Friday, January 6, 2012

Never Second-Best

Mary Claire and me, sharing first place.

I’m the second-oldest child in our family, so my sister Mary Claire had 20 months of only child status.  On my mom’s side, Mary Claire was even the only grandchild and quickly became the focal point of McGrath family gatherings.  When my parents would plan a trip home for the holidays, my mom’s siblings would ask, “When are the Mary Claires getting here?” 

When my mom and dad discovered that I was on the way, they were thrilled.  My mom’s one of six kids and my dad’s one of nine, so they had definitely been planning on a large-ish family of their own.  But there’s a story my mom tells about being pregnant with me.  Mary Claire was just so wonderful, so perfect, so incredible, so special, and my mother loved her so entirely – how could she ever hope to love the second baby as much?  After months of worry and sleepless nights, my mother simply decided that she would never let on.  No matter what her true feelings were, she would never let the second baby suspect that Mary Claire was the favorite.  She buckled down and prepared to like the second-best kid.

When she tells this story, my mom always laughs here.  Apparently, after I made my way into the family officially, she discovered that her fears were moot.  Her love for Baby 2 was different, sure, but just as powerful and just as complete.  (And how could it not be.  Have you met me??) 

Now, Tim and I have our own Baby 2 issue to contemplate.  As we anticipate our second baby (in production for release on or around May 11), I feel lucky to already have my mom’s Baby 2 story firmly in place in my awareness.  Because Charlie is absolutely our be-all and end-all.  If you’ll indulge me for a moment:  The kid is a paragon of childish beauty, with a love of reading that demonstrates an unparalleled intellect, a gentleness of spirit that rivals the saints, and the comic timing of a person at least twice his age.  I can’t count the number of times in the past 16 months that I’ve turned to Tim and asked, “Look at him.  Isn’t he perfect?” Tim nods soberly and says, “I feel sad for other parents who think their babies are perfect, because they’ll never know how this really feels.”   

It would be so easy to worry that my heart might not be big enough to accommodate another little Maxwell.  But I know better.  I know from first-hand experience that my mom and dad, so anxious about loving a second baby equally, not only accomplished that but went on to pull three more babies into their love lasso.  There’s never been any question in our family that my parents love us all with the same degree of devotion, despite – or maybe thanks to – our differences in personality, talents, and accomplishments. 

So any time I look at Charlie and think, “How could anyone ever be as marvelous as you are?”, I think of the tiny little kicker in my uterus and I know that somehow, he or she is going to do it.  Then I get overwhelmed by hormones and emotion and I tear up a little bit (in fact, I’m crying right now) before becoming really impatient and wishing that Baby 2 would just get here already, and let us start in on our new Q&A:

Meg: “Look at them.  Aren’t they incredible?”
Tim: “It’s an everlasting tragedy that other parents will only ever feel a shadow of the pride we have in our children, who are equally, if individually, peerless.”