In Appreciation of My Second Son…


My husband and I are both first-borns. We’re super uptight A-type crazy people. My mother has described me as “manic” on more than one occasion. I prefer the label of “boss”–it just sounds better and is more affirming.

I have always had a soft spot for second sons. I loved history when I was in grade school, and learning about all of the things that first-born sons got as compared to second sons always felt unjust to me. What do you mean the eldest son gets the castle but the younger sons were shipped off to the life of the priesthood? And third sons? They didn’t even get that? (But they escaped a life of celibacy, right? That’s got to be good for something?)  Further studies found that some of those wayward second sons found their way onto ships destined for New World shores, so that’s kind of cool. But even in 2013, second sons are still second best: The first born gets a lot of responsibility heaped onto him and he is still destined to ascend to head of the family when the patriarch passes on. No wonder a lot of middle and younger children end up becoming comedians, entertainers and other great artists. Who wants to be a sterile doctor or lawyer anyway?

While I have had a soft spot for them, I’ve also been worried. How do I make sure that I nurture this second son, not smother him and also not compare him to his brother? How do I honor him as his own person, on his own trajectory? What can I do to elevate this son in a way that he’s my baby, but he’s not the baby? I’m still grappling with these questions, but I feel like I’m finding my way.

I am finding that there is a relaxation in mothering second sons. Indeed, I’m having a lot of fun enjoying all of the little things that make Ursa Minor so special.

Bringing up Ursa Major has been an intense study in milestone marking and competitive pushing. “Why yes, he did start walking at 10 months. That’s early? Well, I guess we’re just awesome!” [High-fiveing a million angels]. “Where are his teeth? Why doesn’t he have teeth?” “Why isn’t he talking? Shouldn’t he be talking?” “He can sing his ABCs and he just turned two!” [High-fiveing a million angels again]. We’re always ticking off the things that he should and should not be doing. He fills us with the greatest pride and also brings us the greatest worries. He brings out our hopes and dreams. He is, in a word, magnificent if only because he profoundly brightens our world by his presence. We try not to pressure him too much, and he seems to enjoy being at the forefront of everything. Now, in the role of big brother, he loves being a “teacher,” too.

It should be noted that his current terrible-two obstinance drives me to the bleeding edge of my patience. The bleeding edge!

I could describe Ursa Minor with the same language. He, too, is magnificent. But his magnificence comes with a twist: I’m not as worried about him as I am about Ursa Major. When it comes to him, I’m totally in “been there, don’t that,” mode. That is not to say that his milestones aren’t important to us. They are. We’re just not micromanaging them like we did with Ursa Major. Ursa Minor has a lot more breathing room, and that has ended up making him a pretty cool baby. I noticed this yesterday to great delight when I was vacuuming the apartment.

You see, Ursa Major is now two and a half. All of his life, he has hated the vacuum cleaner. I have to announce, 10 minutes in advance, when I’m going to vacuum so as to give him time to gather his wits (and his favorite toys) and then get to the couch to camp out while I handle my business. Ursa Minor, who is only 14 months old, doesn’t give a what-what about the vacuum. When it comes to the vacuum, Ursa Minor is a dragon slayer. Ever since he could crawl, Ursa Minor has chased the vacuum and loves the thrill of having me chase him with it now that he can walk and run. This boy, upon my finishing and unplugging the thing, tips over the vacuum with much maniacal laughter. He loves to examine its contents like some sort of CSI scientist, pocking at it and spinning its wheels to assure that it is dead. Mind you, Ursa Major is still on the couch, cowering in fear. Ursa Minor often looks as his brother with a pitying look. So yesterday when I was done cleaning, when Ursa Minor walked up to the vacuum cleaner hit it and then roared, I practically fell over with laughter.

