When all four of my daughters were younger, I often teased about how I had duplicate sets of daughters. “I had Kate and Rose, and then I had Kate and Rose again,” I told people. Kate and Rose were born about 27 months apart. Then I had no children for four years, and then Emily was born and 21 months later came Brianna. Kate and Emily both have first-born traits, while Rose and Brianna both challenge life as second-borns. Kate and Emily have a lot of structure and order in their lives. They are both very self-disciplined and driven to learn and achieve. When they were young I used to persuade them to add color into their lives, so everything wasn’t so black and white. On the contrary, Rose and Brianna are spontaneous and risk-takers, always seeking the next adventure, although Brianna is slightly more cautious than Rose. Rose is an artist and she looks at the world in myriad colors and shapes. Brianna is a nonconformist and pushes many “edges”, always wanting to “cross the line.” Each of my daughters is blessed with beauty, intelligence, and strong will.
From the moment each was born, they were told they could achieve anything they put their minds to. They were taught to have an opinion and to share it when appropriate. I wanted them to be independent women, capable of living on their own as adults—the result of my own experience of both of my parents dying by the time I was 16.
Fast forward to today, when, as fate would have it, my second-borns are both facing life-changing moments in the next several weeks and I find myself very retrospect as I watch each approach her moment.
At 24, Rose is getting married in August. She is in nursing school and has a wonderful career ahead of her. She works part-time in a restaurant and has put herself through college. She works hard, and she plays hard. There is so much I want to tell her as her big day approaches, but I find myself holding back. I have concerns, but I keep them to myself. Who am I to judge when it comes to marriage? It took me twenty years to realize I never should have married my ex-husband! To her credit, this was not a spontaneous decision for Rose. She’s been in this relationship for a few years and there has been a progression of sorts approaching this moment. As much as she wants everything about the wedding event to be spontaneous, she is trying very hard to plan and think things through carefully. She is full of expectations for the future, and there is a great building of anticipation for “the big day.” And true to her nature, nothing about this wedding will be ordinary. And, wow, is she in a good mood!
On a different emotional level sits Brianna, at 18, facing her future head-on. Yesterday should have been her high school graduation, but she has not completed her requirements and she doesn’t know when she will. Instead she is on a wait-list to head to a residential treatment center to sort out her anxieties and set herself on a path to a successful future. She accepts that this is the right thing to do, I think. She is wise enough to know this may be her last opportunity to get on the “right path,” but the truth of the matter is that she is going because it was either that or pack a suitcase and leave my house. And true to her nature, she is anxious and scared, standing on the precipice, knowing which way to step but wanting to push limits just the same and take a different course of action. It’s as if she deliberately wants to sabotage her success.
And here I stand, on the sidelines, watching each of my second-borns, wondering what changes will come with these life-changing moments. I am essentially powerless to their decisions. I am eager to offer guidance and/or reassurance, and every once in a while Rose will toss a question to me, similar to a person tossing a morsel or treat to a dog. I quickly and quietly snatch it up and then wait in anticipation for another. But Brianna remains guarded and closed. Yet one day last week I silently rejoiced when Brianna struggled through a moment and allowed me to hug her. She hates to be touched and rarely allows hugs. It was a milestone moment in my opinion and renewed my hope, but events of this week have cast shadows on the little glimmer. I know Brianna is acting out simply because her anxieties are completely over the top as her departure day approaches. But knowing that doesn’t make getting through each day any easier.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Rose, gliding three feet off the ground, in love, with her rosy future gleaming before her. Nothing can put her in a bad mood.
I watch my two second-borns, my emotions a mix of anticipation and dread, excitement and concern, happiness and frustration, my life resembling a teeter-totter. Do I crawl toward the middle to search for a miniscule spot of equilibrium? Or do I push myself on Brianna, who truly needs parenting, and have less time to share in Rose’s joy? Or do I follow Brianna’s wish that I leave her alone and cross over to bask in Rose’s sunshine?