Just under a year ago, I went from having one son, to having two.
They say that having a baby changes your life (well, duh), but not many people talk about what having a second does to you. That’s most likely because they are too busy screaming into a poo-stained pillow, whilst having some form of catastrophic breakdown.
If, like my wife and I, you already have more than one child, you may very well connect with what I am about to say (assuming you can spare a few precious minutes to read it, without the little shits trying to kill themselves/each other, and assuming you can still focus on the words through your streaming tears/splitting headache/those undetermined stains on the screen). If, on the other hand, you currently have just the one child, but intend to spawn more of the little parasites in the future; or, even worse, you are one of those blissfully naive people who is currently childless, but plans on having a big family one day, please be warned: it is not always the Enid Blyton-esque picnic in the sunshine that you might think it is.
The reason, dear reader, is this: children can be inherently evil. And I don’t mean ‘just a bit naughty’, either, I mean demonically evil. They may occasionally surprise you by behaving for a few minutes, but generally speaking they are erratic and unpredictable, and the next tantrum is just around the corner. They can sense your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, particularly when you are sleep-deprived, and they will prey on this mercilessly. So, when you have more than one of them, they team up to create a volatile situation that will invariably end, almost daily, in some form of parental misery.
As a result, anyone with more than one child will, every day, without fail, have their favourite. This may be a subconscious decision, and you will never admit to it, but it will happen. Don’t get me wrong, I love both my boys dearly, but that doesn’t mean I have to actually like them all the time, and certainly not at the same time. So, at any singular moment, if you ask me which one I currently prefer, I will be able to answer you in less than a second.
Now, if you’re reading this, and you fall into the unfortunate category of suffering with multiple offspring, you will either be nodding along sagely, as you mentally select which one of your own children you would currently like to trade-in or put up for adoption, or you will be tutting at me disdainfully and claiming that you would never do such a horrible thing. If it’s the latter, I would suggest that you are in denial (or it’s possibly because your partner is also reading over your shoulder, in which case, don’t worry, they’re thinking it too). Either way, wake up and smell the coffee. Actually, that runny brown stuff that you can see/smell/feel running down your leg, is almost certainly not coffee, but you get the idea.
So, now that we’re all agreed that it is ok to have a favourite child at any given moment, let’s take a look at the reasoning behind it. Your preferred son or daughter can change hourly, let alone daily, but without fail one will always be performing better than the other. Why is this?
In giving my explanation, I will adopt (actually, wrong choice of words, the last thing I want to do is frigging adopt) our position of having two children; but if you have more, I am sure you will still be able to relate your own miserable situation accordingly. Incidentally, if you do have more than two, there is always a comforting hug waiting for you here, should you ever need it.
The answer to why we always select a favourite child is simple: siblings have an innate behavioural correlation with each other, that they are often not even aware of. This relationship works exponentially, so that when the behaviour of one child starts to improve, the other subconsciously senses this, and commences misbehaving at the same rate. It’s like behavioural yin and yang, if you will.
However, having already explained that you will always have your favourite child at any given moment, there is one exception to the rule. If the behaviour of one child is exponentially improving or deteriorating in sync with his or her sibling, there will invariably come a point where the two will pass – where their behaviour is, for one brief, glorious period in time, exactly equal. They are neither perfect, nor horrendous. Both children are just average. You might think that this is not ideal, as neither child will be living up to your pre-pregnancy expectations of what the perfect family unit should be like, but consider this: if both kids are just okay, just manageable, then you can still visit a friend, or go for a meal, or do the shopping, or drive somewhere (without the overwhelming urge to steer the car off the road), and essentially function as a family.
Call this (often fleeting) period what you will (I have personally labelled it the “Behavioural Sweet Spot”), but it’s what keeps those of us with more than one child from making the newspapers each day. For that very reason, its significance cannot be underestimated. It is vital to our sanity. However, as I have already explained, it can last but the blink of an eye so, for the majority of each day, you have to disregard it. Don’t try to focus on it, or anticipate it, for it may then not arrive at all. Just be aware of it, and pray it visits you and stays awhile.
In the long, soul-destroying hours in between, we return to the position where we have our favourite child, and the speed with which a parental brain can make that snap decision is astonishing.
Using my own in-depth research, I have identified the ten behavioural categories that we mentally process when choosing our favourite child, and have separated these out in order to analyse them in more detail. Not all ten will apply at any given time, but we still subconsciously consider each of them, if only to disregard a few when making our decision.
For each category, I will use our two boys – Ollie (nearly 5) and Isaac (nearly 1) – as example guinea-pigs, and rate one against the other, in order to work out which, currently, I prefer. It may seem harsh, but the point needs illustrating, and I am nothing if not thorough.
This, currently, is an easy one. Ollie, with a few exceptions, will usually sleep through the night. True, he is of an age where bad dreams sometimes disturb him (and consequently us), and his brain is so active that actually getting him to go to sleep in the first place can often be a struggle, but that is still preferable to Isaac’s ‘routine’.
