A different kind of love

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.


55 thoughts on “A different kind of love”

  1. I loved this post. I am a lurker, but I just had to comment today. My wife and I are like your Sage and Thalia. I was, Thalia. The teachers pet, do what your told, cuddly child. My wife was Sage. More reserved, you had to earn her attention and affection. It is well worth it, and we laugh that deep down, our beliefs and likes and dislikes are so similar, but from the outside, people think I'm so nice, and she is closed off. Unfortunately, this also makes it hard for her right now as she is in grad school, and looking for internships and scholarships, it is the people more like me, who get them all. She is frustrated because she knows she is just as smart, just as good at the work, but has a hard time expressing it in a single interview.
    This post reminded me of how we are all just different, and even if everyone doesn't see it, I do. I get to see all greatness that is there in my wife.
    My one tip, my wife was the middle of 5 kids, and she was considered the grumy and difficult child, and to this day, at 30 years old, her entire family still has that label, and it hurts her. She is not close to most of her family as a result because she is tired of the grumpy, difficult label. It sounds like you really appreciate the great qualities of both of your daughters, and that is great.
    Melissa in Durham

  2. I grew up with 3 sisters and people were constantly comparing us, to our faces! So I do feel sympathetic to my kids when adults make comments in front of them or when they're not around. They both have great strengths; some are just easier to see than others.

  3. Such a sweet story. I always like how you write. This made me think of my kids – a boy and a girl, total opposites in character. My girl is 3, and like your Sage, she's also independent, a tough cookie, but very affectionate once you get on her good side. As parents, we really have to appreciate the uniqueness of each child.

  4. This is so lovely. You are right to recognize that we have different kinds of love for our different children, and also that they are just who they are – for all of the good and bad, light and shadow, and twisty complexity – from the very beginning.
    Sage sounds like a marvelous, wonderful child to me!

  5. I love that, as parents, we live my mother's assertion that “I love you all equally, but differently.” There cannot be absolute, steady equality – because the ebbs and flows, the whens and hows dictate the needs. And the fulfilments.


  6. Fascinating!

    I think I love Sage. She sounds like such a cool kid. They both do. And it is great to see how you are appreciating each of them.

    My child is charming but also absolutely difficult in many different ways. You get her or you don't.

    My daughter created an alternate male identity. She was very into this identity and we went with it, just to let her be herself. She had boys clothes, a boys name, a boys persona (as she imagined it to be) that she could turn on or off.

    Of course, she got a lot out of it. 'He' got Christmas presents for a boy–Star Wars Legos, among other things.

    I've been very curious about this phenomenon and come up with a bunch of theories. Over time, we would hear of other kids doing this.

    It sounds like your daughter is not going quite so far with it, though.

    Our next one will be adopted so we will have a handy explanation of why they are different but of course they can be as different as can be with same bio parents.

    I so desperately want another kid after many struggles and I love reading about people and how they experience two or more kids.

  7. I love to observe the differences in my kids' personalities when it comes to this. Your two girls sound quite similar to my two boys.

    This post spoke to my heart and I adore the fact that the two of you had that special moment together.

  8. I'm always amazed at how 2 (or more) kids can grow up in the same family and be so incredibly different. That sounds overly-simplistic and crazy obvious….but I didn't realize how true it is until I had my own 4 kids.

  9. Ahh captured it beautifully. I have a Thalia (Parker) and a Sage (Tempel) and they are so amazingly earth-shatteringly different. And knowing that makes it so much easier. Now I hardly ever beat Tempel when she denies me a hug. Oh I kid.

    I still beat her.

  10. This a great post. My twin sister and I are as different as Sage and Thalia and I think my parents really struggled with treating us as individuals, which made a lot of things worse, so I think it is really great that you can see and appreciate your kids for who they are.

  11. This describes my girls perfectly. My oldest is my lover and youngest is feisty. I love them both and I know they both love me in their own way. I am the center of my oldest daughters world and I always have been but not so much for my youngest. It was hard for me to understand and adjust to. I will admit I still struggle with it, but like you I have learned to cherish the moments when my youngest needs me.

  12. Yes, this really resonates. My two boys are so different, and even though my youngest is easier, he seems to need me less (which makes him easier in some ways, you see??). But he doesn't hold on to me and strangle me with a hug and jump on my head at 6 AM to get a kiss. My oldest is much more challenging (to put it mildly) but he's so affectionate.

    Two boys; two very different personalities; two very different loves. But it's heart-stopping and fulfilling love all the same, no doubt about that.

