Autistic Building Blocks

There’s an episode of Scrubs in which Dr Cox’s infant son has a playdate with a rival’s child. After seeing the other boy’s precision with building blocks, Dr Cox states that kids of that age shouldn’t be able to do that, leading him to suspect the boy has autism. And of course, since Dr Cox is like House, only with a larger ego, he’s absolutely right.

Far be it from me to take facts about autism from a TV show, particularly one that perpetuates the myth you can restart a stopped heart with a defibrillator (shocking revelation: you can’t!), but it’s lingered in the back of my mind for years. So when Izzie started playing with building blocks a few weeks ago, I watched her very carefully.

Actually, that’s not what happened. I was meant to watch her. Instead, as an autistic guy myself, every time she started to play with them I couldn’t resist the opportunity to shoulder her aside, organise the blocks by colour and shape and build towers all around the lounge. To my annoyance, Izzie kept knocking them over and mucking up my neat piles and throwing the bricks into her ball pit. I started to design stronger towers, pyramids, all kinds of defensive structures to protect my colour-coded edifices. Then, after about a fortnight of this, I realised I was getting obsessive over a baby’s building blocks and really ought to let Izzie play with them. Then I watched her.

Mostly she was destructive with them, smashing them together, bashing them against the furniture, throwing them at the wall, and stuffing them into her mouth. Just like a baby. Phew.

But then she started to play with them differently. Starting a couple of weeks back, she would empty them out of her trolley one at a time onto the carpet and then very carefully put them all back in again. After a few days of this, she decided that was too easy. From then on she’d wheel the trolley over to the coffee table, and one by one she’d put the blocks on top. Once she was done, she’d take them down and put them back in the trolley, walk over to her toy box and repeat the process. Stacking, unstacking, loading, unloading like a particularly conscientious warehouseman.

I consoled myself that she wasn’t able to make towers out of them yet. That would be the time to worry.

Two days ago she managed to stack two on top of each other. By yesterday, her towers were up to three blocks. Today, she managed five. And that’s when alarm bells started to ring.

I mean, they weren’t very good towers – they were wonky and multicoloured and would fall over if you walked too heavily across the carpet – but they were towers nonetheless. Were these the skills Dr Cox was talking about, those abilities with bricks a non-autistic child shouldn’t possess?

It says on the Baby Centre website that at 15 months she should be able to start putting one block on top of another, and by 18 months might be up to towers of three blocks.

Izzie is ten months old.

That’s the wrong colour, dumb ass!

So without any further evidence, I started panicking that ohmygod she’s autistic.

After a few minutes of reassuring myself that it’s okay, she’s happy and if she has autism, that’s just the way things are, I’m autistic, Lizzie’s autistic, and we’re fine, everyone has problems, neurotypical, Aspie or otherwise, I decided it might be an idea to research early signs of autism.

And Izzie has NONE of them.

Now of course, not every child with autism is going to have all the signs, and even if a child has many of them, it doesn’t mean they’re autistic, but for anybody who’s curious, these early signs of autism are:

  • Lack of eye contact (I never made eye contact as a child; I sometimes have to look away, the amount that Izzie stares at me!);
  • Failing to imitate social cues, like smiling back at you (Izzie smiles so much, I’m sure her face must hurt);
  • Not babbling to themselves or making noises to get your attention (Izzie is by far the noisiest person in my life);
  • Failure to respond to their name (Izzie comes when called, and if I say, ‘Where’s mummy?’ she looks right at Lizzie);
  • Not using gestures to point things out or respond to your gestures (Izzie’s favourite activity is pointing);
  • Disinterest in physical contact like cuddling or being picked up (if you don’t pick Izzie up, she climbs up your legs!);
  • Doesn’t want to play with others (Izzie is currently loving rolling balls to me and getting me to roll them back);
  • Repetitive interests, movements or behaviours (Izzie does seem a little preoccupied with food…);
  • Delayed motor development i.e. rolling, sitting, crawling, standing (Izzie rolls, sits, crawls, stands, swims, climbs and throws).

