I CAN’T remember who said it, but it has a certain resonance: the first child is like the first pancake. We get better with subsequent attempts.
We cut our teeth on Lughaidh and he got the gold-star treatment. He had our full attention 24/7. He was whisked to the GP for the slightest temperature fluctuation. His outfits were colour co-ordinated. His car seat cost more than a small pony.
Dearbhail did reasonably well on account of being female. Her father is besotted so there is no danger of being overshadowed by her older brother. As the only girl, she will escape the ignominy of hand-me-downs. She has a car seat fit for a princess. Her gender guarantees her own bedroom.
My sympathy is with Child Number Three because babies are no longer a novelty by the time he or she arrives. Nothing was bought before Cormac was born. The pram has gone through several rounds. The car seat is also a hand-me-down, along with bouncer, cot, bottles, steriliser, changing table, changing bag and play mat. With the exception of some generous presents, none of his clothes are his own. Already, he is living off the scraps of others, mainly his sister and brother.
Broadly speaking, Child Number One basks in the rapture of first-time parents. Utterly precious, he is the focus of all their energies. By age three, he is already fluent in Chinese. By age four, he’s utterly precocious. By the time Child Number Two arrives, things have relaxed a tad.
Child Number Three must pull himself up by his bootstraps. This is no bad thing. Friends who have been there say Child Number Three is comfortably familiar, tends to slip under the radar. I can testify to that. I recently went for my six-week check-up minus the baby. The GP asked if I was on my own. I asked what did she mean? “The baby?” she said, “the check up is for him as well.”
The third child is far, far less photographed. I have dozen of images of Lughaidh and Dearbhail before they ever left the hospital. Cormac was captured on camera phone as we left through the hospital doors. His first baby pic is grainier than a box of Weetabix. His outfits are hit-and-miss. He will never have a room of his own because we live in a three-bedroom house.
If Cormac was a pancake, he’d be pretty basic: none of your Fancy Dan stuff, just sugar and lemon so you know what you’re getting, but just as tasty all the same. This reflects a shift in our parenting skills, from highly experimental to experience-based. We have hopefully learned from our mistakes.
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