Stop Growing Up!

I must have a different concept of time to other people. ‘Can you believe she’s almost sixteen weeks old already?’ they say, as if it’s magically just happened on its own.

Yes, I can well believe it. I was there every day of the previous fifteen weeks.

A variation on this theme is, ‘I bet it feels like just yesterday she was born.’

Nope, it feels like she she was born 111 days ago. 111 long, hard, tiring but ultimately rewarding days. It feels like it was years ago, and I can barely remember my life before Izzie was born – it’s a grey blur where I had free time and sleep, like in a fairy tale.

Another old chestnut is, ‘Before you know it she’ll be eighteen and moving out.’

I’m not sure how she’ll be eighteen ‘before I know it’. I can’t imagine the upcoming hell of teething, toddling, talking and terrorising are going to slip by unnoticed. Nor can we get through eighteen birthdays, eighteen Christmasses, a million holidays, school trips, sports days, parent-teacher evenings, pimples, boyfriends and ‘the talk’ without being made aware, every step of the way, of the passage of time.

My whole life, time hasn’t passed for me as quickly as it seems to have done for others. Maybe it’s my Asperger’s Syndrome, the fact I pay attention to every little detail and don’t let anything past unless it’s been examined, interrogated, probed and analysed, every last ounce of information and experience wrung from it before it’s let go. At sixteen I felt I’d lived a lifetime, by twenty-five I was sure I’d lived three, and now, at thirty-five, I feel older than the dinosaurs.

So I’ve never understood how time can just fly by.

And yet, one piece of parenting advice has been ringing true of late: ‘Make the most of each moment because they grow so fast.’

Over the full range of eighteen years, the changes are going to be slow and steady and we can revel in them one by one. At this age, however – from about three months – the changes come thick and heavy and uncomfortably fast. I mean, yesterday Izzie had no idea her feet existed; today they’re the most exciting thing in the world and if she’s not staring at them or reaching for them, she’s stuffing them into her mouth.

The speed with which she’s come on in the past three weeks is incredible. She can now roll on her side…

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..support her own weight (albeit with a steadying hand)…

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…hold her own bottle…

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…put giraffes in her mouth…

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…and she’s teething. Which means if she isn’t talking non-stop, she’s trying to cram everything she can get her hands on into her mouth, or, failing that, chewing on her hands themselves.

What you lookin' at!?
What you lookin’ at!?

What is more, her personality is developing daily. She’s a happy, inquisitive, strong-willed, hyperactive sod with quite a temper on her if you don’t understand what she wants and respond quickly enough for her liking. If you make eye-contact with her while she’s feeding, she smiles and tries to talk to you, causing her to spill her milk everywhere and start to choke. But if you’re holding her while talking to someone else, she gets grumpy that she’s being left out of the conversation.

And she wants entertaining now, too. Things that interested her a fortnight ago aren’t good enough anymore. A few random noises? No, perform for me, daddy! When I sang Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears In Heaven’ to her the other night, she thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard, which was a little disconcerting given what it’s about (look it up if you don’t know). Then yesterday, when we were playing, I said to her in my best French accent, ‘Ah, ma petite pomme de terre!’ and she burst into tears and wouldn’t stop crying for ten minutes. So, soft rock, good, French, bad. Good to know.

The truth is, we have to make the most of each moment, because if you’re looking the other way, you’ll miss a world of development going on in your own living room. Right now, you have to embrace every moment or it’ll be gone forever, because they do indeed grow up fast.

So fast, in fact, that I’m actually feeling nostalgic about how she was a month ago – that baby that seemed to sleep a lot more, and struggled against us less. The baby that wasn’t quite as wilful as the one we’ve got now, because believe you me, she is going to be quite a handful – as stubborn and fiery-tempered as both of her parents. Or ‘determined’ and ‘passionate’, to put a positive spin on things.

