A letter to Mark Zuckerberg’s new baby sums up the truth about becoming a second-time parent

Dream big, girls.
Dream big, girls.
Image: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
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Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan just welcomed their second daughter, August, to the world. To mark the occasion, they posted a sweet note to her on Facebook.

“Childhood is magical,” they wrote. “You only get to be a child once, so don’t spend it worrying too much about the future.”

The letter was 343 words long. When Max, their first daughter, was born in 2015, the two wrote a 2,234 word essay on their aspirations to cure the ills of the world, including eradicating disease, scaling up personalized learning to revolutionize education, and generally improving the lot of humanity. “Together we can succeed and create a more equal world,” they said, announcing a foundation backed with $45 billion worth of Facebook shares to do just that.

Having a baby changes you. It seriously upends your thinking on everything from everyday danger, to the moral purpose of life, to your relationship with your parents (life coach, professional nagger, and babysitter). Confronting first-time parenthood forces you to deeply contemplate the world into which you are choosing to bring another human. The tectonic plates of existence shift as you move from tending and caring for yourself, and maybe a partner, to being fully responsible for another person’s existence. It is mind-bending, terrifying and exhilarating.

The second time around, things are different. Those plates have shifted. There’s kid No. 1 to worry about, and the fact that you haven’t slept properly in years. There’s your concern for how your beloved eldest will handle the arrival of another baby (some have described the feeling of coming home with a second child as something akin to marital infidelity). You know you are about to lose whatever modicum of freedom you had just regained, when kid No. 1 naps or after she goes to bed. And, there are logistics to confront which should require an advanced degree in astrophysics: Which kind of double stroller can I get through the front door and also carry down the subway steps? Can I love two children equally?

There’s also all that helpful perspective that’s been gained. Life has moved from sweeping aspirations and well-laid plans to the simple joys of the 499th reading of Oh the Thinks you can Think!. Read this from Chan and Zuckerberg’s post to August:

I hope you read your favorite Dr. Seuss books so many times you start inventing your own stories about the Vipper of Vipp. I hope you ride the carousel with Max until you’ve tamed every color horse. I hope you run as many laps around our living room and yard as you want.

When Max arrived, Chan and Zuckerberg had a vision of the world they wanted to create. When August arrived, they knew how to envision childhood. They know that the time for curing inequality will come. For now, let’s have a tickle war!

I have two girls who are spaced about the same as August and Max. It’s lovely; they are quite close, sharing everything from toys, clothes and a bedroom to an endless obsession with magical imaginary worlds. But if there is one thing they fixate on, with Facebook-data like precision, it’s fairness. They are forever measuring who got a longer lullaby, who got more bedtime stories, and who daddy hugged first. When my eldest gets injured, my youngest almost instantly develops a similar ailment.

There’s a reason first children have been found to have a slightly higher IQs: Their parents have more time and money to devote on that child. Max got a whopper of a foundation and almost 2,500 words. But second children get the weight of slightly fewer expectations.

August might feel a bit slighted by her distinctly lighter welcome. She got a quick post and a directive to smell the flowers. But let’s face it: Her prescription for life sounds a whole lot more fun.

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