Thursday, January 5, 2012

Second kid guilt: Jan. 4, 2009

Oh, that second kid. That poor, neglected, virtually undocumented second kid. One day I will make it up to my Ben, the sad way I forgot to record the milestones of his babyhood, the tiny slivers of my attention he got back when he really probably needed so much more. I will hug him right now and tell him I am sorry.

Hm. Where the hell is that kid, anyway?

How did I miss the mother of all deadlines?

    My littlest boy, Ben, turns 4 years old next week, and I find myself absolutely appalled by that fact.

    Not because I don't want to see my baby grow up. On the contrary -- the bigger my kids get the more I enjoy them. Babies are all right, but what I really love about parenting is the struggle to answer my kids' intelligent questions, getting to hear their sometimes hilarious opinions and exploiting their constantly developing ability to help me with yard work and other tedious chores.

    But as my littlest boy turns 4 I am hit with the painful realization that I have completely run out of time to do a halfway decent job of documenting his babyhood. I blew it. It's over. That baby has left the building, and his mom cannot remember to save her life what his first word was. Or when he took his first steps. Or what his first real food was.
In my head, Ben still looks like this.

    This, I have decided, is a special kind of mom-guilt reserved for the babies who follow that coddled and meticulously documented firstborn.

    I have a notebook filled with four years worth of besotted-mom scribblings on the various precious things my oldest son, Jack, did, said and wore. His first word was 'cheese.' He took his first steps across the living room into my arms on Christmas Day 2001 -- a moment we have on video. Also on video are his messy first attempt at solid food, and his first birthday party -- an elaborate and well-attended affair nicer than any shindig I've ever thrown for a grown-up.

    We didn't yet have a digital camera in 2000, when Jack was born, so I was still taking rolls of film to be developed. I have prints of Jack in frames all over the house. And the prints we didn't frame I carefully filed by date in pretty, color-coordinated boxes made for just such a purpose. I think I drew hearts on the labels. Seriously.

    Enter Ben. Now, I am going to attempt to deflect some guilt here. Just watch the rationalizations fly.

    We moved right after he was born! And my husband was changing jobs and commuting an hour each way! And then my husband and I both had health problems! And it was so much harder having two kids! And then we moved again!

    Are you buying any of this? More importantly, do you think Ben will?

    The truth is, we do have lots of pictures of Ben. But when he was born in 2005, we used his arrival as an excuse to buy a digital camera. So most of our pictures of him are trapped in the computer. Online photo services have helped some, but, honestly, one suburban house can only hold so many framed snapshots and I think we're approaching our quota.

    I really didn't write down the details of Ben's development, but I do remember some stuff. I remember, for example, the first birthday party we threw him (which happened when he turned 3. Which was one year ago.)

    And I remember that he first walked at about 14 months. Which seemed utterly miraculous for its normalcy, after we waited almost 2 years for Jack to take a step.

    I remember that Ben loved to hook his feet under the tray of his high chair and gleefully send the tray and the food flying. And I remember staying awake all night when he was hospitalized with jaundice his first week -- how I literally did not sleep for days, how I sat vigil so the little blindfold that protected his eyes from the lights he was under would not slip off.

Back when I wrote this column, Ben looked like this. 
    And I remember how tiny he was when we brought him home -- too small for the newborn clothes, which flopped over his hands and draped several inches past his little feet.

    Now he's sitting behind me, simultaneously shoveling macaroni and cheese into his mouth and asking his father to make him some peanut butter crackers. He's chatty, strong, willful, fearless and throws Olympic-quality tantrums when he is thwarted in any way.

    He likes Tom and Jerry, Star Wars, his "big brudder," his new bike and will listen endlessly to stories, whether they are read to him or just made up as we go along. He is exhausting, infuriating and adorable.

    "You're my very last baby," I sometimes say, grabbing him as he barrels past.

    "I'm not a baby!" he shrieks angrily, wrestling away from me.

    He's right. My baby days are gone, along with my chance to thoughtfully record them.

    This writer fell down on her job, and this is one publication deadline I just can't get extended.

Now Ben looks like this. Oh my God, you guys. What happened?

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