I have a neighbor I really like – a lovely woman with no children of her own, but a dedicated Aunt to her out-of-town nieces and nephews. She’s always so kind to my kids when she sees them. Then later, when we have some time alone in the elevator or at a neighbor’s potluck, she never hesitates to rave about Thalia and how absolutely fabulous she is. “Oh, I’m sure Sage is nice too,” she’ll add, “but THALIA well, wow. What a great kid!”
And Nate and I kind of pinch each other under the table and gently remind her that you know, we are the parents of both of them right? We don’t actually pick favorites. That you know of.
It’s always interesting to me to see who relates to Sage. Thalia is easy. The good girl–save for the typical four year-old tantrumy, bratty, chicken nuggets are STUPID stuff–but generally she’s a happy kid. Let’s say she skips a lot.
Sage however, is the one who will break my heart. She’s tough, she’s independent, she’s not the child who automatically laughs at your jokes or who will pander for your love. You have to earn her affection, and when you do, it’s worth the effort. It makes her a 2.5 year old you can respect, in my book.
Where Thalia wakes up happy, Sage wakes up grunting. Where Thalia will run up and whisper You are the best mommy I ever had in my ear, Sage will run up and whisper Don’t call me Sage, my name is Max. In fact, she identifies strongly with male characters and when they role play, she’s the Luke to Thalia’s Leia, the Diego to her Dora, the Peter Pan to her Wendy, the Wall-E to her Eva.
(And don’t ask me how the hell they discovered Star Wars. I guess it was a kid at school. All I know is that Thalia wants me to put her hair in side buns for school and begs me to do the R2D2 sounds.)
It’s not to say Sage completely out of touch with the feminine – sometimes Peter Pan wears a tutu and Diego, evidently, can be a princess too. But she’s not the cuddly, effusive, affectionate, teacher’s pet of a child that Thalia is. And so I learn to accept a little less with Sage: A little less affection, a little less flying into my arms at the end of the day, a little less I love you mommy.
Not less love, just fewer expressions of it. And I admit, it leads to moments of doubt, moments where it twists my heart around to hear her say NO when I ask for a hug, or to refuse to eat cereal unless Daddy pours it.
I am still learning to accept that we have a different kind of love between us.
Last night I came home late from an emotionally brutal day at work, to find her still awake in the dark in our bed, Nate lying by her side for an hour trying to get her to sleep. (Grrrr, whole other story.)
Mommy! she burst out brightly, springing upright when she saw me enter the room. I admit I felt a tinge of joy from from the unexpected expression of happiness. I let Nate creep out of the bedroom and I quietly took his place.
Sage reached for my hand and clutched it tightly in her tiny palm, flinging one leg over mine and settling back into the bed.
As I peered down at her trying to catch a final look at her before sleep set in, I noticed that her face didn’t have the semi-panicked expression that Thalia sometimes has when she falls asleep, grasping my hand tightly for fear that I’ll sneak away. Instead, Sage wore an enormous smile. It curled the corners of her mouth high into her chubby cheeks, and it pressed her eyes into squinty, happy crescent moons. She looked simply radiant, even in the near pitch darkness of the room, with the delight of having me next to her.
At that moment, we needed each other.