Conclusion: Izzie doesn’t have any of the classic signs of autism.

So why is she so advanced when it comes to building blocks if not autism? Who knows? Maybe she’s just really really freaking intelligent.

Through a Baby’s Eyes

When people talk about parenting, they tend to focus on sleepless nights, nappies, screaming, tiredness and poop. What people don’t mention nearly so often is how much that we, as parents, can learn from our babies – about living in the moment, the dangers of preconceived notions, the creative possibilities of human ingenuity, and what our bodies are really capable of.

Everything Izzie touches, picks up, looks at and experiences, she comes at for the first time. Being around her as she stares with giggling delight at bubbles floating in the air, or screams with joy if I pick up my guitar, or laughs uproariously whenever she sees the cat, you start to realise that the world is full of wonders that we, as adults, simply take for granted.

As I was pushing her around town this afternoon, focusing on things to do, stuff to buy, she was pointing upwards and cooing. Stretched between the buildings were red, white and blue bunting for the Queen’s ninetieth, a sea of triangles fluttering in the breeze. I took a moment to stand in the sunshine and watch them, and it was beautiful, a beauty we don’t see because as adults we don’t live in the now.

It’s the same with her approach to the world. We live by rules, and fixed ideas, and received wisdom, but for babies the rules are not set. Earlier today I was trying to get Izzie to pound on her drum, but she kept turning it upside down and spinning the feet. ‘You’re doing it wrong,’ I kept thinking, and turning it right side up, and encouraging her to bang on the top, because it’s a drum.

But then I realised that there’s nothing wrong with what she was doing. To me, with my learned, conditioned way of seeing things, there is only one way of positioning a drum – upright – and one use for it – music. Her creative approach, with no concept of the ‘right’ way to use a drum, was to treat it as a toy. And why not? Why can’t we play with drum feet? Why, as adults, do we fix our viewpoints in place and categorise things as this or that without considering that they could be other? Babies teach us about the possibilities in life if we only dropped our rigid notions of how and why and simply allowed ourselves to experiment.

That said, I wasn’t overly pleased when she picked up Lizzie’s car keys and decided to bash them repeatedly into my guitar, revelling in the noise she made in the time between scratching the body and me snatching them off her. So I guess there have to be some rules in place.

What I’m really impressed by lately are a couple of navigational tricks Izzie’s come up with that reveal the incredible capacity humans have for problem solving. She’s discovered that if she puts a smooth object under her left hand when she crawls, she merely has to slide that hand and not pick it up, reducing the amount of labour involved and increasing her speed across the floor. And if she can’t reach something on the coffee table, she wheels her trolley of wooden blocks up to it and climbs inside to give herself an extra few inches of height. She’s ten months, for crying out loud – it makes you feel proud to be human.

And then there’s what she teaches us about our bodies. I see my body as a stiff, battered thing that isn’t capable of all kinds of movements – mostly exercise, to be fair. But Izzie – from sitting on the floor, she simply stands straight up without using her hands or getting to her knees first, all through the power of her legs. If she can do it, why can’t I? As we get older, we stop using certain muscles, spend too much time sitting, and our tendons tighten up and things turn into knots. But babies can do it, people who do yoga can do it, which means we can do it – we’ve just become lazy, is all.

And she’s taught me something about my body that is mind blowing – Izzie has started rolling her tongue. Since neither Lizzie nor I can roll our tongues, and I was taught at school (erroneously, as it turns out) that tongue rolling is heritable, I rushed to the mirror to make sure that there hadn’t been a mix-up at the hospital. And, after a few minutes of experimentation, straining muscles I’ve never used before, I managed to roll my tongue for the first time – after 36 years of being incapable of doing so.

Babies, then, remind us of everything we lose as we grow up, and everything we can get back if we only pay attention, and open our minds, and stop taking everything for granted. They show us how we can be creative and unfettered in our everyday lives, appreciate the world around us, and free ourselves from the prisons of our minds. And that isn’t mentioned nearly enough.


