I define them by their differences. One is emotional and and clumsy. The other aggressive and surprisingly athletic for a 12-month-old. I can’t help comparing them.
At a glance, they are unmistakably related. Brothers. Big brown eyes, long lashes, thick brown hair.
But the baby’s skin tone is golden and his big brother’s skin is pale and cool.
And they are so different.
On a bad day, I question myself. Have I treated them fairly, have I given them the same things? I read more to one than I do to the other. The little one watches more TV than his brother did. Was I more stressed out during my first pregnancy?
Why is my little boy so agitated all the time? I see in him, so clearly, the nervous child I was. The nervous kid I battle against (and embrace) every day. At night, he sneaks out of his room and slithers down the hall like a snake. I did the same, and then hid behind the couch to watch Perfect Strangers. He can’t lie without giving it away. I always felt the lies around the edges of my eyes, and my mother could always see them, saw them even when I wasn’t really lying. He runs to me with a hangnail, flapping his hands and picking at it until I clip it off. Many nights, I couldn’t sleep, the edges of a hangnail catching against my sheets and scratches and pulling.
It’s so simple to scoop the baby up. So uncomplicated to nurse him. He plays with my shirt and we look at each other and I wonder what his challenges will be, when he is three. Unlike his brother, he doesn’t like to be rocked. He won’t sit still to read a book. He is busy, he climbs, he loves slides, he will jump off of anything. He eats anything. He is fearless. (I laugh and say, this will be the one who climbs out of his crib.)
I squeeze him against me and smell his hair because as each day passes he becomes more complicated and these simple baby days will be gone soon.
My heart hurts when I hold the baby, because I feel like I’m betraying my boy. The boy I butt heads with every day, the boy who is so very difficult right now. My shadow, my mirror. Sometimes all I can feel is the electricity between us, so I hide in his bed in the dark and whisper “I love you, I love you,” in a soft litany of apology. (I will get better at this, little boy. Try to be patient with me. I will try to be patient with you.)
When I’ve tangled myself up (don’t think it into the ground, said a little printed scrap of paper on my college dorm room desk as I struggled through the first year of a real relationship) and I can barely breathe for it all, they pull me out. Dust me off.