We have two kids. Our younger son turned 4 on Dec. 1, and he had four friends over for birthday cake and party games that afternoon.
This is unremarkable, except that this boy has never had a real birthday party before.
Welcome to the world of the second child.
The novelty factor is high with first children. On our firstborn's first birthday, we unpacked our wedding flutes and sipped a champagne toast at 4:08 p.m., the precise moment he entered Mercy Hospital's delivery room. The oblivious 1-year-old was carefully included, with his Barney cup of apple juice.
The entire family celebrated, with balloons on the mailbox and pictures of the tiny guest of honor everywhere. A list of gifts was kept while they were unwrapped, like at a bridal shower. Later, I made a sentimental entry in his baby book.
When the second turned 1, it was tacked onto Thanksgiving. We stuck a candle in a piece of pumpkin pie and sang Happy Birthday, while half the family dozed in the living room. He got two gifts; I jotted a note on a supermarket receipt and shoved it into my raincoat pocket, hoping I might locate his baby book some day.
With child No. 1, parents rush each milestone. Rookies bring teething infants to the Pokemon movie; veterans slow the car only slightly as they drop their adolescents at the multiplex, hoping they won't sneak into an "R."
First-time parents split up in the car; one drives, the other sits in back with the car seat. Experienced parents sit in front and wish they had a police cruiser, with that nice wire mesh to protect them from the back seat occupants.
Brand new parents flock to water babies classes, mommy and me play groups, and ski lessons for 2-year-olds. Older parents send their kids outside to play ("But there's nothing to do") and spend the ski money on groceries.
Pregnant couples play classical music for their unborn child in utero and vow that he will never watch TV, eat junk food or hold a Nintendo controller. By the time the second kid comes, they'll allow MTV and Doritos before breakfast, if it buys them five uninterrupted bathroom minutes.
The first child gets the hand-carved rocking horse and elaborate toys with interchangeable parts. That's OK, because all the children that follow will play with them, since parents forget the fun of this early largesse and draw the line on more "stuff" with subsequent kids.
The first child has posed for portraits at Sears, Kmart and Wal-Mart by the time he gets his first tooth. He's had more flash bulbs in his face than Madonna. The next kids have the photo taken in the hospital nursery -- and then, five years later, school photos start.
Mulling over this sorry state of affairs one day, it suddenly occurred to me to simply behave as if our second son is a first. We'll have a real party, with a nice cake and toys he doesn't really need. Like the family of a first-born, we'll revisit the wonder of life through his dark, shining eyes.
We'll make a big deal over every milestone, document his life in photos, and treat him like he's the most precious child in the world. Which, of course, he is.