I love Ursa Minor because he has every ounce of his father’s beauty, yet he has a bad attitude that rivals my own. He is second born with first-born expectations. He takes none of his brother’s tyranny, snatching toys right back from his brother, stomping on train tracks that he has been forbidden to play with, throwing things in his brother’s general direction after being instructed not to play with this or that…of course, I have to enforce rules and tell my sons to play nice…but on the inside, I’m laughing. A lot. Ursa Minor is the stallion who mounts the world (Game of Thrones readers will know what that means). I don’t know what ya’ll are going to do when I release him into adulthood.

It is so much fun to love both of my sons equally for different reasons. I love being able to appreciate them and honor them for being different and special. While my expectations for them are high and their training in compassion, honor, virtue, dignity, and thinking will be the same, I look forward to watching their different interpretations of what I teach them. Ursa Major will be methodical, almost orthodox in his learning. He’ thinks so much like his father does: Rules are rules, and then again, rules are rules. Never meant to be broken. Ursa Minor is very much like I am: Rules are rules, and then again, rules are often arbitrary, selectively enforced and certainly meant to be broken when the ends justify the means. He is going to drive us to the edge of madness when he becomes a teenager (Hell, when he turns two!). I hope, however, that I’m able to appreciate his resistance and rebellions in the way that I appreciate them now.

I think that I also appreciate Ursa Minor’s last few months of baby-ness because I think he will be my last baby. As much as I want to have a third–to go for the girl that my husband so badly wants–I don’t see how we can afford another one. I know that there are many people who have lot more children with a lot less money, but we just aren’t those people. The thought of how much preschool is about to cost us, let alone two simultaneous college tuition in the future makes me dry heave. I’m not ruling it out, but the more that we think of it (and our ever tightening budget), I don’t know how it is possible. That makes me sad, but that is life. Besides, is there room for a second diva in this house? (The answer is no!) 

So I have two little bears that I get to chase and love. One of them will be a dragon slayer, the other a powerful thinker and rule follower. I’m ok with that. Balance is a good thing!

25 Comments Add yours

  1. mithriluna says:

    I love reading how you love being a mother and how you describe your “two bears”. I call my oldest son Bear and he is 25 years old! It’s amazing how each child is so uniquely their own person and it’s so exciting to see their little personalities develop as they grow.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      The “bear” thing was a total accident–When Ursa Major was born, in my sleepless insanity I started adding “bears” to everything: “Sleepy bears” “Hungry bears” “grumpy bears” and the nickname stuck. When we found out that our youngest was going to be a boy, too, I was like “when they get older, they need, like, Secret Service code names for when we need to talk about them without them knowing..” Thus came Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. We pretty much thought we were geniuses. 🙂

      I really think that watching these two blossom in their personality is the best part of parenting right now. So much fun to see these two become different and cool and interesting little guys!

  2. Joyce says:

    Your children sound similar to mine, except that I have a boy (7) and a girl (2). But it’s the same dynamic. I read a fascinating chapter on birth order in a parenting book once. So many of the characteristics applied to my children. The serious older one and the fiesty younger one, for example.

    I had my second knowing that she would be my last one. For me, each child has been a special experience for different reasons – the first because I was experiencing the wonders of parenthood for the first time, the second, because I knew this was my last time, and I knew how quickly it all goes by, so I knew to hold on and enjoy each moment.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I keep meaning to read up on birth order, Joyce, but I never seem to get around to it. I know that there is a lot of science behind these personality differences.

      It saddens me to think that Ursa Minor might be my last one. I keep holding on to hope that he won’t be…but if that is how it is, well, that is how it is. I’m trying to enjoy every moment that I can…

  3. I loved my firstborn so intensely, and because she was a preemie, weighing under three pounds at birth, I had all of the normal worries plus worries about her health and development.

    When she was six, I became pregnant again and while excited at the thought of having another baby, I feared I would not be able to love both children equally. It’s one of the most amazing parts of being a mom, I think, the way that love comes and is big enough for all of one’s children and equal but different for each.

