Trigger warning on this one for baby loss (not mine).
If first-born children tend to get the full cotton-wool treatment, cosseted and bundled by novice parents in a state of reverent awe, second babies… they learn a little more from the school of hard knocks. It’s healthy that my two-year-old’s favourite way to interact with her brother is to lie on top of him, I think. He’ll grow up resilient and, um, fond of warm hugs. Sure, he’s taken rather more faceplants since learning to sit than his big sis ever did, because I used to hover behind her with a phalanx of pillows while I tend to, you know, forget he’s there until I hear the “waaaaaaa!” But that’s not complacency. It’s a hearty rejection of helicopter parenting. Right?
I got a good dose of reality when a friend came to visit The Bee at about six weeks old. I was chucking him around in a rather cavalier manner considering he didn’t yet have the whole head-control thing nailed, and she took him for a cuddle with the utmost gentleness and care. “Oh, he’s okay,” I said. “Second babies, right?” She smiled very kindly, and told me about a friend of hers whose second child had died while napping. She had checked on him three times. The first two times, he had been fine. On the third, he had gone.
That night I bought a baby monitor with a motion detection mat. It’s supposed to sound if it doesn’t detect any movement, including breathing, for ten seconds. It works, as I discover to my cost every time I pick up the baby in the night and forget to turn it off. I never mind all that much. Goodness knows whether it would have made any difference in that heart-breaking case. Horribly, I’m sure that very often, these are tragedies that nothing could have prevented. But the story did the job of knocking some of the complacency out of me. Having kept one child alive to this age doesn’t mean I can confer invulnerability on another, any more than parents are at fault who have been through such an unspeakable tragedy. That’s just how tragedy is.
Anyhow. I can’t claim to have shed every vestige of complacency, which explains my recent radio silence. I decided to have a quick jog downstairs while simultaneously checking my phone and carrying The Bee, missed my footing, and fell down the entire flight of stairs. The Bee was absolutely fine. I broke my elbow. That, if you have two children under three to care for, turns out to be a pretty ridiculous thing to do.