This weekend Sage somehow, miraculously, without my help or express permission, passed the 11 month mark. We are now counting down the days until that astounding one year milestone, and all the parental reflection that brings. Also the party. Oy, the party.
I can hardly help but think of her without making comparisons to her sister. Surely I’d be forgiven, for Thalia was the only other baby I ever knew. Without her I wouldn’t understand why teething equates sleeplessness, how small to cut the pieces of melon, the three-digit Kids-on-Demand channel by memory.
I learned how to love with Thalia. Sage is reaping those rewards. But then when I can barely envision writing my littlest girl a heartfelt birthday letter without somehow referencing her sister, I find it a little painful. I put myself in her crib shoes and I wonder if this is the thing that puts people into therapy so many decades later. I wonder if she’ll grow up resentful – or simply accept it, not having known any other way.
This must be the curse of the second child I always hear about.
Although perhaps (maybe? hopefully?) less an actual curse than the overly guilty mind of an overextended parent.
In some ways Sage is so lucky to have come second: No hesitation to hustle her out of the house in her first days for fresh air. Fewer panicked midnight peeks into her bassinet to see if she was still breathing. An extra pacifier always at the ready. (I learned that lesson early.) And not one tumble from bed to hard floor as an infant, surely a miracle considering the number her sister experienced. I am a calmer mother with Sage. A happier mother. And I don’t think anyone in our lives would disagree when I say she has a happier father too.
Yet at times I feel like I hardly know Sage at all. And that is crushing.
I could have predicted Thalia’s every move at 11 months. I knew the nuances of her personality. I knew each milestone hit down to the day and I’ve got a full enough baby book to show for it. I see Sage in far broader terms. Is it any surprise?
While we spent countless hours just staring at Thalia as she stared in space or waved her arms or crawled through the lawn looking at blades of grass and shiny earthworms, Sage must be content to take what attention is left after Thalia’s had her fill. I find there are fewer moments I have with Sage in which just she and I pat the bunny, lift the flap on the board book, build a fort out of blocks to knock them down, dance alone to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in the living room. I think of the many lullabies I sang for Thalia, the many nights rocking her in my arms while I strained to remember a sixth or seventh song – and I can hardly recall a single one that reminds me exclusively of Sage.
But then, she always put herself to sleep pretty well.
But then, it’s not like I had any opportunity to learn new songs before Sage came along.
But then, maybe I just suck.
We think the oldest child is the independent ones. But a surer reality might be that the little one learns to put herself to sleep because she has no choice. Mommy’s too busy racing back into the kitchen to finish dinner for the first or working longer hours to pay for the second set of diapers. The baby has to learn to entertain herself in the highchair while her attention-starved older sister demands to stand at the counter alongside mommy and spread the peanut butter ALL BY MYSELF. AND ALSO I WANT TO TASTE THE PEANUT BUTTER ON THE KNIFE WITH MY TONGUE NO NOT LIKE THAT, LIKE THISSSSSS.
I’d hate to think that Sage has spent her entire first year in a proverbial high chair, looking on at life.
But when I shut up and stop self-flagellating, it’s unlikely she’s done any such thing. I think she’s experienced life just fine. It’s me that’s missed my opportunity to notice the details.
I live for those mornings when Sage arises early, fussing from her crib at 6:15 or 6:30. It’s a guaranteed half hour, more if we’re lucky, before the jealous toddler stumbles out of her (our) bed and starts pawing at me for attention and cinnamon toast. In those early hours, we can play patty-cake. We can bounce. We can make silly sounds. And I steal those quick thirty minute sessions to get to know her best I can. And get to hug her more. And get feel my love grow for her more.
Differently than it did for the first. But not worse. Or so I tell myself. Just…differently.