Twenty years ago I was twenty-three years old and had just had my fifth open heart surgery. I was sore and exhausted and having a toddler running around made for an interesting journey. Oddly enough, it seemed she just knew my chest was no longer her playground and I do not recall a time when she dug her knees into my breastbone in an effort to climb on my head. She was loving and gentle and kind.
Fast forward and I am forty-three and, it has been almost seven years since my sixth open heart surgery. Our Little Man climbs on and digs his knees into my chest as often as possible. The discomfort is psychological really, given the fact I have no feeling left in my chest. He exhausts me daily, to the point I can be quoted as saying “I do not recall mothering a toddler being so exhausting twenty years ago”. Of course I am twenty years older, so it could simply be a combination of my failing memory and truly, my age. Or is it simply because he is a boy?
Twenty years ago I was chasing a twenty-two month old around; she was the sweetest and smartest baby I had ever had the pleasure of knowing. She was my first and as it turns out, the only child I would ever give birth to. This is the story of opposites, of how babies are different, yet not and how things change and stay the same no matter how much time goes by.
It is hard looking back and getting facts straight as so many years have passed since my eldest child was a baby. She will be twenty-one in March and I am still left wondering where all the time went? Would it seem to have gone by so quickly had she always lived with me, had I not missed so many beautiful moments in time? We will never know – but what I do know is the first eleven years of her life were amazing – she was amazing.
Fast forward and I am now chasing around a twenty-seven month old boy; he is the sweetest boy I have ever had the pleasure to know. He is identical to my daughter in many ways and in many ways, he is so different. I can only hope to share in all of his life adventures, to not miss years of his life and to teach him the lessons I believe are important….but for now, I will take each day of watching him laugh, run, jump, sing and play I can get.
My daughter started speaking at six months old. Her first words were Batman, Panther (our dog), and butterfly. By the time she was a year she was speaking in full sentences, by sixteen months she knew the alphabet by sight and by the time she was two years old, she would have conversations to rival any I have had with another adult. And she loved books. She could sit (and I am not exaggerating) for hours listening to me read to her. God how I love those memories.
Fast forward and my little man is a late talker; we are lucky when we can understand half of one of his sentences. Though he does know his alphabet and numbers by sight, he is not bringing me a stack of books to read him while we sit together on the couch, or snuggled up in my bed. Unlike my daughter, he loves to jump and climb, he is a pro on the balance beam and loves to hang from the uneven bars with the best of them. He is the true definition of a “monkey man” and he is oh so much more coordinated than I or my daughter will ever be.
There could be several explanations for their differences, though only one for their similarities. Genetics explains why our Little Man looks identical to my daughter, minus the differing body parts of course. Had we never cut Riley Jabe’s hair and I put their pictures next to one another with them dressed in the same clothing, we would have a difficult time telling them apart.
Could their differences also be explained away by genetics? Biologically speaking, they have different fathers and different mothers. My husband and I have had custody of our grandson since he was seven months old though he has lived with us since birth. He calls us Momma and Poppa; he is as much our son as she is my daughter. He is only a quarter of me, where she is half. We have no idea who his other biological parent is, so there is nothing to compare him to in our search for answers.
Or is it something other than genetics which explain away their differences? When I was pregnant with my daughter, I read children’s books aloud daily as I was babysitting a toddler during those months. I read to her every day from the time she was born. I held her for hours on end talking to her, looking into her eyes, telling her how very loved she was. She was the center of my universe from the moment I found out I was pregnant and more than anything, I was proud to be her mother. I had a rule for myself, I would never tell her no I would not read to her. I was a mother, a house-wife, she was my one and only priority – she was my job. Trust me when I say she took full advantage of this rule from the beginning, which was fine with me because this meant I got to hold her, to watch her smile and hear her laughter.
Fast forward to when we found out she was with child. She was eight-teen years old when she moved home to live with me; she was six and a half months pregnant with a baby she swears she did not know was inside of her and she was clear when she stated she did not want to keep him. This means she had not been taking care of herself, or the baby. She had not been reading to her unborn child, or talking to him. She did not want to be a mother; thank God it was too late for her to make other arrangements to keep him from being born into our world. My husband and I told her we would adopt the baby to keep him in the family should she change her mind. I had so hoped she would do just that once he was born – after she held him and looked into his eyes. I had Prayed for her and for Riley Jabe, so wanting her to feel the bond of motherly love which comes from giving birth. Sadly for them both, this never happened.
During the first four months of his life I bathed, fed and changed him. I woke with him in the mornings and in the middle of the night. I pushed her to breast feed for the first two months, but it was so unbearable for her the stress was evident in our Little Man. Though I tended to all of his needs, I purposefully did not hold him for hours on end as I had with her. I purposefully waited for her to pick him up to read to him, sing to him, to simply hold him. It soon became evident not only was the natural bond not taking effect, she had no desire for it to develop. She begged us to adopt him, she begged us for her freedom and she pulled further and further away from him – and from me.
When he was five months old I realized in my desire for her to bond with him, in my desire for her to be his mother, I too was neglecting the baby I told her I would adopt in order to keep him in the family. This being said I had to change my way of thinking. I had to realize she was not going to magically decide she wanted to be Riley’s mother and she was not going to seek help to work through her emotions. She had/has no desire to be his mother and the only way he was going to get the love, attention and maternal nurturing he needed was for me to give it to him.
I don’t want you to misunderstand me – there was never a time I did not love him, never a time when I did not hold him when he cried and never a time when he wasn’t cared for; I simply did not give him the same amount of attention as I had given my daughter when she was born, or the same amount of attention he would have gotten had I given birth to him. Once I was able to look in from the outside, once I came to terms with the fact she was serious – she did not want him and no matter the amount of encouragement we gave her, she was not going to change her mind, I was able to release the maternal instincts within and open my heart up to being his Momma.
I can never make up for the lost time, for those five months I hoped she would suddenly wake to his cries and look into his eyes feeling the love for him I feel. I can only hope in my desire for her to do so, I did not cause irreparable damage. I can only hope my choice not to read to him for hours on end, did not stymie his intellectual growth. I can only Pray the differences in his vocabulary compared to my daughters at this age are nothing more than the fact, all babies are different and girls learn at a greater rate than boys.
Twenty years ago I could not afford such luxuries as gym lessons for my daughter, or play time with Mommy and Me. We did plenty of fun things, like going to the zoo and playing at the beach or the park, or simply taking a stroll. Fast forward twenty years and I am financially able to supply Riley Jabe with the extras which help to build coordination, social skills, and pride from each new thing he has learned. I know this is what has made a difference in his climbing, his jumping, his balance – because Lord knows genetically speaking, he did not get those skills from either my daughter or me.
Twenty years ago I loved my daughter more than life itself; fast forward twenty years and I still love her just the same. The difference is, now I love him too.
Twenty years ago I was chasing around a toddler; fast forward and I am once again chasing a toddler. I do not recall it being so exhausting, though I do recall the many rewards.
©Kesia L. Miller