In between intention and action, real life gets in the way. I wanted to take my daughter to her elementary school interview, but my father was dying. My husband took her instead while I flew home to America, already too late to say goodbye.

Now, three years later, I want to treat both my children equally, drawing from the same deep pool of bottomless devotion. But their differences make that impossible. They have already emerged from the cocoon of my fantasies as distinct individuals, fighting battles I never imagined for them.

I want to treat both my children equally, but their differences make that impossibleFor my son, academic achievement comes easy, but friends come hard. The birthday party I envisioned—with a cake with a train on top—leaves my son struggling over who to invite, and why he should invite anyone at all. Why not retreat into the safety of a world of books, a world without the possibility of rejection?

For my daughter, each book is a rejection, as the words collude against her, refusing to yield their secrets. How much easier to retreat into the safety of friends, a refuge from the cruelty of dissatisfied teachers and their endless and unachievable demands.

My daughter is disciplined for ignoring the bell and forgetting to return to class at the end of recess, while my son lurks in an empty classroom, waiting for recess to end and order to be restored to his world.

I carefully wrap up my intentions, preserving them along with their baby clothes. I no longer delude myself into believing that their story is mine to write.

“Close the book and come outside,” I coax my son. “Let’s go to the park.” Later, I coax his sister to stay home. “Let’s read together out loud. I’ll read and you explain. Then you read and I’ll explain.” This is my new role: I accompany them on their journey.

How can I treat them equally when they themselves demand such different mothering? How can I cling to outdated intentions—intentions that were conceived when they were still tethered to me by an umbilical cord? To do so would be to ignore the reality of who they are, and what our life has become.

I support them as they navigate a maze of school and friends, of teachers and standardized tests. I arrange for remedial reading lessons and social skills training. I arrange for my daughter to sit next to a stronger student who doesn’t need help, and for my son to sit next to a weaker student who does.

My daughter loves clothes, and a new dress will send her prancing through the house like a ballerina. My son is the only member of our family who doesn’t bite his nails. Instead he gnaws and picks at his clothes when he is nervous or frustrated, a habit much more costly than nail-biting.

How can I cling to outdated intentions—intentions that were conceived when they were still tethered to me by an umbilical cord? Instead of new clothes, I buy him a specially textured sensory bar that can be rubbed or chewed at will. He keeps it in his locking drawer, along with his other treasures—a rubber doll whose eyes pop out when you squeeze it, stray keys, and a picture album filled with trading cards. He also collects stickers and Silly Bandz, which he swaps with his sister and her friends.

These collecting habits don’t endear him to his peers. Instead he befriends an elderly neighbor, and truly counts her as a friend. I consider inviting her to the party with a train cake, but I abandon that idea when I abandon the idea of a party entirely as just another outdated intention.

Once upon a time, I envisioned myself as a certain type of mother. I wanted to be the mother who made homemade cakes with a choo-choo train on top, and never missed a significant occasion. Instead I am the mother who chose my father’s funeral over her daughter’s school admission interview. I have learned to yield to life as it unfolds.

This new approach leaves room for G‑d at the center of our unfolding family narrative. It leaves room for my children to participate fully as well, not as mere characters but as authors in their own right.

Instead of a birthday party, our family will have a mini-barbecue and roast marshmallows on sticks, with an assortment of guests of his choice, almost none of them his peers. Whoever said friends must be your own age? This is what my son intends for his birthday—sticks and fire, and a sweetness that yields itself to you entirely.