Isaac, you see, is still in our room with us and, whilst he has a cot next to the bed, he seems to have some kind of allergic reaction or phobia towards it. As a result, whilst he will often start the night in there, he will, without fail, end up between us at some point. This would be tolerable if he then went back to sleep, but he seems to find it far more entertaining to kick me in whichever soft, fleshy part of my anatomy is nearest to his feet at the time. Thankfully, the family jewels are usually too far down the bed for him to reach, but a swift kick to the throat at 3am is still pretty distressing, particularly when you suddenly wake, gagging, to see him grinning at you with black, soulless eyes.
Again, Ollie has this one sewn up. He can be fussy at times, and he is, without doubt, the slowest eater I have ever encountered (to the point that, at school, he is often still munching away when his reception classmates leave the canteen for the playground, and the junior kids come in for lunch), but that still beats Isaac. In Isaac’s defence, he isn’t yet one, and so is still arguably in the phase where food should just be for fun, in order to get him used to the concept of eating, but he’s still showing very little interest in solids, and is certainly behind where Ollie was at this age. In fact, Isaac will only accept food from you, if there is a chance he can then smuggle it from his high chair to the waiting jaws of his partner in crime – Bexley (our dog) – who lies patiently and expectantly below.
Time to cut Isaac some slack. Yes, he makes a lot of mess with his toys on the floor, and with the food he throws in the general direction of the dog, but he is a baby. He has no concept of tidying up after himself, whereas Ollie should know better. Ollie’s room, until my wife spent hours blitzing it recently, usually resembles something of a post-apocalyptic nuclear war zone (if that war had been predominantly fought by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that is).
4: Bodily Functions
Again, Isaac is more or less excused here. Whilst his farts are usually so paint-strippingly bad that they could easily be used in chemical warfare, and often cause us to don Hazmat suits to change his nappy – only to discover that the outfit-ruining shitastrophe we were expecting is, in fact, a non-existent phantom poo – he cannot realistically be held accountable for this. Ollie, in contrast, often produces bowl-cracking toilet sausages that an elephant would wince at, and frequently suffers from constipation so intense that he emits a high-pitched squeal whilst on the toilet. The neighbours complained about this once. We have instructed him to eat more fruit, but he believes that stuffing grapes into his face whilst actually sitting on the toilet mid-defecation, is a satisfactory solution. It is not.
Tough one to decide, this. Both boys have sufficient lung capacity to drown out overhead planes and large machinery if required, and Isaac certainly makes more noise at night when we’re trying to sleep, but Ollie seemingly has no concept of volume, and insists on everything being shouted at all times. Isaac’s squeals are definitely more piercing and harmful to the ear, resembling, as they do, the death throes of a gutted wild boar, but are thankfully short-lived when compared to the marathon of noise that Ollie conjures each day, so Isaac wins the point.
No surprises here. Ollie can be full on, and demands a lot of attention at times, but he is also getting quite good at creating his own entertainment, and will happily sit in his room with a book or DVD to give us a break for a bit. Isaac, on the other hand, is determined to seek out the nearest choking hazard and ingest it, as soon as your back is turned for half a second.
7: Anger Management
Both boys get angry and throw tantrums, as children are prone to do, and Isaac is certainly more familiar with acts of physical violence. In fact, there is not a day goes by when he doesn’t attempt to re-arrange my face in some manner, usually by trying to scratch my eyes out or ‘fish hook’ my mouth. However, he does at least have the common courtesy to shriek like a banshee before attacking, so you have some warning of the impending assault in which to try and defend yourself. Ollie, however, can allow his mood to deteriorate so quickly, and for the slightest of reasons, that it often takes you unawares.
8: Emotional stability
No question of the winner here. Isaac cries, sure, but he’s a baby and his very purpose is to wail at everything. He doesn’t yet understand how to control his emotions. Ollie should understand, but if he does he bloody ignores it. He is, in short, an emotional rollercoaster of a child.
Ollie claims this one. No offence to Isaac, but there is only so much fulfilment one can gain from a cute smile or a few nervous steps whilst holding on to furniture (just ask my wife every time I come home drunk), whereas at least you can interact properly with Ollie. He’s beginning to enjoy real films like Star Wars, has a decent taste in music, and will often come with me to the football (which was, in all honesty, the main reason I wanted children in the first place). So, while it’s not really Isaac’s fault, Ollie is the runaway winner here.
It follows, for obvious reasons, that Ollie wins this one too. You can have proper, adult conversations with Ollie, that defy his tender age (so long as you are happy to mostly discuss Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and some of the phrases he comes out with are priceless at times. I feel for Isaac, I really do, as he has lost some valuable points purely on account of his age, but this one is a no-brainer.
Ok then, time for a count-up….
Oh. It’s a draw. Five points each.
We must be in the Behavioural Sweet Spot then – I best go make the most of it…