(originally posted at Teacher Et Cetera July 26, 2010)
I've heard the same comments so many times recently that I'm starting to repeat them.
“No need for new clothes. After all, they'll be the same season.” “Oh, how nice, you won't have to redecorate. You can just use your first son's nursery items.” “It makes it so easy and so affordable to have two boys instead of one of each.”
I feel like this is what I should say, what everyone expects me to say. But it saddens me to think that I will be raising a hand-me-down baby.
I'm expecting my second son in a few short weeks, two boys, a little less than two years apart in age. I imagine them running the neighborhood together as they grow: the older boy gregariously greeting all our neighbors with his little brother in tow. When I start to write down some of these hopes in my newest pregnancy journal, I realize that everything I am writing is tied to my first son. “When we first learned that you would be joining our family, we started to teach your older brother how to say 'baby.'" "At the first ultrasound, your older brother giggled when he saw your little shape moving on the screen.”
Prior to my first son's birth, I journaled weekly, posting my reflections on a blog for long-distance family and friends to follow. I reflected on my changing roles, my changing identity. I spent hours planning and painting the new nursery, picking out just the right organic bedding set, scouring through Craigslist for gently used cribs and rockers, strollers and gates, changing tables and toy boxes. The monitor was hooked up long before the baby's arrival. The new clothes, freshly washed and folded, were neatly stacked in the little dresser months before his arrival. And all of this is meticulously recorded in my first son's pregnancy journal, pictures, cards, ultrasound print-outs, and all.
And although I'm already 35 weeks along, I have very few pictures of my belly, of this pregnancy. My newest little one's pregnancy journal sits safely tucked away in our bedroom bookcase, a thin layer of dust on its binding. I pulled it out last around 22 weeks to record my weight and the date of the most recent appointment with our midwife. I've brought the old baby clothes out of a rubber tub in the basement. No need to wash them again. I did that before packing them away. No need to get a new car seat. The old one will do. Our new little baby boy will fit right in to his older brother's model. My hand-me-down baby will fit right in.
And that's when I started to worry. How do I make sure this new little life grows into his own person and not into the mold of his older brother?
But when I watch my nearly two year old son excitedly gobble down green beans, splash in the tub, contentedly sleep, I am reminded of just how unique we each are. My son did not learn to be gregarious from me or my husband. I'm pretty sure he was just born friendly. As much as I coaxed him to say “mama” or “dada” as his first word, he clear as day declared “cat!” soon followed by “bus” and “skkrrrl” (squirrel). He seemed to born with his own unique perspective on the world.
So although his younger brother will grow into the clothes his older brother now wears, I will find ways to honor our new little boy's unique personality and perspective. There would be no hand-me-downs if it weren't for this new little life, no one to hand down to. My first son would not be a brother without him. And so I honor this new little person by handing down what I learned from parenting his older brother. I learn from my mistakes. I hand-down my wisdom, my patience. I hand down my love and respect. I create spaces for him to share his unique view of the world. And I hand down my open heart to his open hands. I hand down the best of myself.