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Sun, Mar 28, 2010
The Straits Times
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I do love you, Sarah
by Andy Chen, Seriously Kidding

It is a good thing people say that love cannot be quantified, because if it could be I would be guilty of loving my second daughter less than my first.

A lot less.

In the three weeks since Sarah has joined my family, I have carried her maybe 20 odd times.

On the other hand, my elder girl Faith, who is now coming to three, I carried so much from birth that it seemed like I was making up for not having a womb in which to cocoon and bond with her for nine months.

I am deliberately paying more attention to Faith now, as advised by some parenting books, so she will not feel a sudden vacuum where once she had all the limelight.

But that does not account for the cheaper brand of disposable diapers we buy Sarah, compared to the premium Pampers that Faith peed and pooed on exclusively for the first few months of her life.

With Sarah, I, more than my wife, am pragmatic, almost ruthlessly and unfairly so, about diapers and everything else that costs money - and even things that don't.

Like photos. With digital technology, we can take as many pictures as we like so long as there's sufficient storage capacity at no extra cost, and I did that with Faith, whose every snap from birth seemed good enough to keep.

With Sarah, all of a sudden I seem to aspire to the standards of Annie Leibovitz. Even the slightest imperfection sends my thumb to the delete button.

My rationale: I don't need that many pictures of her lying on the weighing scale in the first few minutes of her life, do I? Isn't one enough for keepsake?

Why this Dr Jekyll Dad/Mr Hyde Dad schizophrenia?

It is, I am pretty sure, not that I love Sarah less. Neither is there evidence to accuse me of that F-word - favouritism.

Yes, I have asked my wife to take Sarah out of our room in the middle of the night when she cried, for fear of disrupting Faith's sleep.

But there's a good reason for that: Babies can sleep soundly all hours of the day. Toddlers can't and don't and they throw almighty tantrums when they are tired and have excess energy to burn at the same time.

Unfortunately for Sarah, and perhaps for second and subsequent children the world over, her fault is simply that she lacks the aura of novelty that surrounds firstborns.

I first heard that from a friend, whose husband said that to her of their second child. And it is not the callous and clinical remark that I originally thought it was.

For sure, every child is different the way tropical climate dwellers are told each snowflake is unique. But the child-raising is the same.

A second child is kind of like the opposite of the sophomore album burden successful new bands face.

After an acclaimed debut album, a band is under pressure to prove that it was not a fluke.

With a second child, you have nothing left to prove because you now know that child-raising is about 100 per cent effort, or nurture, and 100 per cent fluke, or nature. (That doesn't add up? Neither does the fraught journey of parenting.)

Experience with the first child makes most parents more easy-going, more practical, more 'yeah, whatever' with their subsequent offspring in many respects except the most important - their well-being, physical and emotional.

The worry about your children's health does not get divided but multiplied with every new child.

Once when I was young my mother told a friend on the phone that she favoured my sister, the eldest, more than my elder brother and me.

When she hung up, my brother and I asked her to clarify the comment. I was not angry or jealous, just curious. She denied having said it at all, and that was that.

Although I remember the incident, it never affected me and I have recounted it to my wife only for a laugh.

The more important childhood experience I have told my wife is the one where my parents bought me a BMX bicycle when they could not really afford it, because an aunt close to my brother had bought him a set of Kuwahara wheels just like the one in the movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

They burnt a hole in their pockets just so I wouldn't feel hurt at the lack of fairness in this family, let alone the world.

Mine was a cheaper bike, not the cool one E.T. flew on. But that is love. Not more or less love than that for my sister, just love.

And that is the same I promise Sarah.

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This article was first published in The Sunday Times.

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