I’m (finally) putting together a book compiled of my favorite columns and blogs that I’ve written over the past 20 years. The process has been like looking at photo albums with commentary.
I wanted to share this particular column I wrote in 2004 because I am stunned/happy/laughing at how, 14 years later, what I wrote about my daughters still holds true. Carlene and Cassie, you still are the lights of my life, and I love you both so much. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Twin Daughters of Different Fathers
Sometime in 2004
Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisburg collaborated on an album in 1979 called Twin Sons of Different Mothers. It was my favorite nighttime music, and a welcome change from disco. Fogelberg’s words and Weisburg’s flute fed both the angst and peace of my typical 16-year-old self. I knew every note, every crescendo, every run. I even taught myself the flute part from the first track, “Twins Theme.” Life was full of possibilities. I was going to be either a veterinarian or a roadie for the Eagles. I’d have died laughing if someone told me that instead, within 5 years, I would produce my own “album”: Twin daughters of different fathers.
Never one to do things the conventional way, I turned the old saying “The first child can take any time, the second one takes nine months” on its ear.
Everyone assumed daughter number one was a guest at her father’s and my wedding. Otherwise, why would a 23-year-old farmer marry an 18-year-old city girl? When Carlene made her appearance, reluctantly, three weeks shy of our one-year anniversary, the finger counting had ended and people realized she took the “morally correct” nine months to come into being.
We were a happy little family unit of three, making plans to expand. But just as life requires birth, it requires death. My farmer boy died, leaving me and our little daughter a family of two. We moved to the city, where I went through the motions of life, feeling very little and making choices I wouldn’t otherwise make if not for the constant numbness. It was within this almost hypnotic state that daughter number two came into being.
Cassandre was an actual guest at my second wedding. She was 9 months old, teething and crawling, and unaware of the way she turned my world right side up again. Carlene had nicknamed her Cassie Bear in the hospital, and liked to hold her like her favorite Cabbage Patch Doll, which in so many ways Cassie was. They became like the Chinese symbol yin-yang: two opposite energies that could not exist without each other. So it was no surprise to me when Carlene moved to Pittsburgh recently, living as close to Cassie as she could without actually having to share a bathroom.
When Carlene was born, her burgeoning personality was not like anything she’d exhibited in utero. A constant kicker and puncher inside, there was no child as quiet and modest as Carlene. Cassie, on the other hand, moved very little, which kept me anxious nearly the entire pregnancy. If not for the hiccups she got nightly, I’d have been a constant basket case. Once she was out, she hit the ground running, and made sure everyone knew she was alive.
Carlene loved to nap. I had to wean her from them a few weeks before she started kindergarten. She still likes to get 10 hours of sleep when she can. Cassie, of course, liked being awake, and stopped taking naps at age 2 simply because, like Bartleby the Scrivener, she preferred not to. She still thrives on motion, and I usually need a nap after spending a day with her.
Everyone has a ratio of book smarts to street smarts. Our ability to think more than feel or feel more than think parlays into our daily lives and influences everything, from the choices we make about which car to buy or clothes to wear, to the jobs we take, the people we choose as friends and lovers, the movies we watch, or the games we play. Mothering two such opposite children gives me a front seat to this psychology. Carlene thinks deeply and methodically. Cassie feels deeply and passionately. Carlene carefully plans. Cassie makes decisions on the fly. Carlene follows directions. Cassie makes up the rules as she goes. Both are independent in very different ways: Carlene stubbornly so and Cassie instinctively so.
Cassie is a defender of the underdog. Carlene prefers justice.
Carlene got As in calculus, but it took her weeks to learn how to check the oil and fill the windshield wiper fluid tank in our car. Cassie couldn’t see what the Pythagorean theorem had to do with her, but she earned enough money from dog sitting, cat sitting and a paper route to buy a stereo, computer and television. Cassie instinctively knows things most of us have to learn. The world outside of books makes sense to her, where Carlene would be lost without books.
The girls often flew to Minnesota, Seattle, and Los Angeles to see family. As you might guess, Carlene was an aisle-seat girl and Cassie loved the window. Yet for all her adventurousness, it was Cassie I put in charge of the money and calling card (and her sister, too, for that matter).
Sighing “I’ll do it” accompanied by an eye roll was a common occurrence for Cassie, killer of spiders and plunger of toilets. Yet it was Carlene who risked bodily injury to clean Cassie’s room while she was away so that Cass had a path to her bed.
Cassie takes pride in her physical strength. I often wonder if it wasn’t Cassie’s example that convinced Carlene to join the track team in high school. We’d always said Carlene was smart as a whip, but ran like a girl. Challenging herself physically that way uncovered a new side of her, one she still embraces today.
Their similarities are what we all want children to be: hard working and kind. They were courteous to my friends and co-workers and, except when Cassie would crawl under the table in restaurants to pull out a loose tooth when she was little, I was never embarrassed to take them out in public.
Carlene never left home easily. Cassie was out the door almost as soon as she got her diploma. That they live in close proximity again makes me happy. I worry less that Carlene will get lost (she has a lousy sense of direction) or that Cassie will be sad (that dominant “feeling” side of her has its downside sometimes).
I found my copy of Twin Sons of Different Mothers while writing this column. “Paris Nocturne” is still a lovely song, and it reminds me that the 16-year-old I was still lives inside this 42-year-old body. At 16, I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, a groupie, a poet, and a pilot, but becoming a mother in a circuitous fashion to two engagingly polar opposites was more heady and humbling than anything I could have ever imagined sitting in my room in the dark, listening to music.