I've become used to people questioning the age difference between my toddler and tween—even when they ask if my kids are from the same marriage. But I've learned their age gap comes with way more pluses than minuses.

By Lorraine Allen
Illustration by Emma Darvick

I get weird looks, and even weirder comments, when people notice the nine-year age difference between my two children—my daughter is almost 11 and my son is 1 and a half. Strangers and acquaintances have asked if they are from the same marriage, if there was an accident, and have pointed out, shockingly, that we are "starting over" late in the game. Yes we are, but to us, there's nothing negative about it.

Sure, there are challenges, as with raising any number of children, whether they are close in age or not. We battle with schedule differences, food preferences, separate health issues, and varying childcare needs. There are even developmental divergences. My tween often asks for help with homework just when it's time for the toddler's bath and bedtime. Or there may be a lacrosse tournament and a birthday party across town she needs to be taken to when the little one is home with a fever and desperately needs to nurse and nap in his crib. She loves eating spare ribs, but the younger one can't chew them quite yet. And she enjoys graphic novels, dancing, and tree climbing, while her brother's preferred current activities include chewing on board books, banging on pots, and climbing stairs—so it's not like they're sitting on the floor playing with Legos together half the morning, like some siblings close in age we know.

But to me, none of this is problematic, nor especially difficult to deal with, the way others may imagine. My fifth grader just needs to wait for homework help, figure it out herself, or, if there's something pressing, her little brother will skip his bath. And even if he still can't eat all the same foods we do, there's always plenty that he can enjoy, allowing us to share every meal together when we are all home.

There are, of course, vast differences in cognitive, physical, and even social development between my two kids. This is where the age gap is most apparent, but, in my view, it's actually a major plus. Despite being born nearly a decade apart, my kids do manage to share toys, friends, and even hobbies. They play, read, explore, and build together. When she practices piano, he sits next to her and works on his la-la-las. When she writes or draws, he scribbles beside her. When her friends come over, they are thrilled to play with a miniature child who delights in their presence, imitates anything they do, and whose laughter and enthusiasm are nothing but contagious.

And it's a huge comfort and confidence booster for both of them to have each other. While the little one gets to play with "big kids" who know everything and can do all the things he is still just dreaming of, the older one gets the unconditional adoration of her little brother, whose whole world would revolve around her, as if she were the sun, if he had it his way.

Just this morning, as we were berry and bean picking at a large farm and my daughter and her cousins were ready to check out another area, I wanted to follow with the younger one. "Come," I said to him, a few times, but he ignored me—as usual—happily continuing to pop berry after berry in his little cheeks as fast as he could grab them off the bushes. "Can you please call your brother?" I asked my daughter, as she was running off. Without even turning around, looking at him or slowing down, she yelled behind her, "Nic, come!" And he dropped his fruit—all of it!—and ran off toward her without even looking to see if I was close by.

Despite the little one's current lack of coordination, and abilities, when his big sis is angry, moody, or sad, he scampers on her lap and hugs her till she smiles. When she's whining with boredom, he brings her books and soggy Cheerios, and with these offerings, he brings her his heart, and a love and joy no number of years effaces. There's a closeness between siblings no parent-child bond can replicate or replace, no matter the age gap—at least in my own experience both as a sister and a mother. And whatever others may think, or say, I wouldn't change our family for the world.

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