthood. I can’t tell you how many ounces Little Girl ate when she was two-weeks old, or how many dirty diapers she had.

Even the way we managed the outside world was different. With Big Girl, we allowed all our friends and family members—and their kids—to come visit our newborn. I had a full house when she was three days old. The second time, we barred visitors from the house until Little Girl was six-weeks-old, something that probably alienated more than one or two people.

The real change, however, has been in the way I am interacting with Little Girl. I didn’t stress so much, and so I feel like I am enjoying each stage more – every smile, every accomplishment, and even every mistake (I make plenty, of course). I’m also not as eager to have everything happen so fast. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I can remember sitting on the floor with Big Girl training her to crawl. With Little Girl, I knew it would eventually happen, and what that would mean when she did, so I embraced her non-crawling time. Little Girl also missed out on my Cruising for Os program, a process where I placed Joe’s Os cereal in a trail around our L-shaped couch to encourage early walking.

Since I am a different person for Little Girl, I’ve also changed for Big Girl, too. She’s got a new mommy. So far, so good, I think. We are less focused on achieving skills and more focused on having fun. Yesterday we went to the aquarium. Big Girl dressed herself. She wore her “lucky socks,” multicolored, striped, and fluffy, with checkered shorts. Instead of telling her to change, as I probably would have pre-Little Girl, I let her rock that unique look. Two days prior, we had hit the park – I’ve been doing that more with them – and I let Big Girl play in the mostly-empty wading pool, splashing water on herself, something the old mommy never would have let happen. Is one Mommy Karen better than the other? Probably not, but I know I like this one a lot more. And that counts for something, right? At the very least some of the very real and very interesting differences in my daughters.

One Response to “Same Genes, Different Mommy”

  1. Shari says:

    Such a nice post- what a gift to your children. I really enjoyed reading it.

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