What Your First Kid Teaches You That Your Second Kid Will Appreciate

Doubling the number of children in your household creates five times the chaos. But you're better prepared to handle a monkey-wrenched life.

by Geoffrey Redick
Parents sitting on a couch with their first and second kid

A few weeks ago, friends of ours had their second kid. During the pregnancy they’d each expressed a little worry: How hard will it be with two? Will the firstborn accept the interloper? Do we have to buy a minivan now? My wife and I murmured reassuring words, self-satisfied expert parents of two children. But words only go so far. Last week, my wife brought them dinner as an excuse to hold a fresh baby. Her friend was relaxed and confident. The first time around, she’d been terrified. But now? She knew what to do. She was ready to have a dozen.

It’s true that doubling the number of children in your household creates five times as much logistical and emotional chaos. But you, a veteran parent after having one, are better prepared to handle a monkey wrenched life. Things are a bit easier the second time around because there’s much your first child has taught you. Like what, you ask? Here are seven things our first born taught us.

1. Going Outside With a New Baby Is A-Okay — And Essential

At one of the first pediatric appointments we ever attended, the doctor advised us to keep the baby indoors for a month. Curtains drawn, no visitors, no walks, no baby-and-me sing-alongs. This advice, to be frank, is looney.

I mean, babies born this fall should be kept inside to avoid the nuclear fallout and food riots. But under normal circumstances, you should take your child outside. Outside is pleasant. Going outside to go back inside at another location is also pleasant. Removing yourself and your child from the same four walls is essential.

It snowed a couple of months after our daughter was born, and we bundled her up and carried her into the backyard and she smiled and babbled at the snowflakes. She’d never been happier.

We changed doctors.

When the second child came along, he came along. Everywhere we went. He gummed the germy handles of grocery carts and dug his fingers into dirt at the park. He rolled around on the floor at his sister’s ballet practice and got licked by strange dogs. Other kids sneezed on him and tickled him with their booger fingers. They coughed in his face and played peekaboo and offered him grubby toys to drool on.

Not only was he a happier baby than his sister — surrounded by funny hairless apes — but we were happier, too. And instead of locking him away like Emily Dickinson, we let him exist in the world, with all the fear and delight it holds. Even now, our son is more at ease than his sister when it comes to making friends and chatting with chirpy old ladies at the grocery store. It’s not something that I, an Emily Dickinson wannabe, understand — but I’m happy to have him along so that I don’t have to talk to those old ladies.

2. Children Don’t Need to Be Trained How to Sleep

This is controversial, I know. Some parents attach. Others cry it out. Some swaddle, others Ferber. Devotees are more strident than Skip Bayless. Truth is, the whole “sleep training” industry is FUBAR.

Our first kid slept in her car seat. Then in her crib. Then in her car seat, in the crib. Then we bought a giant foam wedge that came with a cloth harness and strapped her into that. We tried a swing and a bouncy seat. We swaddled and shushed and held her in our aching arms as we bounced up and down on an exercise ball.

We willed her to feel comforted by those things, but she hated them all. Why won’t she sleep? we wailed. The book says it should work! We’re following the instructions exactly.

We were dummies. Babies, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn, do not care for instructions.

With the second kid, we let him show us what he wanted. He struggled out of swaddles, so we threw the swaddling blankets away. He cried in the swing; off it went to Goodwill. When we shushed, he’d turn his head and stare at us in such an intimidating way that we couldn’t help but apologize.

We decided to stop trying to train him and let him train us. Turned out, what he liked was to sleep on our chests while we watched Netflix. So that’s what we did. My wife and I traded four-hour shifts and he snuggled and snored and slept through the night. That’s how I finally got through The Sopranos. I don’t think that influenced him, though he does love gabagool.

3. Dress Kids For Comfort and Chew-Ability, Not to Show off Clothes

The first child, boy or girl, is presented with more clothes than the Downton Abbey sisters owned. Grammy Gladys will embroider a dress. Granny Esther will sew little pants for Christmas. Friends and relations far and wide will contribute to the wardrobe, and expect Facebook photos of Junior modeling their contributions. Know something babies hate? Changing clothes. A baby who is cooing happily in a poop-stained Ralph Lauren jumper will scream bloody murder the second you try to remove it.

Here’s what a baby wants in the way of clothing: 1) Comfort. 2) A pleasing texture to chew on.

That’s it.

Get 47 white onesies. Get some hand-me-downs that say “Daddy’s Little Girl” and slap them on your son. He won’t mind. Don’t use anything with buttons or zippers, for the love of all that is sane. Elastic and snaps are your friends. No, really — you yourself should probably only wear clothing featuring elastic and snaps. You’ve got two kids now, never sleep more than three hours at a stretch, and shouldn’t be trusted to operate zippers.

