Baby B

When you have twins, the first baby to come out is Baby A or, in our family, Owen. The second baby to come out is Baby B—James. At 4 lbs., 15 oz., Owen was almost twice the size of James at birth. Owen was released from the NICU first. He slept through the night first. He crawled first and he walked first.

Thankfully, miraculously, the boys have lived out their first 7 years with little competition (an ideal I hope remains although I imagine the teenage years will be different). The few times Owen used the “I’m older” line, we quickly put it to rest. After pushing Owen out, James, who was in distress, was quickly pulled out 2 minutes later. “You are the same age,” I said. “Exactly the same. I was there. I know.”

In that moment, I was giving birth to both. I didn’t give birth to one, stop, and then give birth to the other. Each of those contractions represented my body giving birth to both.

But still, it’s as if the labels given to them when they were still arms and elbows and feet and heads making small but distinct mounds that moved mysteriously across my stomach, one on top and one on bottom, have stuck. In addition to reaching milestones second, James has also always been smaller, fitting into Owen’s clothes only after Owen has grown out of them. James entered our world weighing 2 lbs., 13 oz.; today the heft of his body when he curls up in my lap still surprises me.

To each other, though, and to us, they aren’t Baby A and Baby B. They’re just Owen. And James. With their own personalities and their own approaches and their own ways of handling the rhythms of life. Their pace differs. But so do their tastes. And mostly, such as when Owen won first place in his division at the pinewood derby and James won third, there is excitement for each other. Maybe a little pride. And if there’s disappointment, it’s hidden. I’d like to say this is all because of some great parenting achievement but in reality, it simply has been our reality. They fight, of course, but never seemingly about this. At least not yet. (In the picture below I snapped a shot of one of Owen’s winning races. But what I like most about this picture is James’s hand, patting Owen, so excited for him. I only wish I had captured James’s face, too.)

But still, I have to admit to a bit of gratitude towards a universe that made circumstances align just right so that it was James who made a basket—his first—their first this season—at yesterday’s basketball game. It was the last game of the season, the third year they’ve played, and the only basket James has made during a game, ever.

Like the labels we like to assign seemingly the moment we’re born, this little world of ours likes to celebrate the big things—the solo, the medal, the goals, the first place, the straight As, tonight’s Super Bowl win. But I tend to see more achievement in the B- that was once a solid C. The first steps taken well after the first birthday celebration. The “although you’re not quite there, you’re close, so try again” after 10 years of trying. The first basket after three seasons of not making a single one, while always dribbling the ball down the court with great hope and always still shooting.

I missed it.

I missed James’s basket.

I was digging in my purse for lotion for Sophie who was complaining about her irritated skin thanks to the volleyball pads she was wearing on her knees.

And as I threw both fists up in a belated cheer, my heart sank. For me.

But what I didn’t miss was James’s spark thereafter. He was all in, after that basket. And all smiles. To most everyone in the stands yesterday, James’s basket was no different than the many baskets scored during the many games they’ve played. It was normal. Average. With no need for pomp and circumstance.  But to James, it was everything. And much needed. For it was him coming in first for once. It was Owen giving him the high-five as they walked off the court. It was that label, so terribly sticky at times, being peeled back.

“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” —Maya Angelou

A New Ball Game

Now that Sophie’s older, I hesitate writing—deeply, sincerely, truthfully (the hard truths, anyway)—about her. I have a few, very specific memories from age 5. Her story is becoming her own now and I feel it’s her place to tell it someday, if she chooses—not mine.

That said, our stories often intertwine. As they did tonight.

I vividly remember sitting in the car and the smell of my new soccer ball between my knees. I was in the first grade. And terrified. It was a new game to me. I didn’t know the coaches. I didn’t know the players. I wasn’t certain of all the rules. I was worried, worried, worried—about making a mistake, messing up, not doing it right.

Sophie started soccer last week. It’s clear a good portion of her DNA is from me.

They’ve had two practices and one game. Tonight was practice No. 2 at 6:30pm. Andy had a softball game. At 6:30pm. I was flying solo.

The practice did not go well. Sophie insisted I hold her hand the entire time. (Side note: Her coach is great—constantly cheering her on, running a lap with just her to make her feel more comfortable, etc.) I tried to stay by her side, but I have two other children. James was screaming/crying/whining on the sideline the entire time. Owen was wearing yellow (thankfully) and at one point I (easily) spotted him playing with another kid and another parent on another field. (I’m drinking a glass of wine as I type this.)

My friends helped. A lot. They kicked an extra soccer ball around with Owen and James. They rummaged through my van for books for Owen and James and then read books while Sophie clung to my hand. They advised me to enjoy my previously mentioned glass of wine.

Near the end of the practice, Coach K asked if I wanted to play in a game. I looked up and spotted a flash of Owen’s yellow shirt semi close to the field Sophie was playing on. James was sitting in his Thomas the Train lawn chair, screaming. But sometimes we as parents have to make hard choices. And on this night, it was clear that Sophie needed me most.

“Yes,” I said.

The game was this: All the kids had their own soccer ball and dribbled it around the field. If they hit one of the coaches with their ball they got to tell that coach to make a loud animal sound of their choosing. Cute and clever.

However. My focus in all this wasn’t to really dodge balls. Instead I (in my ballet flats and skinny ankle jeans) was trying to keep track of Owen’s yellow shirt, mime to James that it’s OK and I’ll be with him soon, and persuade Sophie that soccer is really fun and that it’s OK to make mistakes. This made me a Two minutes in I was surrounded by seven different kids consistently hitting me with their soccer balls and screaming “monkey!” “elephant!” “lion!” “zebra!” (and apparently my zebra sound isn’t up to par).

Parenting those first few blur-filled months is hard. But every few years you find yourself in an entirely different ball game.

When I was in junior high, I played intramural basketball. I was terrible, mostly because I was so timid—and like a certain 5-year-old I know, terrified of making a mistake. My dad went to all my games. I knew how to dribble. How to shoot. I knew the rules. What I needed was a lesson in aggression—and the knowledge that if the whistle is blown because of something I did, it’s OK. So he told me I had to foul. At my next game, I had to foul.

I don’t remember everything about that game. But I remember being nervous. Really nervous. And then I remember thinking of my dad and feeling brave. Really brave. And then I remember fouling, intentionally. And then, while my coach pulled me aside to explain to me why what I had done was wrong, I remember looking up at my dad, standing in the bleachers, clapping.

Sophie, if you’re reading this as a teenager or adult someday, and you remember how you felt at practice today, know this—I felt the same way. I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know when to push and I don’t know when to pull back. I don’t know how much hand-holding is OK and I don’t know how much bravery it’s right for me to expect. I know this is something you really want to do (because you keep telling me so every time I tell you it’s OK if you don’t want to do it) but I don’t know how to take that. Just as you’re so desperate for a play-by-play guidebook, I am, too.

Which, I guess just means we’ll just fumble through this together. And I hope, soon, I’ll find the answer, just as my dad did. And it will be you on the field, filled with bravery, and me in the stands, clapping with relief/pride.

“Soccer is simple, but it is difficult to play simple.” —Johan Cruijff