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Is two too much?
Getting married and having a child brings its share of complications. Then, along comes the second kid, and makes the first one look easy.
We Indians are never stumped for conversation when confronted with strangers. Straightaway we demand intimate details: 'Are you married? If not, why not? Do you have kids? If not, why not? Only one kid? Why not a second one to give the first company?' The last is accompanied by a look that says you are a selfish, self-centred boor who is singlehandedly depleting mankind off the planet.
Parents of two children are bombarded with requests for advice. Suddenly in the middle of a juicy chat about a common friend, the person opposite will pause dramatically, lean forward and whisper: 'I have always wanted to ask you something. Do you regret having a second baby?'
Firstly you feel betrayed that perfectly good gossip about the common friend has been blocked (and you can't get back to the bitchy bandwagon without looking too interested). And then you think, good god, I have two kids - is that too much?
The asker knows very well it is not on for a parent to say, oh, now that you ask, yes it was a mistake to have another kid - even if it is one's tenth kid one is talking about. The universal fact about children: once they are there you forget they were never there. They are kind of too much there to be imagined not there.
With the first child you remember romance details, but with the second you are like, huh, we had sex? The nervousness that surrounds the first baby, from conception to his birthday parties, is noticeably absent the second time round. It is like you have given up. The hysteria over first tooth, first word, first step dies down and it is always a pleasant surprise when the second baby grins one day and there are 32 teeth in its mouth.
In most homes you will find framed photographs of the trio - dad, mom, child - gracing walls. Then as an afterthought there are guilt-induced large-framed snaps of the second one in what anyone can see are hastily captured moments of its life.
The firstborn is clingy, anxious and has to fight off his father's claim to his mom's time;the second kind of owns you from the moment of its birth and watches with kindly disdain as you fumble. It is like having a dog, then getting a cat.
To be fair, the firstborn has to contend with two parents who are always arguing over what is right for it, while the second kid comes into a somewhat stabilised set-up. In-laws have been broken in and apprised of what exactly is thought of their parenting skills, the dad is no longer a new dad who won't do this or that (he is just handed the nappy and the baby bottom), and the second time round there is consensus on what to do with the bawling member of the family.
The first time round you were a rookie, but the second makes you a veteran. Immediately you begin to compare due dates, delivery time, birth weight, navel size, milk guzzling... like you are racing the new baby against the old. You are also now willing to concede that one of them looks like its dad, since there are two faces to choose from.
Child psychology textbooks says single kids are well off. They have the best of all worlds, their parents focus on them too much perhaps but in the end the child learns to brush off the extra attention and gain from all that frothing at mommy mouths. Still, society argues, one kid needs another. And we get morbid at some point: What if I die? Can't leave the kid with incompetent spouse. So we cunningly plan a second child as a kind of referee, cop, in-house judge and arbitrator, someone who will be on our side forever on all things.
To that end, the wooing of the second child begins early. The husband who had been ambiguous up unto then and only went along with the idea of another baby to calm down the wife on the point sees a host of benefits. He is now no longer leaving wife alone with a baby, he is thoughtfully leaving her with a crowd of people. The first child realises he is not the centre of the universe and actually has to switch on the TV himself. There is a lot of bonding between dad and firstborn at this point as they feel collectively rejected. If you babied the husband with all kinds of hideous pet names before multiplying, chances are he had mildly been jealous of the first child till the second came. With the pet names now directed at second baby, firstborn is haunted, just like his dad before him, by the same dark, soul-searching, life-changing doubt: 'Am I not Yum-Yum after all?'
The first kid also has to pull up his socks as the spotlight shifts. Earlier, everything he did was nothing short of a miracle. He only had to inhale oxygen and a camera clicked somewhere. Now there is competition. In Malayalam, the eldest is called kadinjool pottan - firstborn moron. He makes the second kid look good.
The second baby's status as the official baby of the house is ensured because his arrival signals a rethink on family planning and sets some permanent precautions in place. There is jostling and rearrangement on the top, the firstborn is promoted to an adult. What follows is unbridled sibling rivalry between dad, mom and firstborn, leaving only the baby to be a baby. That the baby will stay baby to his mom all his life despite potbelly and bald spots is another story.
When I was childless and people asked 'why?' in that high-pitched worried tone I pretended I was born without a uterus. When I began to sport solo offspring on lap, they insisted I have a back-up baby. But I feared I may not luck out again;I had a great child already. Then came baby number two, and now, I don't have a single minute to sit somewhere to think anything, much less if I did the right thing or not.
When you marry you realise life used to be so simple before better halves arrived. Then you have a kid and go, god, I only had to manage the home and now this! Along comes the second kid and you forget you had a life at all. That is the first thing about second kids, they make the first kid look easy. My grandmother who had two pairs of twins always maintained, 'triplets thrice - now that would have been tough!'
It is kind of people to enquire about our feelings on having two kids. It makes us feel special, noble and expert. Also hopeful that maybe you are asking to adopt our second one.
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