My 2-year-old was awake three hours earlier than usual. Blurry-eyed and not yet fueled with caffeine, I reached for the TV remote control.

"What should we watch," I asked, " 'Super Why!'? 'Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood'? 'Sofia the First'?"

Carolyn shook her head. "One Direction."

Seriously?

"How about 'Mickey Mouse'?" I coaxed.

She shot me a dark, how-dare-you look. "I need my One Direction."

And that's how we recently came to watch five teenage heartthrobs singing "Best Song Ever" a half-dozen times at 6:15 in the morning.

How exactly did my toddler come to fall in love with One Direction? Full credit for that goes to her 16-year-old sister, Dana, who is the band's other big fan in our household.

Call this one of the many unexpected upshots of having two daughters separated in age by 14 years. My toddler is discovering boy bands a decade too early, while my teenager is rediscovering Duplo Legos and tea parties a decade later in life.

Parenting a teenager and toddler at the same time is like seeing life's juxtapositions on a daily basis.

Laundry is the perfect example. Pleading, bribing and even threatening to burn her clothes have yet to prod my teenager into keeping the dirty laundry from overflowing the hamper. My toddler, meanwhile, thinks the chore is one big game -- she gets excited transferring the wash to the dryer and "attempting" to fold the clothes.


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It's also pretty surreal to teach one child to drive a car while showing the other how to pedal a tricycle.

The gigantic age gap between kids was not part of my original game plan. Dana was 7 years old when my husband and I started plotting our way to making her a big sister. Carolyn just took her sweet time coming into this world.

With each year of waiting, my expectations had to shift.

I always had a very Norman Rockwell image of parenting my girls. They would play Barbies together, share clothes and giggle long into the night on family vacations. They would have petty fights, argue over who had to do the dishes, but inevitably end up being each other's maid of honor. That's how it was for my younger sister and me, who are separated by only 27 months.

Watching my girls together is nothing like reliving my own childhood. In some ways, however, it's just an altered version.

My toddler already acts out real scenes with her dolls and Little People toys, largely because her older sister introduced her to the world of imaginative play. The girls often huddle on Dana's bed watching videos on YouTube -- which is how One Direction became a big hit. And the sisters actually had their first sibling spat not too long ago over a crayon -- it lasted 10 seconds and ended with both laughing hysterically.

Even more remarkable, the two girls have the kind of relationship I could never have had with my own sister because we were so close in age. If Carolyn scrapes her knee, she is just as likely to run to Dana for a hug and a Band-Aid. When Dana's had a rough day, she is more likely to want a comforting hug from her baby sister than her overprotective parents.

It would be easy to say Dana is like Carolyn's second mom. In reality, she's the ideal big sister, nurturing one minute and all-out-fun the next.

This past summer, Dana volunteered two days a week at her sister's preschool. The plan was to get some real-work experience. What she also got was a new perspective while watching Carolyn interact with children her own age.

"She's like a real little person," Dana said at summer's end. "She is so mature and really fearless."

Partial credit for that goes to Dana, for showing her how to be more than just a 2-year-old.

The other night I walked past the girls huddled around Dana's laptop. They were whispering and giggling.

Then I heard a familiar song: "Hot dog! Hot dog! Hot diggity dog!"

Dana just smiled. "She wanted to watch Mickey Mouse."

And that's how my teenager gets to remain a kid for a little while longer.

Contact Ann Tatko-Peterson at atatko@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/atatkopeterson.