A Baby-Free Holiday

In June, Lizzie and I are walking down the aisle – rather, she’s walking down the aisle while I stand sheepishly at the front awaiting her arrival. As magical as this event might be (of course it’s not, it’s a wedding! The most common phrase in our household right now is: ‘Don’t let the wedding ruin the marriage!’), it has thrown up the worst imaginable dilemma: the issue of the honeymoon.

My parents have offered to pay for us to go to the Channel Islands. Lizzie’s mum has offered to look after Izzie. All well and good, you might think. But we’re having an issue with the duration of said vacation.

Lizzie says seven nights. A proper honeymoon. A way for us to reconnect after a year’s parenting, because you don’t stop being a couple the moment you become a parent. And the best gift you can give a child is a pair of de-stressed parents who are committed to one another.

I say four nights. I became a dad to create a family. Families go on holiday together. And I don’t think I could leave her for seven nights without feeling I’m abandoning her and being a horrible, selfish, unfit father. Even four nights will be a stretch.

There seem to be pluses and minuses on both sides. You trawl around the internet and 95% of people seem to say: do it! The kid won’t even notice. You need time as a couple. You don’t want to be a helicopter parent, constantly hovering over your child, unable to let them go. If you bring the baby with you, you won’t be able to relax.

And she loves it at her Granny’s.

On the other hand, there are the 5%, who, to be fair, come across as a little holier-than-thou and judgemental, who think it is a terrible thing to go away without the baby. You gave away your rights to grown-up time the second the little one plopped out. Her routine will be ruined and she’ll suffer separation anxiety, and then you’ll be sorry.

I want to do the right thing. The trouble with this is that there is no right thing.

Lizzie maintains I have a problem letting go, and she’s probably not wrong. Be that as it may, just because I struggle to let go doesn’t mean it’s okay to leave Izzie for seven nights.

It’s my choice, at the end of the day, but I’m utterly torn between my future wife, who wants a nice honeymoon, and my baby, who I don’t want to leave. And I guess that’s what it comes down to: not whether it’s right or wrong to leave her, but whether I’ll be able to live with myself if I leave her for seven nights.

I’m not sure that I can.


Afraid of Number 2, Part 3

Irrespective of whether you are religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist, having your first child is an act of faith.

No matter how much you learn or how well you prepare, no first time parent knows what they’re getting themselves into. You don’t know if you’ll make a good parent, or how you’ll cope with the lack of sleep, or the crying, or the screaming, or if your relationship will survive the stress. You don’t know what it’s going to be like changing nappies, or feeding, or bathing, or dressing, or being entirely responsible for another life in its physical, emotional and developmental needs. It’s the equivalent of being led blindfold to the edge of a cliff and then jumping off and trusting you’ll survive the fall. It’s not rational at all.

So why do we do it? Unless we play fast and loose with contraception, we do it because we’re driven to do it, without rhyme or reason. We do it because a couple of billion years of evolution have programmed it into our DNA to ensure our genetic legacy. And we do it because our hearts are crying out for completion, for something more to love.

Having a second child is nothing like that. It’s not such a leap into the unknown as you pretty much already know what it is to have and raise a baby. You know how your lives have changed, how your relationship has altered, and therefore how a second baby is likely to affect this fledgling family dynamic. As a result, discussions about a second baby are less to do with the heart than they are with the head.

‘I want Izzie to grow up with a sibling so she has someone to play with, learns to share, and won’t be lonely. I think an age gap of two to three years is best – with Izzie at pre-school there’ll be less disruption, and they’re close enough in age to get along. And I’m better with toddlers, you’re better with babies, so you can look after the new baby while I look after Izzie. It’s the perfect division of labour.’

