If my secondborn child had been my firstborn child, I would have been the smuggest parent in the world. His sweet disposition and easygoing attitude? Clearly the product of the natural, effortless calm of my parenting. I mean, it’s not so tricky, really, is it? Sure, I’m tired, because of course he wakes a lot through the night as many young babies do, but really the actual parenting bit is not that tricky, now, is it? You can pop him on his mat and cook dinner while he chats away to you in baby talk. Latch him on for a feed and he’ll look up sweetly into your eyes while calmly sucking away. Bathtime, and he kicks his chubby little legs delightedly and has a whale of a time. Want to go out? Just tuck him in the sling and he’ll fall peacefully to sleep. I mean, I don’t like to brag, but there’s not really much to it, is there? You just carry on as before, only now you have an adorable munchkin in tow.
Eheh. Eheheheh. Luckily for my levels of insufferability, The Bee was preceded into our lives by a kid whose implacable opposition to every damn aspect of the world around her is an ongoing lesson in some pretty hardcore humility. With the experience of The Bird’s early months under my belt, there’s no risk that I’ll mistake my younger child’s personality for some kind of merit badge for myself. Yes, perhaps the often-reported relative ease of second children can be chalked up to your perspective as a second-time parent. Going from one to two dependants is nowhere near as mindbending as the quantum leap from being childfree to being a parent. You’re less in mourning for an old way of life, the second time around. You know more of the tricks of the trade. And, frankly, you’re so distracted by the elder child that you haven’t the opportunity to fret over your younger one’s every furrowed brow. But I don’t think The Bee’s easy just because I have more clue and less time to worry about him. I mean, he’s never cluster-fed. I find it hard to imagine that that’s anything but an innate trait. With the best will in the world, you can’t positive-mental-attitude your way out of a cluster feed. So, I’ve had pot plants that were harder to care for than this child, and I don’t think it has anything to do with me.
So surely an easy child is the last thing in the world that should lead you down the path of postpartum ridiculousness? Except that an easy child is easy to feed, easy to put down, easy to love, easy to entertain, aaaaand easy to ignore. Especially when you’ve got the human equivalent of Grieg’s piano concerto in B minor raising havoc in the front room and wanting a biscuit. While his sister tantrums, performs the entire score to Frozen, bakes (in such a way that the entire kitchen disappears behind a potentially-combustible cloud of icing sugar), stages toddler-friendly spontaneous reenactments of whole seasons of ER, and builds every tin in the kitchen cupboard into a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa so huge that it probably needs retroactive planning permission, The Bee simply gets parked. On his mat, in the sling, in a bouncer chair, or even just on the bare floor, something I’d never have entertained for my precious first child. This weekend, after a long and tiring day out, I installed The Bird in her car seat, climbed into the front, let out a sigh, and only when reaching to plug in my seatbelt noticed The Bee strapped to my chest, smiling up at me from his carrier. Of course, it gives me a huge squeeze of guilt. I made a resolution to read him three stories a day, and am not always achieving it. We always start, but then we’re often hijacked by his sister wanting to sing, or needing a change, or involving us both in a deep-sea mission to rescue trapped sharks (big into the Octonauts over here). So I was reassured when I recently saw a good friend, the second of four children. He told me that his elder brother had been built to the same spec as The Bird, and wouldn’t entertain the prospect of their mother spending any time on any children but him. So their mum, a rational and highly educated successful professional, had resorted to the one method left to lavish attention on her younger ones: telepathy.
It’s pretty ingenious. What you do is to wait until your eldest is in full flow, explaining to you that she is Peppa Pig and you are Elsa from Frozen and together you are off to the Mariana Trench to extract a whale louse from inside a sea sponge (really), and then you shoot a look across at the baby who is lying kicking on his playmat, and telepathically play with him. You can’t say a word, of course, or the big one will flounce, but you can widen your eyes very slightly to make sure he knows you’re sharing a wavelength. If he kicks, that means he understands. When he coos back, it shows he got your mental message of maternal love and interest in him as a discrete human being with his own thoughts and worth and value. It must work, because my friend the younger sibling is one of the most splendid people you could hope to meet. So it may look to the untrained eye as though you’re benignly neglecting your younger child just as much as ever, but you — and, crucially, he — will know better. Telepathy. Sorry, second babies. It’s all we’ve got.