Our younger son Toby turned two on Thursday, an occasion which he celebrated in time-honoured tradition by stuffing chocolate cake down his throat – and all over his face – with the kind of unselfconscious gusto that only a young child can exhibit. Although there is no mistaking the physical resemblance between him and his (four-year old) brother Isaac, anyone who has spent any length of time in the company of our two sons will know that they are very much like snowflakes. They may look identical at first glance, but a cursory examination soon reveals that they are more unlike than alike, particularly in terms of their personalities and preferences.
With that in mind – and in the spirit of celebrating their differences – here are five random observations to underline how Toby is a very different animal to his brother.
1. The boy versus the metrosexual
Isaac is definitely a sensitive soul, very much in touch with his feelings and comfortable with his feminine side. Regular readers will be familiar with both his brief ballet phase and his extended pink phase. Toby? Not so much. He is very much all boy in his outlook, barrelling through life in rambunctious fashion and bypassing any thought of pink or other pastel colours and moving straight on to Top Gear. Zac loves the smell of soap. (Lush is one of his favourite shops.) Toby just wants to play with cars and likes nothing better than to make a mess. A bit like his dad, then.
2. The tantrum thrower versus the negotiator
It has only been the last couple of months that we have fully come to realise that Zac pretty much bypassed the ‘terrible twos’. Maybe it’s because he has a relatively placid and considerate personality. Or perhaps it’s down to the fact he was an early talker and was already able to communicate in more or less complete sentences by the time he turned two. Whatever the reason, he has always been an expert negotiator – small children can be really manipulative, can’t they? – and has generally used his verbal skills to get what he wants. Toby understands a lot of what we say to him, but is either unable or unwilling to engage in conversation with us. Instead he has discovered that screaming persistently or throwing toys across the room is faster and at least as effective as talking. Actions speak louder than words would be his motto – if he could be bothered to say it, that is.
3. The introvert versus the extrovert
I suspect this is largely second versus first child syndrome, but Toby has always been quite content in his own company. Give him some cars, Duplo or a copy of What Car (I’m not joking) and he will quite happily entertain himself for hours on end. In that respect he is remarkably low maintenance, naturally acknowledging that he has to share his parents’ attention. Zac, on the other hand, has until comparatively recently been more high maintenance than a footballer’s WAG with no credit limit. Not in a bad way, but everything he says and does – and believe me when I say he could talk the hind legs off the proverbial donkey – is vocalised externally at every passing opportunity. (My money’s on him forging a career as a football commentator.) And he comes alive in social situations – in large groups of his peers, you will always find him at the centre of things. It’s something I find particularly interesting, as neither Heather nor I are remotely extroverted.
4. The adrenaline junkie versus the health and safety inspector
Zac is a cautious soul who likes to take stock of a new situation first before giving it a go, whether it is sampling unfamiliar food or launching himself down a new playground slide. Toby, on the other hand, is a daredevil who acts first and thinks later. There is nothing he likes better than the sensation of speed, whether it is being thrown up in the air or being whizzed around in a supermarket trolley. The first time he tried a three-wheeled scooter, all he wanted to do was to push off from the top of a steep slope and career downhill at top speed with a raucous cackle and the biggest grin on his face. I’m willing to bet it will only be a matter of time before he climbs up a tree, falls and breaks a limb. Zac, in the meantime, will be the one frantically trying to erect safety nets to catch his brother when he tumbles.
5. The doer versus the thinker
Whereas Zac is very much a cerebral (bordering on downright geeky) kid more comfortable in exercising his intellect than his legs, Toby is much more physical. It took ages before he was even remotely interested in throwing, catching or kicking a ball, and although he is reasonably robust his first reaction is always to try to talk his way out of trouble. Put him in a new situation and you can see him sizing things up – observing, analysing and asking searching questions to get the lie of the land. His younger brother, however, is far more likely to throw a punch first and ask questions later. He’s quite happy to stand his ground against bigger kids, helped by the fact that (like his father) he could easily pass for a bowling ball in terms of body shape. Even though he started walking sooner than his brother, it is only recently that Zac has really developed the stamina to walk long distances. Toby is more like the Duracell bunny – let him walk and he will keep going forever.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter how different they are. There is no better or worse, and as a dad I’m immensely proud to watch Toby develop his own individuality, just as Zac did before him. They really are like snowflakes, and just as beautiful to watch.