Since around about the second or third week of her life, I have looked after Izzie overnight (my halo is in the post – I had to send back the original as it was too small!). But much as I complain about it, moan about how tired I am, and use it as leverage during the day (‘Can you sterilise the bottles? I was up three hours in the night.’), I must confess that I love my daddy-daughter time.
As part of my PADI training in a picturesque town called Kaikoura, I did a night dive. Kitting up on a long-abandoned wooden wharf on the headland, the van’s headlights pointed out to sea, snow-capped mountains silhouetted against the stars and the barking of seals resounding from the cliffs, it’s undoubtedly one of the most evocative things I’ve done. It was just me and my female dive instructor, no backup, nobody else to get in the way.
Linking arms so we didn’t lose one another, we stepped off the end of the wharf and descended into the inky black water. With your torches, all you can see is whatever comes into the ball of yellow light that extends a couple of metres around you. The whole world shrinks to the size of that bubble – all beyond, hidden in the cimmerian depths, ceases to exist. We became the only two people in the world as we swam along the seabed, alone but for each other.
We surfaced a couple of hundred metres out, the headlights mere pinpricks in a vast unlit universe. It’s weird being out in the water in the dark. You feel primitive somehow, in touch with your instinctive animal nature, experiencing the world through touch. And the person beside you is an extension of your own body. Night diving is the most intimate thing you can do with your clothes on – well, a neoprene wetsuit, BCD, air tank, regulator, weight belt, mask and fins, in any case. I’ve never felt anything like it.
Except when I’m doing night feeds.
At first, Izzie would go down around midnight and be up at half two and half five. Heading down to the lounge, Lizzie fast asleep, the dog snoring on the sofa and the cat purring on the bed, we were the only two beings in the world, daddy and his daughter.
Of course, feeding a baby isn’t exactly thrilling entertainment, so the first couple of weeks I’d switch on the TV and watch whatever was on – a documentary about a jaguar hunting a crocodile, perhaps, or how an American detective solved a murder case from the 1980s. After that, I started watching Monk and Castle, half an episode at the first feed and the remainder during the second.
As time’s gone on, Izzie drinks larger amounts less often, so it takes a whole episode to satisfy her, but only once a night, around five am.
Now, every third night she sleeps right through from half eleven to seven in the morning. Of course, I wake up much more often than that, checking on her about every two hours – if she stretches, groans, breathes differently, I wake up in an instant. But our exclusive daddy-daughter night feeds look to be coming to an end.
I never thought that I’d miss getting up in the middle of the night, the broken sleep, the days when your eyes hurt from forcing them open. But it’s our special time, when it’s just us and the rest of the world have no claim on anything we are. At night, things seem bigger, and more important, than they do during the day, and I wouldn’t trade this time for the world.
Parents moan about the night feeds, the tiredness and the broken sleep, but it’s actually one of the best parts of being a parent. There is no better way of bonding with your child than holding them in the night when you’re the only two people awake in the world. I say that I do the night feeds to help Lizzie get a good night’s sleep, but really I do them for me, for my daddy-daughter time. Because every time I feed her, I’m night diving off Kaikoura again. And that’s worth a lifetime of broken sleep.