4. Go Easy on the Milk Products

Our daughter loved to eat “babies.” That was her word for a particular brand of baby yogurt that had pictures of little babies on the packaging. We got such a kick out of her asking to eat babies that we kept the fridge stocked with cold babies. She ate babies all day long.

She also ate lots of cheese, which did not have a horrifyingly cute nickname. The horror came in the night, when the babies and the cheese would battle in her tummy, resulting in something that looked like an audition tape for a reboot of The Exorcist. That kid puked everywhere. She’d stand in her crib and puke over the rail, onto the wool carpet below. (The smell of wet wool is made exponentially more intolerable with the addition of curdled milk.) We’d lift her out of the crib, and she’d puke on our chests, down our backs, in our hair. What’s wrong with her, we fretted. Does she have stomach cancer? The new pediatrician looked at us skeptically. Maybe if you didn’t feed her so much lactose?

Oh. Right. Sorry about that one, princess.

5. Kids Do Weird Shit. It’s fine.

Here’s a specific example. When our first kid was almost a year old, we noticed that she’d do something odd when she was standing in her exersaucer. She’d be hopping around, giggling and spinning the monkey spinner, and then all of a sudden, she’d stretch her arms out and make a face like this lady on a roller coaster. Then she’d go back to giggling. In this situation, Google is not your friend. Convinced that our precious baby had early-onset Parkinson’s brought on by a tumor-induced aneurysm, we returned to the pediatrician. He humored us with a referral to a neurologist. They attached electrodes to her skull and she screamed like a baby being attached to electrodes. The test results were normal. Diagnosis: just being a weirdo.

I’m well aware that many children have special needs that require specific interventions. But if your child seems to be on a typical development track and begins hooting like an owl while rolling his eyes obsessively, don’t rule out the possibility that he’s just a bit of a nutter.

Don’t believe me? Visit a playground. You’ll see a bizarre collection of gyrating illiterate meth heads that not even Stephen King could dream up. Kids are weird.

6. TV Is Not the Devil

We used to have Michael Scott’s TV, except that we kept ours locked away in a cabinet as long as our daughter was awake. The experts said no TV for kids until age 2, and we went even longer. She was three before we let her start watching episodes of Kipper. (Highly underrated.) I used to feel superior about that, but then I met a couple who’d raised three children with no TV in the house.

Holy moly. That’s a lot of storytime!

Sometimes, dear reader, Daddy needs 22 uninterrupted minutes to gather his thoughts and stare blankly at the wall. Thank goodness Wild Kratts can visit through the magic moving picture box and drop a little knowledge about animals that live in the tundra. It’s educational!

By the time our son came along, the little TV had been replaced by a model wider than my wife is tall. We didn’t plop the brand new baby in front of Law & Order reruns, but there was no way TV was going to be absent from his life. Now that he’s in preschool, he can recite the entirety of Ice Age.

Please understand that I’m not advocating television watching. I’m only saying that a little TV watching will not transform your future astrophysicists into dullards. I’m happy that both our kids prefer books and outdoor play to the ol’ boob tube. It remains an occasional treat, like ice cream, or fireworks, or learning new words from Daddy while he’s using tools.

7. Life Will Never Return to Normal

When my wife was pregnant the first time, we bought all the baby books we could find. We learned about what to expect and stages of development and how to shape a person. When the child arrived, we tried to match her activity to the pages we’d studied, like comparing a puzzle in progress to the picture on the box. We kept thinking, Once she learns how to sleep, Once she learns how to to talk, Once she learns how to use the toilet, Once she stops doing that thing in the exersaucer, life will be easier. Things will be the way they were before.

It took us a long time, much longer than it should have, to realize: things will never be the way they were before.

Sleeping in, impromptu road trips, all-night poker parties, music festivals, wine bars, foreign films, and hand-wash only garments are all artifacts of an ancient world, a two-person civilization long extinct. A new, three-person civilization had sprung up in its place. Building on the old floor plans, but adding new rooms, introducing new gods and myths.

By the time you have your second child, you will have forgotten all about that ancient world, except that it is absent forever. You cannot retrace your steps. That’s fine though, because you won’t want to.

You’ll have learned that it — raising well-adjusted humans — never gets easier, that it only gets different than before, that the benchmarks are merely plateaus with a view of the next cliff face, that improvisation trumps instructions, that plans are made to be broken. You will know that you can only live in the moment, this one right now, which will cease before long. It will end with no time to mourn its passing as another moment follows, just as full and confused and lovely as this one, four sets of hands grasping each other, a strong circle of life borne along in a bubbly adventure, filling you with enough joy to glance grinning at your wife, the unspoken question understood at once: Wanna try for three?