In all honesty, part of this nostalgia comes from the fact that I’m scared of the future. It’s selfish and stupid, but I’ve been so darned good at this baby thing, I don’t want her to move on to the next phase. Lizzie takes her to baby groups and to parties and out swimming, and as Izzie grows up she’s going to love those things more and more. As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I really struggle going to things like that, and while Lizzie has this innate understanding of toddlers and children, I never have, even as a child. As Izzie grows and becomes less like a baby, more like a toddler, and turns to her mum for the ‘fun’ things, I’m terrified of being left behind.

Of course, my relationship with Izzie will always be different from Lizzie’s relationship with her. I’m just paranoid that as she becomes more complex, I’ll struggle to relate to her or understand her as I do now, and that would break my heart.

But then, I think that in this society, we’re programmed to believe that change wrought by time is universally bad. You lose your hair, your teeth, and your bladder control; standards drop everywhere you look; kids run around like rootless, feckless waifs; and you don’t understand the world you live in anymore.

Clearly, given the numbers who tell you to cherish every moment, plenty of people feel as though their children ‘slipped through their fingers’, to paraphrase the song from Mamma Mia that made all our mums cry. But instead of focusing on what we lose, let’s look at what we gain over time – experience, confidence, a deeper understanding of ourselves and richer, more fulfilling relationships.

The only way of surviving both life and parenthood with a modicum of happiness is to embrace the passage of time, not resist it. Instead of wanting Izzie to stop growing, instead of holding on and resenting that we have to change, I should let go, enjoy every individual moment as a single thread in a lifelong tapestry of such moments. I will not be losing anything as Izzie develops because our relationship will grow, and both of us with it. Tomorrow, I will not be who I am today, and that will be a result of my changing relationship with my daughter. We’ll be different together. And that, my friends, is life.

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Travels With Baby, Part 2: The Experience

If you imagine going on holiday with a baby is horrendously difficult, you’d be absolutely right. You’d also be quite spectacularly wrong. So work that one out.

By way of introduction, we went glamping on the Isle of Wight from Monday to Friday. Of course, you can call it glamping all you want, but a ‘canvas cottage’ is still a tent in a field buffeted by September winds and rattled by the first rains of autumn. Once your clothes are wet, they stay wet, the bed is made of foam on the floor, and at night the temperature drops to around twelve degrees.

I'm happy in my hat, daddy!
That’s okay, I’m warm enough, daddy!

As I have mentioned in a previous post (Out and About With Baby), the anxiety that goes hand-in-hand with Asperger’s Syndrome means just going to the shops by myself is a major ordeal. However, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of going away – since going out’s already so stressful, the anxiety from a holiday is a difference of kind rather than intensity, and if you’re going to struggle anyway, it makes a pleasant change doing it somewhere other than home.

For a similar reason, since looking after a baby is already so difficult, holidaying with one isn’t that much harder. At home your life revolves around sterilising bottles, making up feeds, changing nappies, and ensuring the little one is wearing clean clothes, is the right temperature, and you have enough spares of everything to stock your own branch of Mothercare. On holiday, the same applies. The main difference is that instead of popping to the supermarket, attending mother-and-baby groups, walking the dog or heading into town for a coffee, on holiday you’re visiting a stately home, taking part in an axe-throwing competition, playing crazy golf or searching for somewhere that does gluten-free cream teas (not common, I can tell you!).

Of course, there are other difficulties specific to travelling with a three-month-old. You leave home with the car piled up to the roof because you don’t know what the weather’s going to be like or how the baby will develop – one day she’s happy with the carry cot/pram, but the next she spends the whole day doing stomach crunches as she tries to sit up and you need to use the pushchair instead, or else she’ll have abs to die for. In addition to the travel system base unit, carry cot, pushchair and car seat, sunhoods and raincovers, parasol and umbrella, you have to add the steriliser, bottle warmer, changing bag, extras with which to refill the changing bag, baby’s suitcase containing warm weather and cold weather outfits, your partner’s suitcase, your backpack, a couple of rucksacks of food, drink, formula, a paperback (like you’ll ever find time to read it!), 6-way adapter plug, phone charger, Glo-egg. I have no idea how people can go away with two kids because we maxed out the available space with one.

