It’s cold and flu season, although fortunately my household has gone unscathed so far. However, my poor 3-month-old baby, Peony, has just been diagnosed with an acute case of Second Baby Syndrome.
While the symptoms can occasionally vary, they’re generally the same across the board: hand-me-down clothes and toys, little time alone with Mom and Dad, few special activities, lots of time spent in a swing or car seat, a thin (or nonexistent) baby book, and friends who are necessarily the younger siblings of the afflicted’s older brother or sister’s friends.
As a younger sibling myself, I always swore I’d never let my younger child fall ill to the same disease I suffered from for so many years. And yet at the tender age of just 3 months, Peony is already a victim.
When my older daughter, Petunia, was born 3 years ago, it was all about her, all the time. I spent hours each day tending to her needs or simply gazing lovingly at her while she was sleeping. Poor Peony, on the other hand, gets schlepped around in her car seat to Petunia’s activities on the days when she isn’t in preschool. And on days when her older sister is in school, Peony hangs around while I work. Sadly, there isn’t nearly as much time for goo-goo eyes.
Peony is also subjected to a wardrobe of all hand-me-downs. So was Petunia — my sister’s 3 kids are all older and she generously sends us their duds when they outgrow them — but now some of those clothes are being worn by the fifth person in nearly 12 years.
My sister’s baby book is the size of the Oxford English Dictionary. Mine is the size of a pamphlet on syphilis from the doctor’s office. I always swore I’d never do that to my younger child. Peony’s book is still blank. I have a stack of keepsakes sitting on top of it. There’s still time, but if our current schedule is any indication, I have a bad feeling about it.
(Go ahead and count how many pictures you took of your first child in the first three months, and then count how many you have of your second child in the same time period. Go ahead. I’ll wait. See? Not as many, right? Not a chance.)
When Petunia was an infant we started taking a Music Together class. I’ll do the same with Peony, but not until later in the spring due to scheduling conflicts (mine and Petunia’s). Peony only has 1 friend to date and it’s her little friend Max, who is the younger brother of Eli, who is a friend of Petunia’s. I know if I didn’t have Petunia’s playdates and activities to keep up with Peony would have a better chance of being more social, but at the moment there aren’t enough hours in the day.
When Petunia was an infant my husband and I would take her into bed with us on weekend mornings and play with her for a few hours at a time. Stroking her, cuddling her, cooing at her, dangling toys in front of her. Peony doesn’t get that because we don’t have the time — and Petunia would never allow us alone time with the baby (the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head every time we try).
The irony, of course, is that it was Petunia who I felt sorry for before Peony was born. I felt sad for her that she was going to lose out on my undivided attention. But the reality has been that Petunia still needs all of that attention (and more!). And Peony goes with the flow. She’s no worse for the wear, but I feel terrible about it knowing how it could have been if she had come first.
Of course the Second Child Syndrome will likely heal itself over time to an extent, particularly when Peony is more mobile and vocal. But until then, I fear the disease will only worsen. And what mom can ever rest easy when her child is ill?
I’ve heard anecdotes about Second Baby Syndrome sufferers talking earlier and developing quicker in general compared to their older siblings. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, particularly when I feel like time is slipping by too quickly in the first place.
Please send Peony your well wishes. She won’t understand them now, but believe me, she’ll appreciate the sympathy when she’s older.
Has your younger child ever suffered from Second Baby Syndrome?
Image: Meredith Carroll