Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Little Sister

Pretty much from the time I found out I was pregnant with Kelsey, it was a foregone conclusion that I would have another child. I had hated being an lo-only child. But, even had I not been set on not making my baby grow up on her own, it became almost a physical mandate at one point. About the time Kelsey was about two, I began to have almost physical longings to become pregnant again. I would see women in the street or at the store who were pregnant and feel real longing and jealousy. People who grew up with me would find that an amazing statement. I was hardly naturally maternal, but once those hormones hit, they hit with a vengeance. And, I would watch Kelsey playing alone in the yard or with her toys in the evening and I just knew I could not make her grow up without a little brother or sister. I loved her so much, I wanted another one just like her. A week after her third birthday, I gave her a sister. Marissa Pearl.

But, of course, like a strong willed toddler, Kelsey had issues with the new gift I labored to give her. She never was mean to the new baby, that would come later, but she gave me a real run for my money, and I got my first taste of what a hard headed child I had on my hands. My relationship with her shifted from the moment she came to visit in the hospital, but even if I had foreseen that, I would not have wavered from my goal: I did not want her growing up an only child.

From the first, she and her sister had very unique personalities. While we all have to guess which baby is which in the old photos - we tell by what we all are wearing in the picture - Kelsey was independent and stubborn, Marissa was more mellow. Kelsey was fiercely attached to certain toys (she had a Mister Bear that she could not be separated from without dire consequences), but Marissa never settled in on any one toy for any length of time. Kelsey refused to wear anything but dresses. Marissa, who had one famous meltdown in Target over an outfit, was in general not so picky. Kelsey slept in her own room with no problem and happily went off with relatives for play dates. Marissa refused to sleep in her crib and was so inconsolable whenever one of us were not around that even family members refused to babysit for her. Kelsey was a neat freak. Marissa had toys and clothes scattered all over the house. Physically it became clear that Kelsey was destined to be tall with an athletic build, while Marissa was petite. Kelsey was Daddy's Darling. Marissa was a Mommy's Girl.

But, they were related and part of the same family with the same mother, and the sibling dynamic, particularly between sisters, was something I had no experience in. I had seen it at work only from afar. As intent as I was to make sure I did not raise an only child, I had no real idea how to do anything else. So, they had to forge their own relationship, and it was natural that they fought. Over toys at first. Later, over I don't what all. They both told the story of the last time they were physical in their conflict. Apparently, some time not too long after we moved into our current house, Kelsey pushed Marissa down the stairs. Kelsey admitted that it scared her so badly that nothing like that ever happened again. But, they remained competitive. Very. And, in this arena I will not fault myself too much, because I truly don't think any parent comes out of the experience unscathed. The ice is too thin. The desire to make sure each child has the same opportunities is tantamount, but at the same time you want the individual child to feel they are special at something. When Marissa followed Kelsey into figure skating and excelled at it, it was hard to know how to feel. Marissa will tell you now that she did as well as she did because she spent time observing her older sister, so she had a step up on her peers. But Kelsey saw it as a threat. So, when Marissa decided to pull herself out and pursue dance, it was with a vague sigh of relief that we rolled with it, despite despairing that she was throwing away that obvious potential. Figure skating was Kelsey's arena in the end. But, what if Marissa had loved it and wanted to stick with it? Kelsey would have resented it. And what would have been the right call then? I watched the two Kwan sisters skate for a number of years, but it is Michelle Kwan whom we all know and love. What does her older sister really think about all of that? I would imagine even the best parents trip over that fine line and siblings end up thinking that "Mother loved you best" no matter what. Greg and I muddled along as best we could with such complex issues, hoping that we'd make the right decisions almost in spite of ourselves.

When Kelsey began her tail spin and began to absorb all of our attention, negative as it may have been, Marissa was left in the wake, fending for herself at a tricky time in her own development. One rather huge point I left out of the post I wrote some weeks ago about my parenting tips was this one: if you ever say to yourself, "At least I don't have to worry about [fill in blank] ." Then [fill in blank] is the child you really need to worry about. And, trust me on this one, [fill in blank] will find a way to regain your attention. To their own peril maybe. As this pertains to Marissa, that is a story that I will elaborate further, Dear Reader, so stay tuned. But, for now, let me close with this: as hard and complex as their dynamic was, there was never any doubt that my two daughters loved one another. They could shove one another around, but let anyone else try it, well hell hath no fury... Kelsey loved her sister more than anything or anyone else in the world. My guess is that Diva cat of hers came next, and the rest of us fell somewhere far behind. I am okay with that. It's the way I wanted it. But, what I expected and really wanted, is that my two daughters would grow old in one another's company, and it would be the two of them that spread my ashes. Now that burden falls on Marissa alone. Marissa, for that and for so much more, I am so sorry.

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