Then there’s the fact you’re out and about for most of the day. When we go away, Lizzie and I tend to burn the candle at both ends, so to speak – Monday to Friday, and we checked out Alum Bay, Freshwater Bay and Ventnor, played crazy golf at Shanklin, enjoyed the arcades at Sandown, explored the WWII ruins at Culver Down, saw the windmill at Bembridge, walked the beaches at Whitecliff Bay and Ryde, visited Osborne House, East Cowes and Cowes, scoffed tasters at the Garlic Farm, shopped at Arreton Barns and Newport, navigated a hedge maze in Godshill, and still found time to go swimming twice with the baby, win a pub quiz and have a meal out. Such a heavy schedule means you need your sleep at night, and if the baby sleeps through as she started doing a few days before she went, then all is good.

Except the baby doesn’t sleep through. Because the routine has been altered, she alters with it. She knows things are different so she behaves differently. She doesn’t get tired when she usually does, doesn’t want to miss things, becomes overstimulated by all the sights and sounds and smells – ‘look, daddy, Queen Victoria’s bed, and a gold chandelier, and what sort of wax are they using to clean these marvellous wooden floors?’ So she keeps going, gets over-tired and grumpy, crashes suddenly early evening, and wakes at two am and five am. So holidaying with a baby means you’re horribly tired, and when you get home you really need another holiday.

Then there are the smaller practical considerations. Playing crazy golf, for example, is exceedingly awkward when you keep having to move the pushchair down staircases, over speed bumps and around lighthouses and windmills. You can’t play air hockey in an arcade with just the two of you, and nobody to watch the baby. Every time you get out of the car you have to debate whether to use the carry cot, pushchair, car seat or sling. And all the while, the clock is ticking between feeds, so you keep part of your brain focused on where you’ll be and whether there will be a cafe there where you can warm the bottle.

I think one of the hardest things about holidaying with a baby is that when she’s having an unsettled day, you’re stuck with her. At home you’d put her in her Moses Basket, rock her to sleep, perhaps go for a walk, put on some music or the television, and when all else fails you can take turns with your partner, allowing one of you a few moments of respite. On the last day we left the campsite at half ten and the ferry wasn’t until after seven. Izzie spent the whole day grizzling, crying, having mini-tantrums and demanding constant stimulation. This culminated in an utter refusal to sit in her car seat, and endless screaming when she did. Every time I tried to put her in the car seat she would straighten out and go stiff as a board, so I’d have to try and get her to bend at the waist, force her bottom into the seat, and hold her there with one hand while I attempted to put her straps on with the other. She might only be three months old but she knows what she wants and what she doesn’t, and boy is she strong!

But it’s not all bad. Going away with a baby didn’t stop us from doing most of the things we’d normally have done without her, and her smiles and chuckles made up for just about all the tears and screaming and inconveniences. Her fascination with every trivial, insignificant detail is a wonder to see and makes you look at things with new eyes. And you get to feel like a proper grown-up.

But not too adult to pass up a sundae that's bigger than your head!
But not too grown-up to pass on a sundae that’s bigger than your head!

All in all, going on holiday with a baby is hard work, but so is everything when you have a baby. It’s a slightly different experience from holidaying as a couple – you’re more focused on the baby and her welfare than on the things you’re actually doing – but by taking you away from the everyday grind, you can enjoy one another’s company and bond as a family without the usual stresses of home. That said, I’m in no hurry to repeat the experience unless it comes with a guarantee of four nights of uninterrupted sleep!

‘Different’ is not ‘wrong’

Thanks to problems with Theory of Mind, when you have Asperger’s Syndrome it can be very difficult to understand why people might want to do things differently to how you do them. Coupled with a tendency towards black-and-white thinking, this means we think our way of doing something is best, which makes all other methods worse. It is a short leap to thinking your way is ‘right’ and every other way is ‘wrong’.

