Several months ago, I was home with Leigh and Ira, and they were roughhousing. There are a few more glimpses these days of them actually playing together for real, but at that point, any “play” involved one of them tackling the other. They were going at it, Leigh fell back on top of Ira, and I heard a sickening “crack” as she landed on top of him and his head slammed against our wooden futon frame.

I had an instant vision of his skull cracked open on the couch. I was there in a heartbeat. I yanked (I wish I could use a gentler word) Leigh up off of him by the arm, and pushing her to the side, evaluated whether he was moving (I’m always on the alert for broken necks, just ask Gail) He was moving hands and legs, wailing, and I whisked him up. I was starting to believe he wasn’t on death’s door when I turned around to Leigh’s wails of “why did you do that??!! Why did you grab me!? You hurt my arm!” (she was fine, but definitely surprised and upset).

Now everyone was crying. I was on the living room floor with Leigh on one leg, Ira on the other, as we all tried to settle down. I told Leigh that I was worried Ira was hurt really bad but that I could tell she was OK and needed to get to him, but that I was sorry I pulled her arm. She was over it pretty fast, but the whole thing stuck with me.

For several days I couldn’t even say what I was worried about. I mean, it was a run of the mill accident, and no one was really hurt. I think it was even reasonable of me to get her out of the way FAST. But what ate at me was how I almost didn’t even see her. I was so worried that Ira was hurt, I barely even registered she was there. I just needed her out of the way NOW. Once I knew he was fine, she registered again, but I had to wonder, what was that? Would I just throw her under a bus if I thought Ira was hurt?

Was I so quick to toss her aside because I gave birth to him but not to her?

When I got it together to voice this to Gail (you know it’s eating at me if I can’t talk about it right away, usually it’s a very short trip from my brain to my mouth), what came out of the conversation was it wasn’t the situation itself, but the worry and wondering about it, that could put more distance between me and Leigh. Chances are I would have acted exactly the same if the genetic relationships were reversed (or uniform), but that I noticed it so much because I’m on heightened alert for these differences, and that alert itself can change the relationships, not necessarily in good ways.

So after we talked, I stopped mulling over wondering what I would have done if things were different, and focused instead on growing feelings of connection to both of my kids. Things weren’t bad. Really, they were fine, and I doubt the kids even noticed anything was amiss, but I shifted my internal focus from scrutinizing my actions for any sign of preference, wondering if I’d messed up, finally exposing the gaping crack in our family, to instead treasuring what I already have, and growing those feelings of love and connection. It made things a lot better.