So says my partner Lizzie. It all sounds very logical, and rational, and clinical, but logic had nothing to do with why I had Izzie. I had Izzie because my entire being was crying out to become a dad. There was a gap in my heart that I knew only a baby could fill.

Izzie filled it. It might change in the future, but right now I feel complete. My heart is whole. I don’t feel the pressing need to have a baby that I did before. So surely, then, it wouldn’t be right to have another baby purely because I can justify it intellectually?

And there are other considerations. As I wrote yesterday, Izzie was our miracle baby, a gift from the gods. How ungrateful would we be to take that miracle and demand another? And the journey to her birth was so long, and moving, and life-changing that how could a second baby possibly compete?

‘This is our daughter Izzie. After years of fertility treatment and events conspiring as though Nature itself determined that we should become parents, we were gifted with her presence. And this is our son Gregory.’

[pregnant pause]

‘We thought Izzie might like a playmate.’

Now I know that our children aren’t meant to compete, and I know that every child is a miracle (No, says the biologist, it’s a natural process resulting from the coming together of two gametes), but Izzie has set the bar pretty darned high. Even the reason for having a second baby – for Izzie’s personal development – means even before it’s born it’s in her shadow, not desired or considered in its own right the way Izzie was. And that’s just wrong.

It’s wrong to Izzie too. I love her so much and we’re so close, I feel like having another baby would be something of a betrayal. It’s like saying to her, ‘You’re great, and all, but we need more. And you can’t provide it. So there. Sucks to be you.’

And, in all honesty, I am afraid of having a second baby. My heart is full. People say that you always worry you won’t love the second child as much as the first, and then it arrives and your heart grows to fit all the love you feel and you don’t know what you were worrying about. You discover your capacity for love is boundless, and blah, blah, bollocks.

But what if you don’t? What if you discover that, heaven forfend, you have a limited capacity for love, and wouldn’t you know it, you’ve just hit your limit? Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200. Go to the back of the class.

I have specific reasons for my doubts. Because of my Asperger’s, I’ve always struggled to manage feelings and relationships. If I had a friend, I couldn’t be friends with anyone else because not only would it be a betrayal (I know it’s not, but I can’t help feeling it is), I couldn’t find the mental space to consider the needs of more than one person at a time. And when I have a partner, like I do now, the very thought of wanting to spend time with anyone else just makes me feel dirty. This is a lifetime pattern of behaviour. I’m a U2 kind of guy (one-love, one-life).

I loved the fish until we got the chickens; I loved the chickens until we got the cat; I loved the cat until we got the dog; and I loved the dog until we got Izzie. What if, by having another baby, I transfer my love to it and can no longer care about Izzie or manage to consider her needs in such a way that I go from being a good dad to merely an adequate one? I don’t want to turn my attention and my heart away from her towards anything else and let her down. The very thought of it is heartbreaking.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying I’m afraid of having a second child. I’m afraid I don’t have enough love to encompass two children. I’m afraid that my relationship with my daughter will irrevocably change. And I’m afraid if I’m spread so thin I’ll lose my ability to be a good, caring, attentive dad.

So in a way, I guess having a second child is a leap of faith. You’re not sure you’re going to love it – you don’t feel that you can – but you have it anyway, trusting that it’ll come good in the end. I said before that you can’t live your life imprisoned by fear, or else you deny yourself the chance of something good, and perhaps this is one of those things.

But not right now. Right now, I don’t feel the desire for a second baby, not on its own terms. My heart isn’t crying out for something to love. And until it does, I can’t even think about bringing another child into this world.

It’s explaining this to Lizzie that’s the hard part.

Afraid of Number 2, Part 2

My route to fatherhood wasn’t the usual one. The thing with watching your girlfriend undergoing IUI with donor sperm to get pregnant with a baby you don’t particularly want is that over time you come to accept that, for better or worse and with no input from you, there’s going to be a baby in your future. And that does weird things to both your head and your heart.

