After a full day of watching home movies of a decade of my children’s lives, I’ve come away with more than I expected. For one, my husband needs some new clothes. He kept saying, “I still have that shirt” or even, “Look, I’m wearing that one.” I’ve gone through a dozen wardrobes in a decade. For another, I began to see that no matter my efforts, second children simply don’t get all the fuss that first kids do.
After three videos of her brother, my patient daughter wondered when she would make an appearance. Only one more videotape and then the next two were of her, my husband informed her. “What? There are FOUR of him and only TWO of me?” she cried.
My heart sank. It was true. There had been a lot of video of my son. Too many minutes of us anxious new parents hovering and waiting for a smile, a laugh, any sign of fun in our upside-down world. We used that video camera for proof that we weren’t just seeing things in the bleary-eyed haze of sleeplessness. Our new tiny sweetheart by day, insomniac-bloodcurdling-screamer by night did in fact smile, coo, show some sign that he liked us. We needed to record it in case he never did it again.
And so for every new skill, we readied our camera and waited. Ten minutes of video of a staring baby, five minutes of him teetering on wambly legs—not good drama. We realized this as time went on. We got better. But still every other day our son did something cute, like “reading” a book. How could we forget we had recorded that three times before?
When my daughter came along, scenes of her nearly always include big brother. We didn’t hover over her crib waiting for a coo or a gassy smirk. As the parents of two small children, we were quick and to the point.
We created second child syndrome without even realizing it. To our daughter’s eyes, it may look as if our son steals the show in every scene. He’s always there. But the truth is, we never had to wait as long for her smiles or giggles. We didn’t have to choreograph a show with baby talk and rattles to get a second of cute out of her like we did for him. Her brother did all the work for us. We just hit record and watched the action unfold. He could throw a ball in the air and she acted like Elmo had just eaten a banana while standing on his head. She laughed so hard she got hiccups, every single time. At five months old, this was their daily routine.
Our videos revealed that my son had my daughter’s white wicker furniture first, the shelf that hangs in her room, and the plastic Kewpie dolls that were mine as a child. “Why does he have my dresser?”
I’m a second child. I know the feeling. Everything looks different when you are always second in line, always waiting your turn, waiting to be old enough. You want videos featuring just you with the same ten minutes of parental torture. You want everything to be the exact same. You keep score even if your parents don’t.
As a survivor of second childhood, I know now things aren’t always what they seem. When I got older, I knew my parents loved me and my sister just like I knew it was possible for me to love both of my parents. That was all I needed to know. Now that I’m a parent, I know what it’s like to feel so full of love in every way possible for two completely different beings. No amount of video or photos can quantify that. But I still make sure her firsts are just as important. I still completed her baby book and wrote down every date.
I don’t want second child syndrome to be part of my daughter’s life, but I know no matter what I do, it will. For now, I hope she’ll be happy with the discovery of two more videotapes…of her. Whew.