It’s late on a Thursday night. Piper has been fractious and whiny all day, alternating between plaintive requests for help with simple tasks and bounding away from us, cackling, when we have the temerity to ask her to move her shoes or return to the bathroom for teeth brushing. When simul-parenting, Kate and I find ourselves reflexively falling into good-cop/bad-cop roles and switching periodically, just to keep the suspect on her toes and to keep one of us from hogging all the teeth-grinding. You might not think being ignored by a 2.6-year-old could rile a sane human being: Just you try it.
Aaaaand we just returned from comforting Piper back to sleep with an ice pack; she fell down and whacked her forehead on something in her room with the lights off, sneaking into her closet long past bed-time. Why? WHO KNOWS.
Meanwhile Kid #2 has been awake for four hours, only calming when doing breast milk shots at the bar, belching, or riding on the “Strapped to Abba’s Chest While He Makes Bread” amusement park ride. This is not a baby who knows the pleasures of quiet or stillness.
In the few months before Sydney showed up, I was working on some radio on the theme of Memory and Forgetting. Researching and interviewing on that subject, I got some intriguing layman’s takes on how human memory works.
It turns out that we don’t encode given objects completely independently, but rather reference. The first letter A we learn about becomes the reference A for us: the next one may be in a different font, or calligraphed, or upside down, and in each case, our brain recognizes it as being “like the first A, but different in these ways,” whether they be line weight, orientation, size, color, &c. It’s the same (or similar) for The First Car, The First Love, The First Corn Dog … we don’t consciously experience our memory this way, but it’s one of the many ways our brain saves space and effort and deceives us while doing it. (I’m drastically over-simplifying this concept, mind you, so pardon me.)
The First Child, of course, comes into a parent’s life without precedent. You’ve never had a roommate like this, or a cousin, or a dependent, no matter how precious your relationships with your cats have been. You learn and experience on the job, and each change, each milestone and technique learned is utterly _sui generis. _In this age of cheap-as-free digital media, every snapshot and video taken records a miraculous First Time for something.
The Second Child arrives into your life and immediately gets referenced against your memories of The First Child: how they sleep, eat, look around and react to stimuli, and in what ways they’re different or similar. Second Kid is a unique individual, of course, but that may not be how you experience them initially, until they start demonstrating actual personality… and maybe, I’m thinking, it’s actually not possible for your brain to experience them the same way as the first.
I’m calling this kind of comparison to one’s first Ur-Child neither “better” nor “worse,” of course, and none of this has anything to do with how much one loves one’s kids… just how we experience and remember them.
I’m whipped, so I’m not sure I’ve really run this notion to ground, but maybe I’ve left enough here to remind me to finish it later.