- Most of the stuff you write about is Anna.
- Yeah but all Iris says is "more"
- Well when she is 18 and I have give her the memory box containing mementos from her life and all you can show Iris is a book you have written about Anna then what will she think of you?
- If she hasn't given me any material and can still only say 'more' by 18 then I doubt she will be able to think very much at all.
So I thought I would have a go at writing about second child guilt. And not just the sort of guilt that is forced upon you by your wife.
About a minute after Anna, our first child, was born I was completely won over by her and couldn't believe that I had ever considered life without children. Well at first she was gooey, quite hairy (including her back and ears) and looked pretty rank. She was effectively like a crying gremlin. A bad one. Not Gizmo. But the midwives are well versed at dealing with this and quickly cleaned and dried her with a towel (or quite possibly did a trick with the towel where they produced another cleaner, cuter baby) before handing her over to Carolyn. I didn't hold her for the first couple of hours; I went all hippy and felt that she needed the skin to skin bonding time with her mum. And I also felt Carolyn had worked pretty hard and deserved first dibs. Just watching her was enough.
So we then had 17 months of Anna. Shitting on the carpet. Puking down my back. Eating mashed potato through a straw. Carolyn hadn't changed much during that time. We had a chat and agreed it must be time to have another.
Iris arrived (usual route, not via taxi as the phrase would suggest), when Anna was 26 months old.
And the same thing happened to me again. Mesmerised by the second child and totally drawn in. And I didn't love Anna any less. Phew! There isn't a finite amount of emotion in me. Or at least I hadn't reached the limit yet. I'm pretty apathetic about most things so it's quite possible I have some saved up over the years. Within minutes of having her the comparing started. "Anna did that". "She has Anna's eyes". "She gripped my finger - Anna did that!" "Her head is smaller." "Her feet are longer... Oh no I don't remember Anna's feet..." "Anna used to feed for at least 5 minutes." "Iris must be more efficient at feeding". It was inevitable. But we felt a bit bad.
The first few weeks flew by. I loved being at home with the girls. But it was different. We didn't have to just think about Iris. If I was up most of the night cuddling her whilst watching the cricket then I would be pretty damn tired when Anna woke me the next morning demanding breakfast. If we got her to sleep in her Moses basket then it was quite likely that Anna would wake her. It's different second time around and there is not much you can do about it. Looking after both girls at home alone was hard work. Still rewarding. Still enjoyable. At times hilarious. But hard work. I would come home after a night shift and try to force myself to stay awake for a couple of hours to have the girls because Carolyn had been awake almost as much as I had. Carolyn would try not to wake me at 4am when seeing to Iris when she knew I had to back up by 6.
We still worry now about doing things differently. Iris eats more chocolate and biscuits than Anna ever did. She plays in her pyjamas for half the day far more often than Anna ever did. She watches more television. She spends more time in the car going to places for someone else's benefit; dropping Anna at nursery, hanging around at ballet class. When Anna needs attention (i.e. telling off!) Iris is left to sort herself out for a bit. Anna used to be able to splash around freely in the bath as a baby whilst Iris had to sit in a bath seat to stop Anna from accidentally drowning her. Stuff like this makes us feel bad. Poor Iris not getting the same chances. But on the other hand she has had a playmate from day one. She has constant attention from Anna. She has the opportunity to watch and learn from a big sister and her friends. She paints more, cooks more, laughs more. She has new experiences so often and from such a young age that it can do her nothing but good.