Yin and Yang - FamilyEducation

Yin and Yang

July 29,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

We've suddenly slipped into a different pace around here. It's a quieter house, and the hours stretch ahead, marked definitively on each end of the day by school drop-off and pick-up at 3:00. T. missed her brother yesterday, but she has an extra spring in her step, we think; that glow that kids get when they can play at being an only child for a while. We're already enjoying the one-on-one time with her, but with pangs of guilt now and again. Should we be having fun? I ask myself at the pool, while we toss T. into the air between us and watch her dive and laugh. We make plans to take her to one of the free summer children's movies this week, and I hesitate, wondering if it's fair. But then I remind myself that L. hates movies and movie theaters, and that this is the only reason T. has never been to one yet.

When I spend a good chunk of time with one child, I'm always startled by the differences. I don't compare, but I think about how they occupy such different worlds, and have such different approaches to life. Now that L. is back in school, I feel as if I'm getting the chance to see my kids with fresh eyes again, as separate beings, all the complicated facets of their characters rising to the surface in ways that astound and sometimes confuse us. Every now and then I do wish they were more alike, and that their worlds didn't collide quite so much, but I think their differences provide us with so many angles through which to view the world--theirs and ours. And I try to remind myself that this is a gift--the fact that they are so different.

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This is how our first day without L. at home went:

T. and I get out of the house in ten minutes flat to run errands, and I think about how very portable she is. She's always up for shopping or errand running, and a trip to the grocery store is her idea of a grand old time. She gets ready for the pool in a flash, and plays with the other kids there, leaving me time to chat with the other parents, or lie back on a pool noodle and reflect on life.

But then, back at home, T. talks--a lot, and wants to play lengthy and mind-numbing dinosaur make-believe games all day long, following me around the house and into the bathroom, and insisting I be a mayasaurus named Maya. Sometimes I extricate myself for five minutes and hide in the laundry closet to unload the washer, and then there she is again, calling me: "Mayaaaaaaaa! Mayaaaaaaa!"

In between foraging for food and avoiding the T-rex, my mind wanders to L., and I imagine him at home, quietly hunched over his Playmobil toys or sitting at the computer, the silence punctuated briefly by interesting comments about a NASA podcast or ancient Rome. I wonder what he's doing at school, and whether he's happy. I miss him.

Scott and I talk about taking L. to the museum again this weekend, and we smile, eager for this family outing to come. Over lunch we talk about his new teacher, while T. chimes in and feeds her stuffed-animal-of-the-week (a brown stegosaurus named Steggie) a veggie hot dog.

T. and I whip up a batch of homemade play-dough, just like I used to with L. We add green food coloring and glitter and bash down the warm dough with our hands, molding it into, of course, dinosaurs and trees and squat, lumpy people. T.'s hands remind me of L.'s at her age, strong and earnest, the possibilities of creation tingling at her fingertips. I think about activities we can do with L. later, when he gets home. I miss him.

Later, at 4:00, L. breaks out his Space and Sky Edition Monopoly game and we play, buying and selling galaxies and moons. I let him roll the die until he gets the planet he wants, and look the other way when he pilfers extra cash from the bank. T. rolls on the floor, bored, and wriggles into a Snow White dress-up costume.

My kids are yin and yang incarnate, really. They couldn't be more opposite, yet they reflect each other in many ways; they are unmistakably siblings, even if their approaches to life and friendship are so very different. And while I miss L., I do cherish this stay-at-home time with just T. I enjoyed it tremendously the year I stayed home with L., and it's wonderful to get the chance to do it again with T., if only for two weeks. It's the ultimate juggling act, parenthood. You spend your days taking the good with the bad, the joy with the sorrow, the patience with the anger; you sort out the complicated likes and dislikes of both kids, walking the line between the two, striving always to be fair and just. As a parent your greatest challenge sometimes is to learn to move between each child, flitting back and forth, perpetually leaving bits and pieces of yourself scattered everywhere.