Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Curse of the Second Born Continues

Along time ago in a photo album far, far away, meticulously organized, captioned, preserved for posterity and historically documented to the likes of which Smithsonian would admire, pictures chronicle, in detail, the lives of my parents, oddly enough, just after their honeymoon, as if buying a camera was first priority after saying “I do.” Maybe they got one for a gift (Also, like the Smithsonian, they don’t throw anything away, so I’m sure they still have it), but one of the first pictures in the first book is honeymoon related. My brother Jason doesn’t appear for a few dozen pages, and then he occupies a hefty amounts of space, obviously a welcomed joy, a novelty to the bourgeoning family. There are approximately a dozen pictures devoted to his birth, untold angles, care in the composition, many of which are gridlined by the safety glass so familiar in hospital waiting room windows. So exciting, a picture couldn’t wait until the view was clear. Happy mother, happy baby, countless memories all caught with the magic of Kodachrome, for ever. Many pages later, I can only assume I was born, but there is very little record of it, perhaps three or four pictures, slightly out of focus, slanted lethargicly as if someone said, “snap a shot and lets get out of here.” If it was a car race, I’d be listed under “also ran.” There’s a theory that my parents didn’t take any pictures at all, but merely shifted some of my brother and passed them off as me. For years, I looked exactly like him.

Then came the hand-me-downs by the busload, which probably explains why I looked exactly like my brother. Shirts, shoes, pants, hats, jackets, toys, books, you name it; even my haircut followed his. I owned nothing new, nothing original and nothing solely my own. For Halloween one given year, Jason went as a Chinaman (think of the PC rules we have now; teachers would have sent him home); the following year, 365 days later, guess who went as a Chinaman? Yep, yours truly. That became a pattern for several years.

It didn’t end there. My teachers prejudged me for things my brother did, and I was always introduced on that first day as “Oh, you’re Jason’s brother. I hope you’re not a talker like he was.” After a couple of years of that sort of preamble, I didn’t say anything in class anymore, for fear of being unfairly marked as a talker.

The worst legacy forced on me was a hand-me-down date….to Homecoming no less. A girl Jason knew, I forget her name, asked Jason to Homecoming in 1990, and since Jason was already going with someone else, he said, “My brother will take you.” Mind you, this was without asking me, planning by me or any prior knowledge of the incident at all. Of course, worried that the girl would get her feelings hurt, my mother threatened bodily harm if I didn’t follow through with it.

Well, the curse of the second born is apparently genetic, the ultimate hand-me-down that is passed along through the genetic code and only affects the second born. Matthew is the curse’s latest victim.

A digital camera issued through work allowed us to take thousands of pictures of Natalie and our new lives with a new baby, literally over 3,000 pictures by the time Natalie was Matthew’s age now. For him, there’s maybe 500. Granted it is better than the dozens for me, but it is the same percentage between her and Matthew as it was between my brother and I. About a month after Natalie was born in 2003, we bought our video camera (it didn’t dawn on us to buy one before she was born, we just didn’t), and from then until Matthew was born, we took nearly 20 hours of footage, everything from her just laying there doing nothing to the important firsts: rolls, crawls, steps and words. Every time we ran out of tape, I’d run to Best Buy and pick up a new pack, immediately, so we wouldn’t miss a moment. Well, we ran out of tape about a month ago, and it wasn’t until Friday that I bought a new pack of tapes; however, they’re still sitting on the desk and I don’t really know where the camera is. A month of Matthew’s growing has gone by without a pixel of stored memory.

Is that bad? Does that make me less of a parent? Is Matthew going to feel bad after we sift through a solid day of video only to watch a couple of hours of him? Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t. However, it doesn’t end with mere pictures and video. We printed Natalie’s footprint on heavy cardstock when she was four months and seven months old and hung them in her room in frames I especially stained to match her furniture (which was new). Matthew is five months old and we haven’t done his footprint yet. Natalie has an envelop packed with thousands of dollars of savings bonds that I got for her each month since she was born, but if it wasn’t for gifts from family and friends, Matthew wouldn’t have any.

He’s not even immune to the hand-me-downs either, starting with his crib, the rocker, the changing table…if you seeing him wearing anything yellow, odds are good it was first Natalie’s. Most of this is just practicality. Why would we spend good money to buy him a new crib, when Natalie’s is just fine (lady bug stickers and all), and why get rid of wearable clothes if he could get a few month’s more use out of them?

When I got older, the curse of the second born became a running gag over the years. I’d use it as a cheap joke every chance I got, and it got laughs. It was funny, but I never understood the logic. If you loved the second born as much as the first, then why aren’t there as many pictures of the second as there are of the first? It is insignificant, at most, but I get it now. I always told myself it would be even, each child would get the same attention, because, logically speaking, each child would be so similar that they would require the same amount of attention. However, that just isn’t so, and it isn’t because one means more than the other, but because they are so different.

On top of which, it is the simple fact of “been there, done that.” I’m not trying to be abrasive, just telling the facts of the events that I’m sure transpire in millions of multi-child households around the country. As far as progeny go, Natalie and Matthew looked identical at birth, red, crying, squirming and fragile (see the photos included here; which is Natalie and which is Matthew?)…I could do as my folks did and switch the pictures around in the book. Sure, Matthew’s cute and it is wonderful to witness his milestones as he grows older, but I don’t feel the same strong compulsion to watch him grow up through the viewfinder of a video camera, like I did with Natalie. So far, I’ve seen Matthew group up in three dimension and in color; I haven’t worried so much about saving the memories as I have about enjoying them. Sure, I take a lot of pictures, the count is about 12,000 since Natalie’s been born, but today, I take more pictures of both of them together, and if I take a picture of Natalie, I’m sure to take one of Matthew as well. After all, it’s only fair.

Matthew doesn’t have it as bad as I did, and I didn’t have it nearly as bad as my Dad did. He was the last of four brothers. By then, I’m sure they were fully stocked with pictures of babies that all probably look alike. However, here’s the true affect of the curse of the second born (or fourth): I have only seen one picture of him as a boy under 10 (it hangs in the hallway of their house), but I don’t think any other exist. Even if I wanted to compare the images of three generations of my family tree as babies, I couldn’t, and that’s the real shame of the curse.


Arthur Director said...

It's obvious: Natalie is the top picture and Matthew is the...no, you're probably being sneaky and aren't putting them in chronological order, so Matthew is the top picture. But does he have a chin like that? Or maybe they're both Natalie because you had so many photos of her around. Wait a minute, I've got it. I bet they're both pictures of Jason.

Ryan said...

Haha... nope, you were right to begin with. For the spoiler: The top one is Natalie and the bottom one is Matthew. Good call.


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