    And oh boy can I relate to this… I’m a firstborn, myself, and tend to be demanding. However, I also find parenting my second child is much, much more relaxed than parenting my firstborn.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Wow, your experiences must be so powerful. To have a child so small, to worry about every little thing…I would love to know more about what you’ve gone through. I’m sure that the love for your daughter must be incredible and profoundly powerful.

      I, too, had fears about being able to love both of my sons equally. I worried about favoritism and bonding with one more than another. Looking back, those worries seem so silly–of course i love my sons equally. Indeed, I can’t imagine a world without both of them now. A mother’s heart is incredible.

      Thank you for stopping by my blog. I hope that you’ll return often!

  4. zeudytigre says:

    I had my girl and my boy and then, as a gift, got my third child. Each is so different and so wonderful. The family dynamic shifts and merges as the children gang up on the adults and the adults step in to support the child. I love parenting so much. I think that you are enjoying that journey too 🙂

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      My husband and I often joke that we don’t want to have a third child because we’ll lose the “man to man” defense!! I don’t really know how folks do it! I’m sure that your life is full of wild and crazy moments…there MUST be a point where they do the math and realize that they’ve got you outnumbered. A SCARY thing indeed! 🙂

  5. Cordelia says:

    There is something magical about little boys! I have a girl and a boy and they are very different. Love them both, but DANG I’ve got a googly spot for my boy!

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Little boys really are something special. I would love to try to give my husband his little girl, but I must say, I’m very satisfied with little boyness!

  6. Wow, that is best introduction to someone’s children I’ve ever had. I sincerely feel lucky and privileged to have met them.

    You’re toast.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I’m toast? Did I miss something? Should I be worried? Where I come from, being “toast” means that I’m in trouble!

      1. Same here! Two boys is insanity if you’re lucky, two brilliant little boys is a crayon apocalypse!

        1. K.C. Wise says:

          “Crayon Apocalypse” is my new favorite term and I am committed to using it at least once in a sentence within the next 7 days.

          and maybe a blog post.

          1. wouldn’t it be cool if we could write our blogs in crayon?

            hang around, i’m making something for you

  7. Absolutely spot on, as always. I view my second one in much the same light. My two are chalk and cheese and I have to say, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Love the way your love and pride for the two little ones just shines through.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Thanks a lot! They are easy to write about. 🙂 I’m sure in the next few weeks I’ll write an “angry mommy” post about one of them breaking something or other. I could barely get this post out anyway, seeing as Ursa Major decided NOT to nap yesterday….Lordy…

      1. I believe he’s about the right age to want to drop it now. Eeek! Good luck! By the way, only if you have time and are interested check out my non-fiction blog about identity and my migration experiences:

  8. Like you, I have two kids.. A boy (3 years old) and a girl (13 months). I noticed in myself that i am also much more relaxed with the girl’s (= second child’s) upbringing then I was with the boy’s. But this has led to me also being more relaxed about the boy. (Might be his age.) I also notice differences in personality in my kids which are very similar to the ones you describe for your sons. My son ist scared of everything and everyone while my daughter embraces “danger”. This has improved for my son ever since he’s going to kindergarten, but there’s still a big difference between them.
    I’ve been reading through your blog (not all of it yet, my time is limited) and I was wondering: What exactly is the difference between daycare, preschool and kindergarten. When you wrote about preschool, I was thinking “last year befor grade school”. This obviously can’t be right, though. And what you describe about what the kids do at your preschool it sounds just like my son’s kindergarten.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I think that little girls who “embrace danger” are awesome. Good for her! Run up that hill! Dive into that pile! Hide behind that tree!!! Roar!!


