Mom told me that you will always worry over one of your children more than the other. It’s not a difficult thing to understand–that one of your children will require more nurturing or perhaps more encouragement than the other. But like so many things, that comment means more to me now I’m a mom.

My eldest is sensitive in a way that is beautiful and smile-inducing, and bless her I can finally say she understands the importance of sharing. (Having a younger sibling greatly helped to reinforce this!) But the playground can be a hard place for someone with feelings like hers. The times after school and after ballet class are stressful for me because her friends go to the playground… and of course she wants to go too.

Most of my anxiety stems from the fact that I see so much of me in her: the innate desire to please and the struggle to assert herself without being overbearing. Assertion is a learned trait to someone like us. It’s an art form that takes years of practice. Some people do it effortlessly while others like me and my eldest first over- then undershoot until we learn the right balance.

I’ve learned that I can’t protect her from the truly hurtful things: I’ve taught her to hold onto the railing when going down the stairs and to keep looking as she crosses the street, but a friend’s comment about her favorite dress or an overexcited kid at the playground are things she has to figure out. All kids must learn how to cope with this, but some seem to do it with more ease than others.

My youngest is the kid I was always afraid my oldest would run into: feisty and confrontational. She’s frightened by little and has loads of personality that leaves us laughing. I spend almost no time worrying about whether her feelings will get hurt at school and most of my time hoping she doesn’t clobber anyone for invading her personal space.

They require two different approaches to parenting. I find myself explaining to my eldest why it’s okay that her friend doesn’t want to give her a hug right now and then in the next breath struggling to get my youngest to understand why we don’t hit. Or pinch or bite or snatch or kick or shout and scream.

My eldest likes to cuddle on the sofa. My youngest needs a dog.

Despite their differences, or maybe because of their differences, I’m learning about acceptance. As someone who very much likes to be in control, I’m slowly accepting just how little I actually have.

Accepting my eldest’s sensitivity is awkward because I see that as a weakness in myself. Therefore, I try to save her from the hard knocks it takes to build thicker skin. I want to spare her the hurt feelings that I had to experience. But in doing so I realized that I’m not accepting her for who she is, which begs the question how can I provide the safe haven she needs if I’m busy correcting her, coaching her… trying to change her.

Perhaps all she needs from me is acceptance. My eldest will learn how to manage playground dynamics and my youngest will grow out of the grabby-snatchy-everything-is-mine phase. Their feelings will get hurt from time-to-time, but more important than shielding them from these events is providing the support they need to get through them.


Hard Choices

I’m halfway through Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, a book about her four years as Secretary of State. It is an interesting read. It’s not often I hear about the good the US does for other countries. Living abroad I’ve met a lot of people (mostly Europeans) who are eager to point out my country’s faults, and so reading about how we’ve helped different nations is a nice change.

As a writer, I also find it interesting because I’m fairly certain I can distinguish the parts she’s written from those of her ghostwriter’s. This is not to say that it is poorly written–I think the way the authors are able to take sometimes boring and mundane circumstances and turn them into intriguing international incidents is a testament to their writing skills.

But I guess the main reason I find this book so interesting is because of a few hard choices I’ve had to make recently.

I’ve been writing creatively since high school. It all started one year after reading the books on my English curriculum. I was thoroughly disgusted with the lack of control and the quality of decisions made by the female protagonists in these books. Where were all the modern women? The generation of women before me were breaking glass ceilings everywhere and Blacks and minorities had shattered some of their own as well. Why was I still reading about slavery and segregation when a Black was the protagonist or about arranged marriages and suffrage when a woman was the literary subject? Where were the stories about women like my mom? About the woman I had visions of becoming?

So I set out to write a story with a female protagonist like the women of my time: educated, working, and mistresses of their own fates. I began by writing scenes in my composition notebook. Those scenes grew longer with each attempt, and before I knew it I had over two-hundred pages. At some point I let a few friends read some of my work. They asked for more, and I’ve been writing ever since.

There’ve been times when I took a hiatus, like when I graduated from college, again when I moved to Japan, and obviously for the birth of each of my children. But with each change a new routine was established and I would carve out some time for me, and that meant writing.

Recently, I’ve decided to put my youngest in school come January. It was a decision I didn’t want to make. She’s my baby, my last child, and so I want to hold onto her for as long as I can. She never got the one-on-one time with me that her older sister had, and so I guess that’s made me reluctant to let go.

But each morning when we drop off my eldest at school, the joy that spreads across my little one’s face becomes harder to ignore. I have to drag her out of the classroom, away from the toys and other children who seem to be having the kind of fun she wants. It’s time, I tell myself. She’s ready, even if you’re not.

I’ve managed to carve out an hour or two from my morning routine so I can write, but with her starting school in January, things feel as if they’re changing. Our time together seems rushed all of a sudden, which has left me with an interesting choice to make: continue to write in the mornings or… not.

It is one of those easy-hard decisions. I want to gobble up each of her crooked runs and celebrate every trip she makes down the slide. I love those little arms when they wrap around my neck after she’s found me hiding around the corner. I guess I love those moments more than the strong protagonist who’s kept me up at night just begging for me to tell her story.

I know mothers everywhere battle with their own hard choices: do I take that business trip or let another colleague position himself for the promotion? Do I accept that new job with more money even though I know I’ll miss bedtime a few nights a week? Do I continue with the novel or do I teach my kid how to go up the slide the wrong way–because all kids need to know how to do this before they begin school.

The notion that we can have it all or do it all without having to make some hard choices is a naïve one. The good news is that there are no right answers, only ones that are right for us.