The expansiveness of a mother’s love is widely expressed infinite as the sky, strong and sinewy, yet as flexible as a bendy straw. My favorite is the quote by Elizabeth Stone: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
I feel that raw, pulsing, vulnerable love with equal force for each of my children. And yet, over time, I’ve realized that the love I have for each of them is different. Even in utero, my two children were different. I felt strongly that my first pregnancy was a boy from the very beginning, and I felt like he was a Max. Later in my pregnancy, each night when I’d lie down to sleep, he’d start a vigorous routine of somersaults and karate kicks, making it impossible to fall asleep. My labor with him was late, long and hard, and as a newborn he was fussy and wakeful. He wanted to nurse all the time, and was what some described as a ‘high needs baby.’ My love for Max’s infant self was intense and exhausting; I once read about early, difficult parenting described as “love with teeth.” I was infatuated, but bruised and bitten. My pregnancy with my daughter was quite different. Though physically the pregnancies were similar, both with intense nausea, fatigue and sciatica, she seemed mellower. I had no certainty around her gender. After an ultrasound revealed she was a girl, I contemplated various names: Lucia June, Violet Anne, Cadence Clair, but she felt slippery, the names dripping off of her, nothing fitting quite right. The first night of her life, after a much shorter, smoother birth than my son’s, she slept for six hours straight, while I dozed restlessly, my veins pulsing with adrenaline.
At five and two, Max and Violet’s personalities remain as foreshadowed by my pregnancies. My son seems to radiate sheer will; he doesn’t do anything until he’s ready. He was so slow to talk that we had a speech evaluation done for him when he was two and a half. The evaluator proclaimed he was fine, and sentences started spilling out of him the next day. He didn’t potty train until he was three and three-quarters, but when he did, he had almost no accidents. His diet consists mostly of pizza, pancakes and fruit. His favorite color is black. Our daughter was speaking in complete sentences before she was two. She eats most anything, including Brussels sprouts, with exuberance. While our son is sensitive and emotional, life seems to roll right off of Violet. When she falls, I hold my breath, waiting for her tears to start. Instead, she often bounces back up, giggling. I relate strongly to my son. Max and I are creative, intense, sensitive and stubborn. We are often rigid. My son and I are like magnets—we are often either cocooned together, in our own secret club, or we are pushing each other’s buttons, repelling. The cord of love tying us to each other feels familiar and ancient, as if we’ve been twined together for several lifetimes.
Violet radiates light and playfulness and love. She’s self-contained, which is a quality I’m in awe of, and perhaps a little jealous of. She has her moments after all, she is two. But most of the time, she is pure light and flow, in stark contrast to my over-thinking self. My love for her has a hint of novelty, and a disbelief that this little sprite came from my body. Where my connection with my son feels primitive, with Violet, it feels shiny and new. I often say that while Violet has been “along for the ride” since birth, Max is the ride. He’s a leader, both by nature and by his own demands. He has me seeking professional advice on how to roll with his moods. People say his determination will serve him well later on in life. But trying to parent around that iron will often feels harrowing and exhausting. I asked a group of my mom friends if they felt differently towards their children. Most said that they did. Many confided that they had one child who was more challenging, sometimes significantly so. Several mentioned they had one child who was very similar to them, while another was quite different. And some of the moms said that they had a favorite child but who the favorite was changed frequently, depending on what stage each was in and what was going on with their family at the time. Sometimes I feel guilty that my love for my kids is so disparate. I’m immensely close to and proud of my creative son. And sometimes I just want to soak in Violet’s light. My relationships with my children will stretch and morph over time; I am still in the beginning years of parenting. I’m learning that it’s okay that I feel distinctively towards each of my children. It makes sense; they are different creatures, different constellations of DNA and soul and stardust. Those parts of my heart which they carry around, the love that leaves me so exposed and transformed, are simply different pieces.