  13. ahhh those moments. ensures that you don't leave them in snowdrifts to fend for themselves. It's amazing isn't it, that two kids who come from essentially the same recipe (you + Nate) can be so different? Sometimes I think it's harder to avoid comparing siblings when they're the same gender–we have two boys and they're ridiculously, exasperatingly different from one another. If one were a girl and one a boy, I think their differences wouldn't surprise me so much, somehow. It's tough to avoid labeling them–those labels can be difficult to avoid. I've settled for one being “passionate” and the other “joyful.” Or at least, those are the words I use on my good days. Sometimes in private, I use other adjectives…

  14. mThis was such a great post. My baby is only four months, but we already see so many differences between him and his brother. My two year-old is the same way with getting to know people. He will cling to me and at times outright reject people's attempt to approach him. A lot of people will just give up, but to the ones who persist he is fiercely loving and loyal to. I have learned to empbrace his spirited personality and feel so good when I see other people doing the same. Thanks for this beautiful post.

  15. So well written…I can really relate – my daughter is like Sage. She's creative and strong and not giving away affection unless its on her terms. Thanks for the reminder that her personality is something to appreciate!

  16. Yep, I'm a lurker too, but this is an amazing article. I'm constantly amazed at the people who favor one child over the other – including their own grandparents! My Anna is your Thalia, and my Eva is your Sage. Both are absolutely perfect in their own way!

  17. Sage's voice, oh her voice, gets me every time. I love that little girl to pieces, just like her big sister. I love that they are different and yet both such great little girls.

  18. Sage sounds much like my 2 year old. She definitley has a mind of her own. I am pregnant with my second child and I just know in my gut that this child will be easier than my daughter. I fear my daughter is going to always appear to be more difficult. How do you keep from letting their different personalities become a wedge between you or between their siblings or playmates? I'm just paranoid and pregnant. This is all skepticism at this point, but humor me, will you?

  19. It's amazing (and wonderful, and terrible, and terribly challenging all at the same time) how each child “needs” in her own way. But one thing is certain: they do need us, and that is such a comfort, isn't it?

  20. I know I am not supposed to criticize when you've provided such a lovely post today, but I really needed a picture of Sage to go with this! When you described her sleep face, I wanted some payoff at the end!

  21. A little misty eyed over here. I am due with my second next month and I can't wait to meet her and see how she compares to my son. I charmer by every sense of the word. I wonder what awaits me!

  22. Lovely post. It brought tears to my eyes and made me think of my two vastly different daughters, and how they love differently, too. How they do nearly everything differently, actually.


  23. My sister-in-law apologized to me once for effusing so much over my daughter to the exclusion of my son. Oh, I said, it's fine! In fact it's great. Because at home, my husband and I do tend to effuse over my son to the exclusion of my daughter. He's just *easier,* is all.

    So anyway my point is that in the end it seems to balance out, each child having his or her different admirers.

  24. A lovely story. My daughter Mirabelle is three and like Sage definitely needs her Mommy when something is just not right. She loves her Daddy just as much, if differently, seeing him variously as a toy, pet, play mate or just someone to boss around. But Mommy is always Mommy. The other day I was asking her who her best friend is and after proceeding through a list of names to which her answer each time was “no” she just looked at me and said “no Mommy, you are my best friend”. I am treasuring such moments and making the most of this Mommy love as I know when she becomes a teenager in all likelihood she will view me as the devil incarnate and want nothing to do with me until she is in her twenties!

  25. Your comments are all so kind, thank you.

    Thanks for the lurkers coming out of the woodwork (hi Melissa! Hi Crystal!), thanks for sharing your own stories with me and reminding me that it's okay to feel this way.

    @Deborah you're right, I think the same sex only highlights the differences.

    @Rita, different doesn't always mean bad. In fact, it generally doesn't. Relax, enjoy your pregnancy, and remind yourself that that baby's personality is already set and there's nothing you can do about it. My girls both kicked me differently in the womb, reacted to different stimuli, and dammit if it wasn't reflective of how they are today.

    Biology – she is keerazy!

  26. Stunning piece.

    I have four daughters and a son.
    All different. All incredible.
    They teach me every day.

    Sometimes I'm a slow learner, because that's a lot of subject juggling, a lot of different love, but oh the love.

  27. That was so beautifully expressed; your writing is like yummy food.

    My son is Thalia, calling out from his room, “I love my family! I love my mommy, I love my daddy, I love my…”, etc.

    My daughter is Sage. The other day she came up to me and said, “Mommy, you are so… unwonderful”. I would have been insulted, but it was such darn clever wordplay…

  28. You brought tears to my eyes! My oldest turns 4 tomorrow, and is my 'harder' child. But his love for me is strong, as is mine for his.
    Thanks for sharing those wonderful words.

  29. Another whose girls are so very different and I am at a loss w/ my middle one because it feels so different. Though in public, she is the one that dazzles others. There is something special in really savoring how unequal and different the love can be.

  30. My boys are both so different…just as your girls are. One slathers me in his love and joy, the other (oddly enough the more sensitive one) doesn't, but I have discovered his love runs almost deeper, more absolute and true. Not that my expressive son doesn't love me, he does. He just hasn't considered exactly what that means–the depths of it and how he's going to allow it to define him. My youngest HAS…right down to the pit of his soul.

