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Loving the second-born child

I teach my students about a concept called divided attention, wherein we simultaneously perform two attention-demanding tasks (like driving and having a conversation). We still don’t quite know how humans do this: Do we really perform them both in parallel or do we switch our attention very quickly between the two activities? I’ve been thinking about the experience of having a second child, and this topic keeps coming to mind.

Globally, I love both my children with every particle of my being, all the time. In parallel.

Locally, I find that my love switches between them, such that I have more love for the one who is not screaming at that particular moment.

Of course, much of the time I am not really loving either of them actively. It’s like that chronos vs. kairos post that Roccie loves so much (me too, of course!) says. Most of life is about trying to keep shit together–diaper clothing food chores nap chores diaper food chores nap etc. with a little play and cuddling here and there, so there are only a few minutes during the day when I even have the option of enjoying their company. But when I do, if they are both sweetness and light, it’s a horrifying love fest. But if one of them is a screaming asshole, and the other is the embodiment of all that is good about humankind, well, I love the second one better.

The unfortunate reality is that Bun Bun is a screaming asshole a lot these days. Or she’s climbing on me and elbowing my soft parts and grabbing me by the nostrils or the retina in all her toddler joyousness but this makes me want to scream or she’s demanding something I don’t feel like providing (MORE! BOOK! MORE BOOK! MORE! BOOK!) because I’ve used up all my energy preventing her from melting down by delicately managing every single fucking tiny transition all god-damned day long.

And another tough thing to admit is that she’s having a very mild case of Iprefertheotherparentitis, and the more she doesn’t want me to do things for her, the more I don’t want to do them. In an I wish I could be somewhere that is not anywhere near you right now way.

All of which results in Bunlet getting some extra love these days.


Look at him? Isn’t he sweet and perfect? His sister is probably flailing on the ground right now.

My older brother and I used to ask our mother who she loved more. Of course she always said she loved us both equally, but we were never satisfied with that answer. We finally came up with a solution that made sense to us–maybe she loved us both equally now, but she’d loved him for longer, thus he did in fact get more love over time. I think we may need to revisit this issue. Yeah, I loved Bun Bun very intensely for 16 months, but now…well…there might be the occasional gap.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ana #

    Ha, this sounds EXACTLY like our house over the past year or so, including “Iprefertheotherparentitis”, that makes me run from B and cuddle up on L. Currently B is deep deep in the screaming-asshole phase and oh, I’ve reveled in some good mommy-L time and left B with daddy.

    March 29, 2013
  2. How a propos! Bug just had an epic meltdown and got chucked in for nap (he wouldn’t stop screaming so no song – it’s shockingly hard to sing lullabies above shrieking). Tatoe, meanwhile, covered himself adorably in avocado and babbled about spoons. Which one do I love more of the day these particular days? Hmmmmmmm.

    March 29, 2013
  3. SRB #

    Sweet baby Jesus…this is my life. Exactly.

    March 29, 2013
  4. My sister went through this with her babies but now she has a third!!

    March 29, 2013
  5. i continue to wish very much that i lived somewhere near you because i feel certain that you are my soulmate in parenting. i give up on caring about sounding like a stalker. And this sounds exactly like our house, too, except without any age gap to strengthen or weaken the individual child love-bonds. Unfortunately, being both two human beings and also two years old, most days both are exhibiting all of the negative characteristics you attribute to Bun Bun in this post. So who i love “more” in the moment is usually the one only kicking me in the solar plexus and not also screaming like a rabid banshee directly into my ear. Oh, who am i kidding? most days i’m just exhausted as shit and want it all to please just stop now. Kudos on managing every single fucking tiny transition, too. I’m over it. That is, in fact, probably my most-uttered phrase to the Mrs. on any given day now: “oh, get over it.” Yes, i go to bed with plenty of parenting guilt every night. And yes, Bunlet does indeed look sweet and perfect 🙂

    March 29, 2013
    • I’ve been thinking about your suggestion that a person can possibly maybe NOT LIKE TODDLERS every damn day.

