You recently turned 21—a milestone age. Yes, at 18 you became an adult, but at 21 you now have full benefits and more is expected of you. Since you are my youngest, this is a milestone for me, too, so I’m doing some extra reflecting.

Among other things, I’m realizing that as the “baby” of the family, you got the best of me and the worst of me and I’m learning that we are not as different as I used to think.

When you arrived, I had already experienced 10 years of my body not being fully my own. To be honest, when you were born I was pretty close to being “touched out”. While I loved the early days and cherished your little fingers grasping mine and your small hand gently patting my chest as I held you, I also longed for the days when I could simply “be”—alone. Perhaps this made me consider you needier than your siblings, rather than see your inability to recognize personal space as being developmentally appropriate.

Though as babies and toddlers, photos of you and I were indistinguishable—even Grandpa once insisted a photo of you was me—the similarities stopped there. And as you grew into your own person, I couldn’t possibly see us being any more different.

From the start, you were all girl: you loved dresses and heels and wrinkled your nose at sweats and t-shirts. Up until high school, I had to be wrangled into a dress and preferred bare feet to any shoes at all. You have always taken pride in your appearance and always look put-together. Even when you’re heading to the gym, your clothing, hair, makeup are all “on point”. My style is, well, let’s say minimalistic.

I was a firstborn, a solitary child, content to occupy my time alone; you, my last born, found solitary play almost impossible. In hindsight, perhaps this has something to do with the fact that you were born into a family where there was constant activity, in a house frequently occupied by much more than its four permanent child residents. I never considered this when I bemoaned your need to always be busy. From the time you started school, you were always surrounded by a group of friends and your social activities included the whole group. I never had more than a few friends at a time and most of my social life was one-on-one.

But as you grew older and away from me, I started to notice we weren’t so different after all.

It has been disconcerting at times to see parallels, both in our thoughts and some of the things we have chosen to do. There have been so many times I’ve silently mouthed, “Me too,” fearing that saying it out loud would change our dynamic and chase you away. Some days you remind me so much of my younger self (that girl I’d almost forgotten existed) that it’s a bit scary. In recent years, we’ve grown apart, yet strangely together at the same time.

Living apart has changed our everyday routines, but when we are back together, once again our personal bubbles merge and separate as we struggle to hold on yet let go. Yet now it’s you more than me seeking that separation and me trying to hold on, for just a little while longer. These days we’re both finding ourselves, seeking our place, working out our next chapter in life.

Though you are not my first (or second or third) child to grow up, you (like your siblings) are still teaching me what it means to be a mom. As your grandma is fond of telling me, this job never ends, it just changes. And though I see a little of myself in each of my children, with you, I keep finding more.

Somehow this keeps surprising me. Maybe because I’m still learning about who you are. Since you had to share me (even if begrudgingly) with your siblings your entire life, “you and me” time was limited; we didn’t share many interests until recently. Perhaps this is why I have been caught off guard, pondering: how did you grow up to be so much like me?

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Kimberly Yavorski

Kimberly Yavorski is a freelancer and mom of four who writes frequently on the topics of parenting, education, social issues and the outdoors. She is always searching for things to learn and new places to explore. Links to her writing and blogs can be found at www.kimberlyyavorski.com.