I’ve written before (see brothers) about how different my two boys have been since the days they were born.
My first slipped so calmly and quietly into this world that I had to ask if he was breathing before they handed him to me. He was solid and still and breathtakingly beautiful. My second came at us like a wrecking ball. I was unexpectedly induced due to minor preeclampsia at 37 weeks gestation. His birth was a blur of cords, tubes, monitors beeping, doctors, nurses, and pitocin. The pain was searing and relentless, unlike anything I experienced with my first. But it burned out so quickly, as fires often do, and there he was. My tiny, glowing, ember.
Lately, I’ve started thinking of them as fire and ice. They are both capable of such beauty and grace, but can also be forces of destruction to be reckoned with.
My oldest is incredibly smart, but like so many highly intelligent people, is also extremely introverted. He was a difficult baby, and used to cry for hours every day. To him, the world was a harsh place full of sounds that were too loud, lights that were too bright, and feelings that were too strong. He was overwhelmed by his new life, and as much as I wanted it not to be true, I was overwhelmed by him.
I was always told that you fell in love with your children the moment you looked at them. I used to wonder if there was something wrong with me that I didn’t feel an instant, life-changing, soul-consuming, love for this tiny person who seemed so unhappy most of the time. The feeling seemed mutual. He was stoic and difficult to read. He was cordial and appreciative of the milk I had to offer him, but I he seemed to look through me rather than at me. He was cold and beautiful, and I worshiped him like I would a fine piece of art, but it took me a long time to really fall in love with him.
These days he shines brighter than any star in the sky. He is still dazzlingly beautiful, with sandy hair and ice-blue eyes. He is still solid and unrelenting too, but along with that he has a capacity for learning like I’ve never seen. He expects the world to adhere to a particular mold: to follow a set of rules that he can study. When it does, he flourishes. He loves space and the planets because they are predictable, powerful, and majestic, like he is. When the world doesn’t conform to his expectations, he starts to melt down. Every day I see him fight to maintain his composure, to stay calm, to stay constant in an ever changing, unpredictable world.
Many people find him cold upon first meeting him. He spoke only a few words until he was well over two years old. Even now, although he never stops talking, he has trouble connecting with others. He’d much rather recite the planets in order than talk to another child about a game they were playing. He is often the child you see at play groups sitting alone in the corner, watching the other children from afar. But he is learning. Ice moves, just very slowly.
There are moments with him that are pure and unparalleled and full of joy: moments when I see him for the wonderful, enigmatic, creature that he is. He is as majestic as any frozen world and as unique as any snowflake. There are moments when he looks at me, not through me, and pierces straight to my heart.
The other day, we were drawing pictures of the planets. We’d only had time to draw the first four planets in the solar system before his brother woke up from his nap and I needed to start making dinner. So I told him we’d have to finish another time. He does not like to leave things unfinished. He cried, then begged, then bargained, then proceeded to badger me until I finally gave in and drew the rest with him while feeding the baby. I was frustrated with him for creating extra work for me. I’m sure he knew. When we finished coloring and labeling the final planet, he looked at me and said, as sincerely as anyone has ever said anything, “Thank you, Mommy, for doing this with me.” This time I melted.
The baby, on the other hand, burns with the fire of a thousand suns. He is pure light. He used to smile with his eyes before he could coordinate the muscles in his face to smile properly, and he hasn’t stopped smiling since. To meet him is to love him. Instantly.
I loved him the moment he looked up at me for the first time and reached his hand out to touch my face. He was so delicate and warm. I was terrified for weeks that he would simply blow away, or extinguish like a tiny flame. But he didn’t, and his fire spread quickly until he filled every corner of the house and our hearts.
He is impulsive, quick tempered, and mischievous. His greatest joy in life is destroying the quiet order and structure that his brother so values. What a marvelously intricate train track you have built. Here, let me rip it apart and eat the pieces. My what a tall Lego tower you have constructed. I’ll just smash into that with my walker. You enjoy reading? What a coincidence, I love tearing pages out of books.
He loves his big brother with an adoration only younger siblings can understand, but fire and ice have a hard time mixing. They butt heads, sometimes quite literally, every day. The older boy simply can’t deviate from his chosen path despite the fact that the baby has parked his walker in the way and is leaving a path of books and toys he’s torn off the shelves in his wake. Fire meets ice, and they both melt.
But even the older boy can’t resist the charms of his younger, warmer brother. Despite their numerous differences, they never hold a grudge. The baby smiles and his brother coos and giggles at him. “Aww, isn’t he cute?” He likes to say. Until the next time he threatens the integrity of his train table. Like a wildfire, he is allowed to burn free until he comes too close the town and then he must be extinguished.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that love comes in many different forms. Some are easier to recognize, like the intense burning of instant attraction. Others take time and effort to break through the icy exterior, but once inside they are more beautiful and rewarding for it. The moments when my older son hugs me, I feel the sheer power of that love reflected in his beautiful exterior. They are two opposing elements, and yet my life would be incomplete without either of them.
I am reminded, as I write this, that sometimes things have already been said better than I could ever hope to compose them. So, I leave you with the poem that was my inspiration for this celebration of my children.
Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
This post was originally published as a guest post on Multitask Momma. If you haven’t already, check her out. She’s wonderful.