  31. Wow… you always have such awesome posts.

    My husband, my oldest daughter (13 years old) and I were talking last night about “favorites.” We also have triplet daughters that are 15 months old. I told them “I really do have favorites, but each one of you is my favorite – in a different way.” As the triplets grow, I hope that I'm able to love them without comparing or treating them like a “unit.” At this point we are just relishing & marveling at their uniqueness and different ways of developing. How lucky are we to be able to see three little babies turn into toddlers… to learn and stretch and grow… all in their own way. I think we're pretty blessed.


  32. As the mother of two very different girls I can so relate to this post! And those little moments in the dark can be absolutely amazing.

  33. With our five, it's easy for my wife and I to stay aware of our different attitudes towards each of the kids because our friends and relatives also respond so differently to them. Each one is a favorite of _someone_ we know. Sometimes when I find myself getting frustrated with, say, my 7yo, I think about just how much his aunt loves him and why, and it helps keep the more, ahem, challenging aspects of his personality in perspective.

    (OT, my thanks for the vindication with this post. A friend who knows of my politics and caught a bit of yours recently said “John, I'm surprised you regularly read her.” I told her to read this post, and she said “Wow, she writes well.”)

  34. To agree with everyone else, so well written. I believe that all people who are in our lives (and those who have come through one door and out another) teach us something. Not knowing much of your story yet as this is my first time here, but gathering simply from your writing, that you believe something similar – it will be very interesting to see what different lessons you learn from both Thalia and Sage. And how, having those two so different, you have opportunities to grow and learn that a lot of people don't get. Looking forward to following your journey. As I'm sure you are, too.

  35. I've come to believe that nature wins the debate with nurture. These little creatures are coded from the start. We try to shape them, but in the end they are hard-wired right out of the gate. Even if they came out of the same gate, they manage to be distinct from the get-go.

    How that translates for me: Life with my two daughters is like living with Mother Theresa and Lady Gaga under the same roof.

    I love them differently but equally. I appreciate the charm of each personality. I think (hope) they experience me like that. But, like you've written about, it's that awkward moment when a friend, relative or neighbor makes the throw-away comment in front of them that asks for one to be favored. I manage to deflect it, but it drives me crazy because I know those two little sponges are capable of picking up all those clues and cues.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that this was a really beautiful post, in words and spirit.

  36. So glad you had that special moment with Sage. When they are more rare, sometimes they do seem more precious. I am the mom of 2 very different girls, too. But i had my “Sage” first and so the lightness of the “Talia” coming later was such a sweet surprise.

    I am a lurker and just wanted to say thank you for posting this. I love it when I am moved by what I read. Thank you! – Missy in California

  37. That was amazing. I too find myself feeling awkward when an outsider comments that one of my children is “just amazing” or “So special.” What, the others are not special? It sort of makes me want to stick up for the others!

  38. Liz, I love reading you as you know, but this piece and the piece called Inspired I feel I really need to hug you for. You words, stories, and the intense love you have for your girls speak so loudly. And make me want to be a better mom. Thank you.

  39. That was such a beautiful post. You ended it gorgeously and provided great anecdotes around the descriptions of your children. Just a really fantastic post, keep it up.

  40. I loved this post, just reading about Sage and Thalia made me think… is this how my next one is going to be. I have a 2.5yr old who is stubborn but the most lovable little smoosh on the planet, you are very lucky to have yin and yang.. 🙂

  41. DeeTree, my mother always said the second kid gets the traits that the first one didn't.

    I wrote once that I assumed that meant if the first one was “awesome” the next one was “sucky.” Little did I know there is a whole continuum of awesome out there. No doubt your #2 will be the same.

  42. My girls are the opposite: eldest is the thinker, the hard nut to crack, the girl with the embers burning deep; younger daughter is the pink, princess with the heart on her sleeve.

    The love is always there, but the connections and connectedness wax and wane with each girl according to some other moon. They are both simultaneously mysteries and answers.

    I see your beautiful girls in mine and in every girl. Lovely post.

  43. this is a lovely post. i wish i can extend the same love, even if it needs to be different, if and when i have another child.

    i love reading your blog 🙂

  44. Thanks for this great post. I, too, have two children almost identical to what you've described in yours (only mine are both boys). It can be interesting to say the least learning that 'different kind of love' from #1 to #2. Keep up the good work!

  45. So sweet, so true to me. My son is often like Sage and very much a Daddy's boy to boot. Those little moments are all the more precious for it.

  46. My kids are also so different. My daughter is the tough one and you just feel so privileged if she takes to you. My son is cuddly and charming and just smiles at the world.

    Oddly enough, our cats are the same way. The elder female is a skittish Russian Blue and the younger male just loves everyone.

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