Second is not second best

Second is not second best

Sarah, my younger daughter, had the most amazing, elaborate dream recently.

In great detail, she recounted an adventure that involved her classmates, and they went to all kinds of places, performed all kinds of tasks and said all kinds of things.

It took her some 10 minutes to narrate it to me breathlessly and, for all I know, featured dragons, princesses, castles and magic powers.

If I can't remember at least half of her nocturnal journey now, it was because I was busy blow-drying her elder sister Faith's hair en route to bedtime.

But Sarah was relentless, sticking by my side and trying to speak over the sound of the hair-dryer, determined to have an audience for her tale.

As impressed as I was at her attention to detail and her perseverance in relating the dream, I was pretty sure she had no dream.

If she did dream, she likely did not remember any of it.

If she did recall some of it, it would be nowhere near the Harry Potter/Disney epic she was recounting to me.

I knew this because she told me herself just a moment earlier that she didn't have any dreams, at least none like the one Faith had just regaled me with.

It was a wickedly satirical dream about her grandpa joining a queue because a lot of people were in it, only to end up having to carry a huge bucket of dung, as that was what the queue was for.

Oh, how I laughed at that.

Subsequently, poor Sarah probably felt like she needed to entertain me in equal measure too, hence the making up of a dream whose details seemed to have been culled from assorted episodes of her current favourite cartoon, Sofia The First.

Welcome to a day in the life of Sarah the Second (Child), age four, younger sister of Faith the First, who never misses a chance to assert her first-born rights and flaunt her more advanced development as a seven-year-old.

These days, when Sarah proudly demonstrates her nascent reading ability to my wife and me, Faith is quick with her dismissal: "That's so simple!"

Of course my wife and I are equally swift to the rescue, firmly telling Faith that Sarah is three years younger and doing well.

Inwardly, I feel bad for Sarah, who is momentarily silent and put in her place.

The good thing is, Sarah is resilient. How could she not be, with an elder sister that gives her no quarter? Every victory, however minor, is hard won.

For more than a year, she watched and rewatched, over and over, videos of Jie Jie Faith dancing at the year-end kindergarten concerts. As she was too young to join the shows, she could only be a spectator and hear us gush over Faith's colourful costumes and nifty performances.

Meanwhile, she watched and practised - hard - along with the videos.

This year, she was finally part of the show. Even better, she was picked to introduce her class' dance item, like Jie Jie did last year.

On the actual day, Sarah did well enough with the introduction and performed fabulously in the dance, only for Faith to turn into a mini Judge Dread Simon Cowell, formerly of American Idol.

Watching the video, Faith picked at Sarah's enunciation, pacing, emphasis, delivery over just 28 words: "Good morning, everyone. My friends and I from Lime Green would like to perform a beautiful dance called Country Road, Take Me Home. We hope you like it."

A superstar lawyer on an American TV show could not have executed a better hatchet job. But the jury - aka Mummy and Daddy - were unmoved by Faith and delivered a verdict in favour of Sarah.

It can't be easy being the younger child.

Sure, the firstborn has to deal with issues such as having to share the love and attention of his parents that he once had exclusively.

But the younger, in Sarah's case, has to grapple with the complicated problem of looking up to a person who sees her as competition or, worse, an annoyance.

This is why my wife prefers not to take Sarah to the birthday parties of Faith's friends. She can't bear to see Sarah trailing behind Faith, who ignores her sister to play with her friends.

It isn't that Faith is exceptionally cruel.

Her classmates also leave their younger siblings in their wake at parties. Kids just prefer the company of their peers, other kids of the same wavelength.

But a friend of mine won't stand for such behaviour from her elder child. She will take the elder child aside and sternly instruct her not to neglect her younger brother to play with friends.

While I see the value of teaching children from young that blood is thicker than water, I'm not sure I want to risk having Faith treat her responsibility as firstborn as a burden, and a burden she never asked for.

Faith should not be made to resent her resposibilities and I cannot always shield Sarah from life's hard truths.

So, beyond emphasising to Faith the need to be kind to Sarah and others, I have decided to let things be - and not have a third child.

Sarah does not need another battle on her hands, that of the cliches of being the middle child.

andychen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 16, 2014.
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