      March 29, 2013
  6. Thank you for this post, which I find somewhat comforting, at least in the abstract reality that doesn’t involve anyone clawing my retinas. I am am so much more comfortable with toddlers than with babies that I am afraid a putative second child in my house would really, really get the short end of the stick, only because it wouldn’t be able to help being a larval bag of physical needs while the Bean is a much more humanoid creature, with needs and desires but also, you know, jokes and an ability to entertain himself for a while. and then i worry that my inevitable withholding of love from PSC will mean s/he ends up all kaspar hauser and never learn any jokes at all. I hadn’t really considered the idea that PSC might find ways to give him a run for his money, in the love department.

    March 29, 2013
    • PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me send you a onesie that reads “Larval bag of needs” when PSC is a reality.

      March 29, 2013
  7. nicole #

    Now my little one is a toddler and quickly falling from grace. My older has good and bad days. Sometimes I wwish to be away from both. But then I miss them about four hours later or eigt if it is a workday. Sometimes I find myself thinking how much free time ill have when they are gone. Wierd. I mostly think that when I am so so tired.

    March 30, 2013
  8. Whoah WHAT?! Look how huge he looks! Is it just the angle?! He looks so old, what happened to your little baby?? Anyway, my feelings toward my girls change daily. The Love is always there, underneath, but man, I LIKE the one who’s not rolling on the floor screaming a whooooole lot more than the one who is in that moment. And since I like to think of myself as perfectly normal, I’m going to hereby declare you as such too. Mother love… it’s a crazy complicated thing.

    March 30, 2013
  9. I wish you stopped being in my head all the time, it is annoying to see MY thoughts written as YOUR blog posts. Right now, I am loving more the fever-subdued, sleeping toddler than the snotty drama baby king who flails around screaming because I wiped his nose so he could breathe and finally go back to fcking sleep.

    The chronos-kairos and how it is not possible to carpe diem every minute of every day reminded me of a joke, incidentally with a bunny. Imma gonna say it, no matter whatta you thinka. (Italian accent seemed appropriate). So, Bear goes about his business in the forest and meets Bunny. It was not you, since this Bunny was positively beaming, peppy, hopping up and down happily, humming and swirling through the forest.
    ‘Bear, you should really come for a run with me. It is such a glorious day,the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, it is HIGH TIME for us to start living a better, cleaner life. Come on, last one buys the carrot power juice!’
    Bear thinks a bit and comes to the conclusion that Bunny is right, a diet is in order, toning is needed, a cleaner, better life so welcome. So, they start jogging. After a couple of hours, Bear downs his carrot power juice, and leaves to tend to his life, feeling so much better about such a glorious start.
    The same happens the next day. And the next. Aaaaand the next one. By the fourth day, Bear starts getting depressed, how is it that Bunny is always so chirpy and full of energy, running around with ease and grace, while Bear is huffing and puffing and basically feeling like a useless pile of lard? Bear must be doing something wrong, so, to get to the bottom of it, Bear needs to find out Bunny’s secret for such a content, clean and fulfilling life, which clearly is more about just running. He goes looking for Bunny, and asks Fox, whom he happens to come accros, about Bunny’s whereabouts.
    ‘Well’ says Fox, ‘last time I saw him he was running like crazy around the forest. But I would stay away from Bunny for now, he has just gotten hold of a new stash of extasy pills, and he’s been driving us all crazy with his nonsense. And I wouldn’t get near next week either, since he’ll be in withdrawal and the happiness will be all gone, and he’ll be ready to bite your head for merely breathing too loud.’

    So there, the secret to enjoying chronos. 🙂

    March 30, 2013
    • HA! Not sure I want to take that route, but better drugs than EXERCISE. Blech!

      March 30, 2013
  10. I’ve been thinking a lot of second children, and timing, and such, lately.

    Gwen’s 16.5 months right now. I cannot fathom having an infant at the same time. I feel like I’ve only really started getting to know her, that there’s been a “her” to know in the last 2-3 months, and I relish it so much. We’ve only just begun to have two-way communication (I asked her a yes/no question the other day, “Do you want some more?” which I’ve asked ever since she started eating solids, but for the first time, she answered! She went “numnumnum”, a clear, obvious “yes”. It was amazing), but it’s so tenuous I don’t know how I’d explain to her about a new baby, either the idea of one or the actuality of one. Makes me almost glad that the chances of a sibling for her in the next year are pretty slim.

