Monday, July 26, 2010

Second (and Middle) Child Has a Second Child

Here's why this is all about to get tricky for me psychologically.

For anyone not yet acquainted with my particular brand of neurosis, you should know that I spend a lot of time (and money) thinking about, mulling over, and lamenting the consequences of birth order. But not in a boring, clinical way. When I grapple with birth order issues it really comes down to me treating every interaction in my whole life as a competition where the stakes are no more important than, say, life itself.

It's apocalyptic.
It's primal.
It's really annoying.

And now I am about to bring a child into this world who will be second. Oh, how I have hated second, or, to be perfectly honest, anything less than FIRST, by a very, very large margin. I had to keep going to school until I could find one where I could finish first. Thank god I ended up dorky enough in law school to sit in the front row and study every single weekend so I didn't have to go get my MBA and try to be a valedictorian of Excel charts and ropes courses.

But how can I spare my offspring this mantle of "less than" because she or he happened to be born second? How can I raise children who are free of constsantly having to compete and best one another? It's like trying to teach them how to be virtuousos at the violin when I don't even know how to hold the bow.

Simple formulas won't work. My little second child is hardly the size of my largest split end right now, but already I worry about giving the second baby enough attention, while also not neglecting Sadie's needs. I am already on the verge of crazy and I am only 12.5 weeks pregnant.

I think the bottom line is this: I need to come to grips with the fact that the second child's life will be different than Sadie's. Not less than, not worse, not depreciated, not better. Just different. I would like to teach my children that it's possible to acknowledge differences without having to put a judgment on them. Sadie came into our world before any other children did. That's a fact. The second child will come into the world with a vivacious and energetic big sister. Is one better than the other?

Perhaps it is a fact that Sadie will end up getting more attention from me and Jeff in her first 18 months of life than any subsequent children, because she was the only little person around. And, do we even know for sure if that is better for her? Is having lots of attention always a better thing? The second baby will also get our love and attention and he or she will also get Sadie's love and attention....and toys and clothes and tips on how to climb the stairs silently while her parents think she is reading a book in the corner.

And while I am ranting, can I please say that our culture is sort of obsessed with the notion that subsequent children take something away from existing children? Right before a second child is born, I always hear mournful coos about the poor first-born child who is about to be "knocked off the perch." What if we could reframe the metaphor? "Oh, Sadie is about to have her heart expanded with love and adoration for a younger sibling?" Or, if you have to be cynical, "Oh, lucky Sadie, she's going to have someone to share experiences about having Christie and Jeff as parents. Thank god the sibling is coming!"

So, the pressure is on. I have about 27.5 weeks to create a sibling utopia that will do all of the following:

1. Encourage Sadie to see the arrival of a little roommate as a chance for more love and joy in her life;

2. Heal me of all my old baggage about being second-born;

3. Keep me from losing my mind before this baby is born; and

4. Create a peaceful atmosphere in our house so that we sleep through the night from the first day home from the hospital. (Hey, might as well throw that in there while I am dreaming up my utopia.)

Stay tuned. This is quite a project.

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