The Space Cadet wants to know how many HSC units he should do in year 11. Jocasta, lying on the couch, waves him off. “Ask your brother,” she says, gesturing towards the telephone. She shifts in the couch so she can better maintain her viewing pleasure of Ladette To Lady.

**Who would be a second child? For the first child, nothing is too much trouble. The first child is pampered and photographed. Books on child-rearing are purchased and read. On behalf of the first child, there is in-depth research so they can be properly advised on all manner of life choices.

Just one child later and it’s all over. Just one child later and it all comes down to “ask your brother”. It’s like we are a car manufacturer who managed to put out a half-decent vehicle on our first attempt. “This time around, we’ll just do everything the same. That seemed to work.”

But, of course, you don’t even achieve that. Standards fall from the very beginning.**

With the first child, bedtime involves enthusiastic readings from Chicken Little and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, including the use of funny voices. You read as if the child’s whole future is dependent on the number of hours you put in. You read until the child begs for mercy. “Daddy, I just want to go to sleep,” the child sobs. “I don’t care if the caterpillar is still hungry.”

With the second child, you’re reading the same books and frankly you’re sick of the characters. The caterpillar’s constant consumption of leaf matter has lost its allure. The thrill is gone. As for Chicken Little, once you know the sky doesn’t fall in, the character seems shrill, panicky, even a little shallow. Who needs to spend this much time with neurotic poultry?

You start doing fake yawning, hoping the child will catch a yawn and fall asleep. More treacherous still, you secretly turn over two or three pages at a time, skipping whole chunks of plot. In extreme cases, you jump from halfway through the caterpillar’s travails to a tacked-on “and so he lived happily ever after”.

Surely they notice. Surely it must affect them. Is this why second children are generally a little wilder, a little more lateral in their thinking? Every time you skipped a whole chunk of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, did they internalise the anarchic notion that life is capricious, unpredictable and all too brief? Is this why they are more likely to be artists, professional surfers, high-risk rock climbers?

**It’s not only the reading. With the first child, TV shows are thoroughly monitored, soft-drink is banned and homework times are enforced. By the second child, anything goes. It’s like a prison in which the guards have become very, very lax. The guards are lying around, scratching their bellies, the prison gates swinging open. About 6pm, they distribute pizza menus and invite the inmates to order in; in this prison, every night is a Johnny Cash concert.

A third child? I haven’t experienced it but surely standards would just keep falling. With a third child, parenting would consist of telling Matilda she can have a fifth glass of Fanta but only if she fetches you a beer and mixes mum a mai tai.**

And sure she can watch Dexter – six years old doesn’t seem too young – but only if she lets you polish off the nachos.

Is there a positive side to being a later child? Most of all, it’s the lack of photos. The first-born is documented every second. It’s like being under ASIO surveillance. There are whole photo albums dedicated to the time between two months and three months old, a time during which their appearance changes from blob to slightly larger blob.

By contrast, the second has nothing. It’s like he’s Trotsky during the Stalin years, his very image scrubbed from the record. “Of course, you’re in the family photo album,” you assure your child, “look at the photo of the dog. I’m almost positive that’s your foot in the background.”

First-borns are said to be more dutiful, more likely to accede to their parents’ demands. Maybe it’s the existence of all those photos. One wrong move and you could upload the lot onto Facebook: the nude shot in the bath, the shot where they smeared their whole body with jam, the photo in which they are trying to insert a carrot up their own nose.

And so they live in fear. While the second-born sleeps easy.

The first-born is the battering ram with which the gates are pushed open; the first-born is the one who starts digging the escape tunnel. He or she is the slow drip that broke the spirit of the guards.

All the second child needs do is saunter through to freedom.

The Space Cadet wanders back into the room. He’s had a long talk to his brother about the HSC and together they have mapped out an academic plan. The prison guards pause and stop stuffing their faces with the nachos. They even turn down the sound on Ladette To Lady in order to ask for details.

The details are provided. He’s made sensible choices. Personally, I put it down to the excellent parenting.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia