As any of you who’ve ever been pregnant with a second child already know, you get the same ominous warning from friends and strangers alike: get ready. You’re told a hundred times how second children are more rambunctious, more fearless, that they develop more quickly than their older sibling, blah blah…all of which means that they’re generally more trouble. You smile genially but inwardly roll your eyes, letting your mind wander to more pressing concerns like how bad the stretch marks will be or whether you’ll poop on the delivery table. You approach any cautionary tales with as much gravitas as you do any other unsolicited parenting advice, which is to say: none. But make no mistake – you’re going to wish you could go back in time and appear like the ghostly spectre of Christmas future and slap your dumb face.
All the stereotypes about the second child exist for a reason.
Somehow the second child tends to test the boundaries of your emotional and physical resilience like no other. For example, mine helpfully announces her displeasure by drawing a fortifying lungful of air and unleashing an unholy shriek from hell, the shrill kind which clangs a tuning fork in your brain that reverberates until the end of time. If you frustrate her by, say, thwarting her ardent desire to run into oncoming traffic, she’ll pick up the nearest object and chuck it sulkily away. Never a dramatic hurl, mind you…just a little toss and a look at you as if to say, “You go get that if you want it so badly, clown.” She terrorizes the dog, she tears pages out of books, she throws whatever she can into the toilet. I won’t even tell you all the things she’s swallowed. And she gets up to all this mischief in the proverbial blink of an eye. I let my attention stray for the merest fraction of a second and she’s standing on the dining table, holding a vial of anthrax.
In spite of all this, and in many ways, you’ll be glad your second is so spirited.
There’s comfort to be had knowing that they’ll never have a problem being independent or advocating for themselves, which gives you a profound sense of pride and relief. But man alive it does not make parenting them easy. Their actions are inscrutable, their defiance unflappable, and their demands seem more arbitrary and relentless than your first child’s at that age.
Perhaps it’s because you’ve simply forgotten how absurd the workings of a tiny mind can be, but it feels like a whole new world of irrational, exhausting behavior despite the belief (ie. delusion) that you were prepared as a parent for the sequel. You’ll begin asking yourself questions like “Is this a phase they’ll grow out of eventually?” and “How much longer can I hide in this bathroom before it gets awkward?”
Some days you’ll be able to see the comedy in your dealings with your second-born dictator and you’ll have the bandwidth to provide them with the time, effort, and attention they desire. But on other days you’ll be so depleted from the cajoling, the panicked lunges toward whatever dangerous or destructive scenario they’ve gotten themselves into, and the heroic attempts at patience as they try your last nerve, you’ll feel like Rose on that door in the middle of a frozen sea, except instead of Leonard DiCaprio you’re clinging to, it’s your sanity.
All that having been said, you have to hand it to the second child for admittedly getting the short end of the stick.
Kid #2 is vying for a fraction of the spotlight while your first had the luxury of your undivided attention. You documented every move your first made with 845,000 photos and videos, whereas your second suffers from an unfortunate case of “been there, done that.” Their toys and clothing are hand-me-downs, they’re constantly subjected to comparison, and while your first spent their early years in a hermetically-sealed cocoon of meticulous cleanliness and protection, the standards of safety & hygiene for your second are questionable at best. You can hardly blame them for being bananas. To make it all more complicated, the genius trick up their sleeve is that they’re not just scamps…they’re irresistibly charming scamps. Even when you’re seething after a particularly taxing bout of their shenanigans, one impish grin from your second will melt your heart faster than you can say “total nervous breakdown.”
So here’s what you might say after smacking the ever-loving crap out of yourself for ignoring the hype: “Ok, here’s the good news. This feisty child is going to be the happiest little blessing. They’re going to make the family feel complete in a way you’re not even anticipating. Your heart will swell at the sight of your children playing or cuddling as you picture a lifetime of friendship and support between them. But don’t ignore all these smug bastards telling you to gird your loins. Because Molly…you in danger, girl.”