    But that picture? I can totally see why you love him best! How could you not? (And I marvel at the amount of hair he has. The idea of babies having actual hair has become more and more amazing to me the longer Gwen goes without!)

    March 30, 2013
  11. This is so true! Though I have to say I love Iprefertheotherparentitis. My son started it shortly after my daughter was born, and it was a lifesaver! Not so much during the day, but at all other times. The only thing to watch out for is Other Parent falling into the habit of dealing with Other Child and thinking they’re giving you a break. I can’t count the number of times I had to explain to my husband that usually toddler = easier than baby, and sometimes toddler + baby = easier than baby – toddler.

    March 30, 2013
  12. The best thing I’ve read lately…. It explains my current conundrum ( or one of them). I have loved Bee longer but his baby brother isn’t obsessed with trains and Diesel engines and pouches and freaking out. He just smiles and coos and smiles and loves me. It’s totally his turn right now.

    Incidental note: I am 100% certain that my parents have their favorites still.

    March 31, 2013
    • I’m pretty sure that right at this moment, my parent’s favorites are all their children who aren’t involved in a messy, everyone’s-at-fault divorce, in which both adults are pretty much acting like five-year-olds and for which they (the parents) are paying. (NOT IT!)

      April 1, 2013
  13. Jessica #

    Thank you so much for being honest. Most moms aren’t and I’m so glad to read that you have moments where you want to run far away, too. This parenting gig is tough. Best damned-hard thing I’ve ever done. Did I mention that it’s damned hard? Hang in there, Mama (maybe hang a little closer to that sweet boy than the crazy toddler). You’re doing an awesome job.

    March 31, 2013
  14. I love that chronos vs. kairos post too–it love that it captures both those rapturous moments and the moments when you’re not sure you’re going to make it til bedtime.
    Lots to think about here. Lately I’ve been pondering ways that my internal focus on TTC takes time and energy away from Tadpole, and realizing that this is just the beginning of the ways in which it will be hard on me to have to split my time and energy between two kids.
    Also, Bunlet is aDORable.

    April 1, 2013
  15. Jen #

    When Jackson insists that Daddy do ____ for him, and I’ve had enough of his shitty shenanigans, I slap a smile on my face and say, What a great idea! I bet Daddy would love to. And then I make a cup of cocoa and cuddle the baby, who has not yet activated his asshole genes. Not a problem at all.

    April 1, 2013
  16. I can sort of relate to this, although it’s my infant that makes me crazy, though he makes me snap at my four year old because the infant uses up more than his share of my patience. Being a mommy of two is tough!

    April 1, 2013
  17. Know the feeling re the ‘iprefertheotherparentitis’ (which I believe is the correct clinical term). Bunlet = ovariesexplodingsocute. As you said to me, it’s mega hard to try to be the bigger person all the time, especially when you are by default the bigger person all the time. I also want to be petty with my toddler sometimes. BTW, I’m typing this through eyes squeezed shut – just the mention of retina-clawing makes me keep my eyes shuttered for a few hours.

    April 2, 2013
  18. It never occurred to me that I might love a second-born child more than the first. Maybe that’s because my first only ever did that peaceful cherub thing for about 40 minutes at a stretch, and the rest of the time he was either boring or infuriating. Oh, I did not enjoy The Baby. But a boring/infuriating baby can’t yell ‘Go away, Mum!’ (repeatedly) or hit the cat (repeatedly), or carry on in the general manner of a Wild Thing all evening like my toddler has tonight. God, help me.

    Don’t mind me, I’m just going to sit here and gaze at your sweet and perfect little possum some more.

    April 2, 2013
  19. toddlers…all the power of a German-engineered motor with a drunk driver at the wheel. Toddlers are awesome when they are not yours, and they are rested and fed and you are a new person in their life so that they are transfixed by you a little bit. But when they are yours, it sounds like the prospect of vacationing in the slums of Delhi. I think of all that emotional co-regulation I’ll have to do with Gummy in 17 months, likely right when works starts to really pick up again, and I cringe a little. But she’ll be at daycare by then.
    Bunlet doesn’t seem to mind one bit that his sister flailing on the ground. what a sweet boy.

    April 3, 2013

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