As the primary carer of a baby, whether you have Asperger’s or not, it’s very easy to fall into this trap. You’re with the baby all day and all night, and as a result you quickly become an expert on all aspects of baby care. You develop ways of holding her, cleaning her, talking to her; you have routines dictating how you change nappies, make up feeds, how you put on sleep suits; you know how to respond to different cries, googles, gurgles and grunts; and everything you’ve worked out is definitely the best and only way of taking care of your little angel.

And then the other parent wades in.

For whatever reason – they work, they’re ill, they’re just not as in-tune with the baby’s needs as you are – they fumble around like a five-year-old trying to unscrew a doorknob with their eye-socket. You cringe, you grimace, and then you step in to show them how it should be done. ‘Like this,’ you say as you patiently guide them towards a better method. ‘No, no, hold her under here, like this, pat her bottom, there you go, see how well that works?’ Because you’re trying to help.

Ever since Lizzie returned home from hospital with Izzie, and struggled every step of the way, I’ve devoted myself to making things easier for her. I took over the night feeds, soothed the baby when she was colicky, strapped her to my chest when I walked the dog; every time it became too much for Lizzie, I took over; and everything I learned, every tactic and technique that worked, I tried to teach her.

Yet the more I’ve done to take the pressure off Lizzie, the worse she seems to have become. She would deny this but I’ve been doing around 75-80% of the baby care, and the fact I’ve had to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden has put an undeniable strain on our relationship, which came to a head the other day when I was telling Lizzie how to hold Izzie to stop her crying when she suddenly snapped, ‘Shut up! I don’t want to do anything the way you do it!’

We slept in separate beds and I was forced to do a great deal of soul-searching. Righteous indignation, resentment and a feeling of being criminally underappreciated slowly gave way to the realisation that Lizzie has increased in confidence when she goes out with the baby, decreased in confidence when she’s at home. The only possible reason for this is that when she’s out, I’m not with her, and when she’s home, I’m always peering over her shoulder, giving her ‘guidance’. Despite having the best of intentions, had I in fact made things more difficult for both of us?

I thought more about her outburst, wondered why she wouldn’t want to do things the right way for the baby – if my technique stops Izzie crying in thirty seconds, and Lizzie’s takes five minutes, surely she’s deliberately doing it the wrong way? I had to work really hard – I mean really, really hard – to turn my thinking around and realise that I can’t stage manage Lizzie’s relationship with Izzie, no matter how much I might want to. Her way of doing things is not wrong, simply different, and as Izzie’s mother she has as much right to experiment with different techniques and find her own solutions as I do. If it takes Lizzie five minutes to stop Izzie crying doing it her way, that is the nature of their relationship and it will be different from my relationship with Izzie. Not worse, not wrong – just different.

It’s hurtful and heartbreaking to admit that by trying to do what’s right for all of us I’ve actually made it much more difficult. I haven’t allowed Lizzie to develop her relationship with her daughter, build confidence in her baby-caring skills, or find her own solutions to her problems. I haven’t allowed her to be a mother, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

Since having this epiphany, I’ve stepped back. When the baby cries every fibre of my being urges me to go to her, but I have had to dig my fingernails into my palms and leave Lizzie to soothe the baby her own way. I’ve watched her doing things in ways that I would not and have bitten my tongue. And Lizzie’s confidence, and enjoyment of the baby, have both increased immeasurably. She is doing so much more, and without complaint, all because I’m letting her get on with it.

For the first time in around thirteen weeks, I feel like we are joint parents with equal responsibility for the baby – there is no longer a primary and secondary carer, much as it pains me to admit it, because I loved being the primary carer. But this is the way it should be.

So, all parents reading this blog: don’t make the same mistake I did. Unless you want to look after two babies, you have to be your partner’s partner, not their parent. They’re not doing things wrong, just different. And if you don’t allow them to figure things out for themselves, you’re denying them the greatest thrill of being a parent. So shame on you!