Because Lizzie so wanted a baby – because her very being ached for it – I wanted it to work. For her. I read books on babies, pregnancy, parenting and babies conceived by donor sperm so I could support her through every stage of her becoming a parent. I injected her every afternoon with hormones, drove her thirty miles to watch her have probes inserted into unmentionable areas to scan her ovaries, then thirty miles back listening to her excitement that we’d seen a follicle or heartache that we hadn’t.

Then, after a couple of years adjusting to this weird set of circumstances, I sat in the room and held her hand as she underwent insemination with the seed of a man she’d never met and was never likely to (which means a virgin can get pregnant – take that, God!). After which, I treated her like a queen – albeit a queen that needed her court jester to help her with two suppositories a day. Definitely think I got the shitty end of this arrangement…

Two weeks later came the agonising – ‘Is that blood? No, that’s not blood, it’s just – oh God, please don’t be blood. Oh Christ, it’s blood. But maybe – no. It’s gone. That little follicle we watched grow and grow on the ultrasound screen, that we nurtured and spoke to and treated as though it was an actual baby, has gone. And those two weeks we’ve spent thinking and hoping you might be pregnant – they’re over.’

The strangest thing – I was just as heartbroken as Lizzie. I don’t think anybody who hasn’t undergone fertility treatment can understand what it’s like when it doesn’t work. It feels like a miscarriage because you’ve seen the egg, you’ve seen the sperm, you’ve seen them meet. It’s not just a period – it’s the loss of a baby, a dream.

People who knew what was happening said, ‘So? It took me/my partner a year to get pregnant.’ But that is not the same thing. When you’re trying for a baby naturally, a period means you simply try again – an upcoming month of sex, cuddling and romance, yay! When you’re having IUI, it means another month without sex. Another month of injections, three-hour round trips to the clinic every couple of days, scans, pressure, insemination, suppositories. It’s cold, clinical and the most unromantic thing you can imagine.

Also, you’re acutely aware of the fact that you only have enough money for three attempts. As Lizzie couldn’t grow follicles without injections, and wouldn’t ovulate without a different injection, and was using donor sperm, each failure dramatically reduced the possibility of her ever having a baby. So it’s completely different from trying for a baby naturally.

On the second attempt, on the way to the insemination, I drove my car into flood waters and screwed the engine. Looking back, I wonder if, subconsciously, I did it deliberately as a result of the stress of the whole shebang. But we were towed out of the flood, made it to the hospital, and Lizzie was promptly inseminated again.

This, similarly, didn’t work, but we were more prepared for failure this time and we knew we still had one shot.

It really was third time lucky. The follicle grew beautifully; the hormone-induced mood swings were almost non-existent; and the insemination went so well, we were almost guaranteed a healthy, happy baby. So when the blood came again, we pretended it wasn’t a period for the longest time, until we had to face the devastating truth – there would be no baby in our future.

After having spent three years getting my head around having to raise a baby, the fact that suddenly there wasn’t going to be one knocked me for six. Over the years, I had grown not just to accept my impending parenthood, but desire it, not in my head but in my heart. I was as desperate to be a dad as Lizzie was to be a mum.

But we’d run out of money. That third miscarriage/period was the most painful experience of my life.

On the other hand, I’d run out of reasons why I didn’t want to be a father. After a lot of soul-searching, I realised they were all based on fear – that I wouldn’t be good enough, I’d mess the kid up, I wouldn’t be able to cope, it wouldn’t like me, it’d be autistic. But then I thought: what if I was able to cope? What if I was good enough? By wrapping myself in cotton wool and avoiding the possibility of bad things happening to me, I was denying myself the possibility of good things – great things – happening too.

If you deny yourself the possibilities in life, then you’re not living and you might as well be dead. And what had all my self-protection got me? Life still found a way to intrude, time and time again.

It was like a spiritual awakening. I realised I needed to give up control and learn to embrace a little chaos and random chance – not an easy admission for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Suddenly, I had faith in myself and life. So I decided to leave the issue of my parenting in the lap of the gods – we would stop using contraception, and if I was meant to be a father, Lizzie would become pregnant.

Not that I expected much. We’d learnt during the fertility treatment that Lizzie ovulated without drugs about twice a year. She also didn’t form a thick enough wall of the uterus to enable the egg to implant without suppositories. And on three occasions, viably-proven sperm had been implanted right on top of the egg and failed to fertilise it.

The odds of Lizzie growing a follicle, the follicle getting big enough to mature an egg, the egg being released, us having sex at exactly the right time, the sperm penetrating the egg and the egg implanting, were so astronomically small that we figured we’d be in for a long, hard slog. So, in the meantime, we’d get a puppy and live our lives as normal. If a baby came along then great, but if not, we had to get on with our lives.

Lizzie was pregnant within two months.

I knew from the second of that first positive pregnancy test that everything would be fine, Lizzie would carry it to term, and it would all work out okay – I’d trusted in the Universe to tell me if I should be a dad and the Universe had answered with a massive, emphatic yes! There was no chance whatsoever we’d be given such a gift only for it to be taken away.

I’m not a religious person, but everything that happened seems as though it was meant to be, as though somebody wanted me to be a dad and took our little family on a journey of pain and spiritual growth in order to make that happen. And as soon as we were both ready and willing and trusted to fate, we were handed our longed-for baby.

Izzie is a miracle. I truly believe that. She is a gift from heaven we had no right to expect.

But now Lizzie wants another…

Continued tomorrow…


Afraid of Number 2, Part 1

No, this isn’t a post about poop – I’ve done enough of those. And I’m not afraid of poop anymore – I’ve changed so many nappies now that I’m the poop master. Well, maybe not the master – after changing Izzie and washing my hands, I quite often look down half an hour later and think, ‘Why on earth is there poop on my knuckle?’ – so maybe I’m more like the poop first mate. Or at least the poop deck hand. But that’s by the by.

Instead, this post is about baby number two.

With the little sprocket now being nine months old, the same amount of time she was in the womb, the subject of repopulating said womb has been raised. Actually, it was first raised when Izzie was five weeks old and her mother informed me she was desperate to be pregnant again. So in truth, the subject is not now being raised so much as I’m being beaten repeatedly over the head with it.

Trouble is, it’s an entirely cerebral conversation – how much of an age gap do you want between the kids, do we wait until the first child is at preschool or go for it as quickly as possible, how many kids do you want in total? This has prompted Lizzie to suggest we start trying for a second baby in October. Rather, she has tried to suggest it – I have recently developed a serious medical condition where I go deaf whenever the subject is broached. Shame.

People seem to think that second babies will be easier than the first, and I guess that’s true in the same way that the fire that sweeps through the ruins of your house after it’s been knocked down by a tornado isn’t that bad because you’ve already lost everything anyway. But don’t forget that alongside the new baby you have a toddler. As hard as it is with one, it’s going to be exponentially harder with two. It’s like a man hanging off a cliff with a brick in his hand suddenly deciding he wants to hold a second brick in his other hand and hang on by his teeth – it’s doable, I suppose, but good golly gosh you’re making things difficult for yourself.

And I’m not sure I’m capable of planning my reproductive future with anything even approaching logic. ‘How many children do you want?’ asks Lizzie. How could I possibly know the answer to that? I have no idea what our lives would be like with two kids, let alone three, four, five. It’s a totally abstract concept. It’s like asking how many hairs I’d like in my eyebrows – um, a hundred? A thousand? I don’t have a freaking clue.

This could be because I’ve never given the possibility of a second child a moment’s thought. Bizarrely for someone who has taken hold of this parenting thing like a drowning man a lifeline, I spent all of my life up to fifteen months prior to Izzie’s birth not wanting kids – gritty, snotty, smelly little things that would take up my time, my energy and my money. But something happened to change all that.

