It’s a cardinal rule of parenting that I’m convinced every couple with more than one child has broken: Thou shall not compare your kids.
Try as you might to cherish each one for his or her unique gifts and talents, it’s simply inevitable. You go along for years with a single object of your undying love and adoration, and then, from the instant that the next sibling is born, the comparisons begin.
“Baby A was 8 pounds 3 ounces, but Baby B was only 7.6 pounds. This one walked 6 months sooner than that one. Mikey hated meat but Marky snarfs down sausages. And on and on.”
Consciously or not, you begin to measure each developmental milestone relative to the other child. The empirical differences are very straightforward: facts, figures, dates. But when it comes to contrasting personalities, things start to get a little tricky. The incessant warnings about “labeling” your kids—and thus relegating them to some dreaded self-fulfilling prophecy—have been deeply ingrained into our collective parental psyches, and so we try with all our might to avoid explicit comparisons.
But I have come to realize through my two boys that, while the contrasts may be stark, variety is the spice of life and it’s ok to not only call out, but celebrate their differences.
So this is a tale of “The Apple” and “The Peach”: two fruits that fell from exactly the same tree, yet are wonderfully, scrumptiously, 180 degrees different.
The Apple. Of our eye, that is. Our firstborn. Out of the womb, bright, curious, soaking it all in like a giant sponge. A smile that’s simply delicious. Lighting up his entire face—no, the entire room. Shining brightest when he’s pleasing: lending a hand, singing, whistling, sharing. And devastated when he disappoints. Toddler timeouts were spent with projectile sprinkler tears and eyelash-stained “I’m sorries,” full-body draped in complete repentance. He’s feistier now, but will always have the kindest soul and a heart of gold. He is my snuggler, thinker, dreamer, cleaner, helper, animal lover, rule follower, heart warmer.
And then there’s “The Peach.” Rosy cheeks, juicy lips and a mischievous twinkle in his shiny brown eyes. If The Apple wears a big red heart on his sleeve, The Peach leads with his cute dimple chin. All action, all the time, The Peach plunges feet first—without a parachute. Fingers grubby, leg bruised, wheels churning, stone overturning, exploring, adventurous, plowing through life with gusto and glee. All with a stinking grin on his precious little face. The only times he stops are in the early morning, bleary-eyed, a bundle of love, the calm before the storm of daily life: toy chest dumping, ball throwing, book page ripping, screw removing, tower building, treehouse dismantling, bright shiny object eating exploits until he crashes into bed, cheeks rosy, mission fulfilled, our hearts melting until we get up and do it all over again. He sucks the marrow out of life and us, when he squeezes as tightly as he can, eyes wide, lips pursed, love and giggles overflowing.
The Apple and The Peach. Comparisons are inevitable, but in the end, they’re cut from an entirely different mold. The key, I hope, is a common set of values to ground them, a consistent framework to guide them, but a unique set of expectations to nurture them.
Every time I catch myself wishing for a little more sanity, nostalgic for the days when grownups outnumbered little people, and the odds were definitively stacked in our favor, I look at these two precious gems. A large marge and a mini-me, delectably cute, diametrically different, dropped from the same tree. Our tree. And I’m thankful for the bounty they bring.
I can’t wait to see how they grow…