The Second-Child Syndrome

Five years with my sweet baby James.

Five years with my sweet baby James.

Today is my baby James’ fifth birthday. My second son. And even though I’m a second child, and my husband is, too, we still managed to infect our darling baby with Second Child Syndrome.

I’m beginning to believe it’s inevitable. All parents are prone, the second time around, to be less awed (and less cowed) by baby number two; you can’t help it. And we got a double whammy, having a second boy, born just weeks from Boy Number One’s second birthday. So same season, too. I went into it with a naive, blase, “I know what this is all about” attitude.

Bzzzzz! Wrong answer.

James, being his own person (as all children are, of course, but I give my little one extra credit for being even more his own person than most, if that’s possible) muscled his way into our hearts in a different way than Daniel. And still he got infected with the syndrome.

Here are the symptoms:

1. Very few photos. Last year, when James was about to graduate from pre-K, the school asked for a baby photo for a DVD montage. And I had to dig for a really good one. Not only had we taken more baby pics of Daniel by a factor of … well, something quite high, but we also have more photos of Daniel at two, when James was an infant. Or, in every picture of James as an infant, there’s Daniel, too.

This is amazing, because I have spent my whole life grousing (in a nice way) about how there are so few pictures of me as a baby. “They’re all on slides,” my parents used to say. Yeah, right. (They were slightly vindicated a few years ago, when they undertook the huge project of organizing and scanning decades of slides. True enough, all the photos of me as a tot are on slides. But there are still a lot more of my sister, three years older. Like, every step she took.)

2. Hazy memory of firsts. What was James’ first word? Beats me. See, when J was born, Daniel had just started speech therapy, since at age two he had yet to say anything other than “za-dah” (not including having said “star” at 16 months, after which he shut up almost entirely). I was a little preoccupied all through James’ infancy, as Daniel went from twice-weekly to thrice-weekly sessions, and then, at 3, to a special-ed preschool. Now nearly 7, Daniel’s an absolute chatterbox, with a quite sophisticated vocabulary and a sometimes jarringly adult manner of speaking. But the upshot is I just don’t remember what word first came out of Jamie’s mouth. Car? Baby? Dada? All I know is the sweet, sweet relief I felt when he started babbling happily in the right way at the right time.

It’s not just milestones, either. It’s the everyday stuff. I had just started freelancing when James was born. He spent a lot of time in a swing in my office. I nursed him not in the just-him-and-me way that I enjoyed with Daniel, but at my computer, in the kitchen while observing Daniel’s speech therapy, in the pediatrician’s office, everywhere.

But that’s the thing with Second Child Syndrome, right? They go along, because what choice do they have?

3. No parties of his own. Very few non-hand-me-down clothes. Very few just-for-him baby toys, stroller, carseat, crib, anything. These are self-explanatory, of course. I, as a second daughter, didn’t have a bicycle bought solely for me until I was 19.

4. A curious disconnect between delaying his babyhood, and pushing him to independence quicker. As for the babying: James was in a crib until he was just past three, whereas we tossed Daniel in a twin-sized bed at 2. (But that has more to do with me being cheap than anything else, now that I think about it. James needed the crib; I wasn’t going to buy another, and my sister gave us a hand-me-down bed. Done). I also still cheat quite a bit and help him get dressed when he knows how to put on his socks and such himself. He’s my baby!

But in other ways, James has moved faster: to a cup from a bottle; to a regular chair at the table from a high chair.

Will you allow me a little indulgence here? I adore my firstborn. No, adore isn’t the right word. I’m still awed and cowed by him, amazed by him, besotted with every inch and freckle of him.

But my James? My baby? My second sweetheart? He is my heart.

Here’s the difference: When I check on my sleeping boys at night, I pull Daniel’s covers up, re-shelve the books he has scattered all over his quilt, stroke his hair, and whisper “I love you” in his ear (he usually wipes his ear with his hand, a trace of irritation in his sleeping face). In James’ room? I have to fight the urge to crawl into his bed.

And that’s the upside of Second Child Syndrome. Too bad he’ll never know.