“He’s struggling a little bit learning his letters,” the teacher said, looking into my rapidly-filling eyes “It’s not a worry for now, but I think a bit more practice will really help him. He gets upset and frustrated at times.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. We were at parents evening for our middle child. He’s only 21 months younger than his brother - and growing up, the two boys were so close they were practically glued together. But despite that, their interests and personalities had always been very different - and that had never been more apparent than tonight.
The teacher handed me some worksheets that would help him at home - and saying goodbye, I tried to hide my worry.
It was a different story with my first child. From an early age, he was interested in learning the alphabet. If I switched on the TV when he was a toddler, he only wanted to watch musical alphabet videos. By the age of two, he could recite from A to Z perfectly - and by the age of three, he was already reading books.
As much as I’d like to take credit for his early reading skills, I know it wasn’t much to do with me. We always read stories together at bedtime - but I was too busy with his younger brother and baby sister to help him swat up. His interest came from somewhere deeper. It was nature, not nurture, as they say.
As we drove home that night, the teacher’s voice echoed in my head.
“He gets upset and frustrated at times.”
I blamed myself. I should’ve read with him more. I should’ve taken more of an interest. I should’ve rediscovered those alphabet videos and sat him in front of them. He might’ve found a passion for it like his brother.
But deep down, I knew it wouldn’t have changed anything.
He was different to his brother, right from the baby days. He preferred to watch cartoons about trucks or dinosaurs. He pushed a car around the floor or roared like a monster as he toddled around the apartment. He loved kicking a football and rugby tackling his Daddy when he got home from work. I often joked with my friends about how different the two boys were, despite being so close in age.
“I thought I’d have two peas in a pod, but they’re like chalk and cheese,” I’d say, laughing.
When I was pregnant with my second baby, I never expected him to be different. I didn’t expect a clone, but I expected to be handed a bald baby, bar a few tufts of blonde hair at least. So when he arrived one January afternoon at City Hospital, with the thickest head of black hair, it was just the beginning of discovering a completely new little person.
Four years later, armed with letter worksheets in my hand, I just needed to remind myself of that. They were different - and that was OK. Chalk and cheese.
It was about a month after that parents evening that everything changed again. We were sorting through boxes of toys at home, when that second baby (now nearly 5 years old) suddenly discovered an unopened box of LEGO. His face lit up as he held it - and he promptly announced that he was going downstairs to build it. I had a spark of irritation as he left the room, fully expecting to be pulled away from the tidying when he inevitably called for help a few minutes later. He’d never built LEGO before and the kit was far too advanced for his age.
But I was wrong.
Half an hour later, I went downstairs to discover him half-way through the instructions. His face was fixed with utter concentration. The half-finished boat in front of him was perfect; step for step, brick for brick.
I was amazed.
My eldest had never shown much interest in LEGO - and on the few occasions he’d tried, he had quickly got frustrated and abandoned it. But here he was his younger brother building something so intricate and fiddly - and enjoying every second of it!
And stood there watching him, I realised that he’d found his passion.
As the weeks and months have ticked on, I can see his mind working in a completely different way. He is practical like his Daddy, working out how to fix things together and building set after set of his beloved LEGO.
His brother is more bookish, more academic, and more creative. I suppose, just like me.
And their sister? Who knows. But I’m pretty sure she’ll show us all one day.
When she’s ready, of course.
Just like her brothers.