      I’m sure that’s actually a big pain for you. 🙂

      So, “daycare” is an organized place that is only designed to be a safe place for children to go to during the day while their parents are at work. They don’t have the distinct and recognized structure of a school and they don’t have the same standards or curriculum. Of course, there are varying degrees of this: You can send your child to a VERY expensive daycare that does parade as though it is a school. This will cost you out the behind. Basically, a daycare can be for children as young as 4 months old. It’s not a “real school” with “real” teachers… but rather caregivers (who are usually certified and highly trained).

      “Preschool” is the next step up: It is training for “real” school, It is usually not all day (maybe 3 hours a day) and usually not 5 days a week (maybe 2 or 3 days a week). There usually is a curriculum with real teachers who specialize in the early years of growth. The point of preschool is to get children used to the idea of leaving their parents for a while, be under the direction of another adult, learn a love a learning and learn the STRUCTURE of organized learning. Many, many studies have shown that preschool can be instrumental to the trajectory of a child’s education, and that is why many middle class American families struggle to find, enroll in, and pay for the best preschools that they can get their hands on. Preschool is sometimes free in communities (like where I come from in Maryland) but it is optional, pretty much, no matter what. There are programs that are specifically designed for low-income families called Head Start, which are preschool programs designed specifically for traditionally underserved communities to give children a boost before starting Kindergarten. These programs are usually free for families (and are being severely cut by the Federal government right now).

      Kindergarten is considered to be the official start of “real” school–though sometimes it is still only half-day rather than full-day, it is 5 days a week, with a teacher, assignments, sometimes homework, sometimes standardized testing. It is the official start of grade-school education. It is free and it is not optional.

      1. Thank you for your explanation! So basically, what you call preschool ist calle kindergarten here, and what you call kindergarten ist calle Vorschule (=preschool) here 🙂 Languages can be confusing sometimes.
        I’m still a little bit irritated that there are “teachers” and “classrooms”. My son’s preschools has “Erzieher” (as opposed to “Lehrer” who work in schools), but I looked into the dictionary which stated that “Erzieher” are called “nursery school teachers” so I guess they must be the same thing (went to school for 3-5 years to learn their profession).
        I am from the middle class and I have an academic background. To me also, the educational success of my kids is very important and I took great care in choosing the “best” preschool. The one we chose has just 25 kids of all ages (2-6), 2 teachers, they have very nice rooms and grounds and offer lots of activities for the kids: sports, forest days, excursions,… The day is structured. free play, morning circle, breakfast, “special activity of the day”, playing outside/inside depending on the weather, lunch, more playing (various locations). The house has several rooms, so they offer different playing activities at different times during the day which stimulate different abilities. I guess this must be similar to what your sons will be doing in their preschool, right?

        I’m actually very happy that my daughter is not as timid as her brother. I have very small kids, and if they are overly fearsome and cautious I worry that they might be picked on by the other kids as they get older. (Moms always worry…)

  9. We had 3 girls, then 2 boys twelve years later…yeah, don’t ask what we were thinking, because I have no clue. We have the same dynamics with regard to oldest and youngest child personalities in each grouping. My husband thoroughly embraced the idea of freedom and independence in the younger child the first to round…until he tried to reign her in during the teenage years. Of course we want to encourage the zest for life, but I saw the writing on the wall with this one. Let’s just say that, a month and a half after that 19 year-old moved out, she moved back in….and I cried for days. I tell you this as a story of caution. Your love and respect for each of their personalities shines brightly, and I don’t (and wouldn’t) think to judge you or tell you how to do anything. In a time when many try to mold their children to fit into their own lives and personal ideals, the way you love your kids is beautiful. This is just a reminder to be mindful of balance. I don’t want ANYONE to experience the tears I’ve shed. Keep being an amazing role model!

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Thanks so much for this. What a great reminder….I’m sorry about your trials. I hope that your 19 year-old eventually finds her way.

      And thanks so much for being here! I love and appreciate these stories!

  10. Your posts on here are seriously some of my favorite. As a father of a 2 yo it’s interesting to read the misadventures of other parents. Thanks for being so candid.

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