The Second Child Syndrome

When I had my first baby, I felt my life (and my cervix) had been run over by a juggernaut, which then promptly reversed back over it in case there was anything left resembling its former shape. It has to be said, I took to motherhood like a duck to… concrete. I waddled about (that’ll be the C-Section, then) with my feathers permanently ruffled, trying desperately to build a good enough nest for my squawking offspring and… okay, I think I may have wrung every last cliché out of the duck analogy, but you catch my drift.

In that sleep-deprived haze of new motherhood, there was nothing I would not do if I thought E needed it. I warmed his cot blanket to make transition from arms-to-cot less traumatic. I did baby massage, which turned out to be not a lot of massaging and quite a lot of placating a screaming baby who was pissed off that he had been stripped to his nappy in the middle of day and sandpapered by my rough, cold fingers.  I pureed lorry loads of fresh fruit and veg to ensure he had the most nutritionally balanced diet, condemning our kitchen cupboards to always be crammed with ridiculously small Tupperware pots that are of no use to man nor beast unless you really want to save those five baked beans for tomorrow’s supper. I took him to music classes, to gym classes, to swimming classes, gritting my teeth through the lot and fighting the urge to punch the overly-cheerful and outrageously condescending woman who was in charge, or the mother who called E fat, or the baby who didn’t scream the whole way though swimming. One small cough from E would make me wonder if dialling 999 was an over-reaction and I was practically on first name terms with the nurse who was on night shift at NHS Direct. As you can see: a natural.

And then came my second.  To say I was a little more relaxed may be an understatement along the lines of ‘giving birth chafes a bit’. With E, we always brought the monitor downstairs of an evening, keeping an ear open for snuffles, coughs and cries for milk. We never bothered with B. If he needs us, I reason, all he has to do is shout. Very loudly.

And those classes. I did consider enrolling B for one or two. Then I remembered just how horrible they were and somehow never got round to it. I thought music classes might be fun for him, to instil a joy of music that would last him a lifetime, so I tried him with E’s xylophone. He chewed it for a while, then hit himself in the eye with the stick and screamed the sodding house down. So that was fifty quid well saved.  Mothers have said to me that they took their second child to exactly the same classes as they did with their first, to give them the same experiences and opportunities. I applaud that. Clappity clap. It’s just all that jolly singing and enforced fun – it’s not good for them , I am sure. And it’s certainly not good for me to do it twice, for chrissakes. If B ever asks why E got to go to all the classes whilst he had none, I will take him along to one. That’ll shut him up.

And the concern for my second son’s health is not anywhere as prolific as with E. We spent many a long hour poring over the baby books, trying to diagnose a spot, a cough or a cry as something that needed the intervention of a trained medical professional . With B, a raging temperature and loss of appetite only prompted a visit to the GP so I could find out exactly how much Calpol I could really shove down him before he turned into a strawberry – and we ended up in hospital for three days. (My parenting style may be more relaxed with the second child, I never claimed it to be better).

And of course, B gets no new clothes. Hand me downs that are seasonally inappropriate are the order of the day. Too cold for a tee shirt? It’s all about layering. Getting him undressed of an evening is like peeling a bloody onion.

I think my pendulum may have swung a little too far, leaving uptight, swinging through relaxed and heading toward comatose. One morning in the first few weeks of B being in nursery, he was particularly upset as I handed him over. I left with a quick kiss and a wave  and just as I had finished peeling off the blue plastic condoms you have to wear over your shoes, one of the lovely girls from the baby room came running out to tell me that it was okay, B had stopped crying. I looked at her, nonplussed. Why did she run out to tell me that? And then I realised. Because that is what I would have been desperate to hear if B was my first born. I thanked her, and felt momentarily guilty for such an absence of concern. Then I found a packet of chocolate buttons in my coat pocket and forgot all about it.

The trouble is, doubling the number of kids you have does not double your attention capacity. Now, I am no expert on anything to do with parenting (or much else, to be honest. Perhaps building bungalows from Lego would be my specialist subject) and am a rank amateur in comparison to all those parents with more than two kids                                                … sorry, I had to go for a quick lie down, just thinking about having more than two kids makes me dizzy. But it seems to me that I have one pot of attention, one pot of sympathy, one pot of tolerance and so on… and some of these pots are pretty bloody small to begin with (let’s just say my pot of patience could be mistaken for a thimble). And when I gave birth to my second, no one turned up to give me second pots of those things. No. Now, my pot of attention has to shared between two. And you know how crap kids are at sharing. If both are wailing for my attention, E gets the lion’s share, and B gets to run his finger round the inside and lick whatever morsel is left behind.  That is just the lot of the second child.

Which is why I will never, ever have any more children. For a start, all those hands in my pots would be just so bloody annoying. And because if my attitude to my second is anything to go by, the third would sleep in a shoe box, eat carpet dust and be lucky if I even get round to naming him.

The second child syndrome

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