Around four years ago, Lizzie’s mum asked when we were going to make her a grandmother. Cheers for that. I told her that I didn’t want kids because I always thought I’m too selfish for kids, I never wanted to pass on my depressive mindset to another generation or inflict my bullshit onto anyone else, and I wouldn’t be a good role model, not to mention that it’s a shitty, overpopulated world filled with misery, despair and an aching sense of ennui, and what possible right, or rhyme, or reason did I have playing God and bringing a little person into it? Frankly, the thought of a little version of me running around, blaming me for forcing it into life, was the worst hell I could imagine.

Her response was: ‘Well, that doesn’t stop Lizzie having children.’ And before I knew it, donor sperm had been imported from Denmark and some random fellow named Jan was going to impregnate my significant other.

It was, without a doubt, a game-changer. But since Lizzie acquires pets like a successful zoo then leaves me to look after them, I figured it would be something like that – I would help her raise the unholy affront to nature, but without any responsibility for deciding upon its future or blame for giving it faulty genes. In short, I would be uncle dad, mummy’s partner, and nothing more. Hardly ideal, but it was that or leave. And truth be told, I was looking forward to the Facebook update – ‘My girlfriend’s pregnant.’ ‘Wow, congratulations, you’re going to be a dad.’ ‘I never said I was going to be a dad. I said my girlfriend’s pregnant.’ Ouch…

So we embarked upon a journey of IUI treatment (intra-uterine-insemination) involving blood tests, internal and external ultrasounds, dye injected into fallopian tubes, hormone therapy that turned Lizzie into a snarling, vicious animal, daily injections, suppositories and counselling. We watched follicles grow day by day on her ovaries but never get large enough to pop. She became a medical object that had to be scanned and poked and prodded and studied, month after month after month. Not good times, for sure.

But then, amazingly, one of the follicles grew. And it kept growing. And it reached the right size. So we gave her an injection to release the egg, and a day later Jan came out of the freezer and his seed was separated from his juice (the womb is designed for sperm; semen irritates it), and he was placed into a long transparent tube and off he went.

Then something strange happened. I discovered in that sterile, unromantic hospital room that somewhere between watching the follicle grow on the ultrasound screen and repeatedly injecting hormones into Lizzie’s belly, her journey had become my journey. And good gosh I hoped that Dane’s alien sperm knocked up my girlfriend…

Continued tomorrow…

Good Dad / Bad Dad

For nine months, Izzie only ever encountered Good Dad. He’s a nice guy, a caring guy. He hugs her when she’s sad, feeds her when she’s hungry, kisses her when she smiles. He sings her songs at bedtime, acts like a loon to make her laugh, and gives her everything she wants. He’s a big, cuddly bundle of fun.

The past few weeks, there’s been a new guy on the scene: Bad Dad. And Izzie doesn’t like him nearly as much.

‘Ba-da,’ she cries. ‘Ba-da!’

She’s reached the age where she’s increasingly mobile, increasingly opinionated, and increasingly capable. She watches everything you do, and you can almost hear the cogs whirring inside her skull as she works things out. Like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, it’s a problem-solving intelligence that is scary when combined with her baby-Superman-lifting-a-car strength.

Mostly, it’s small stuff. She can take off her nappy, help herself to her biscuits by swiping them out the pocket of the changing bag, and yesterday proved she can stand without any support (though when she realised we were watching her she grabbed onto the sofa). And if she gets her hands on the baby wipes, she opens the packet and pulls them out one by one, creating a big wet mess in the middle of the carpet.

Far more alarming are her attempts at overcoming safety features. She’s figured out where she has to grab to open the stair gate keeping her out of the kitchen, but luckily doesn’t have the strength or dexterity to do it yet. When you strap her into the car seat or high chair, her fingers move to the buckle the second you move yours away as she struggles to press the release button. And when you change her nappy, she knows the exact moment you’ll be looking to the left (to pick up the clean nappy) and uses that split second to roll to the right, crawl past your thigh and make a break for the door – which she’s figured out how to open.

Into this repertoire of experimental behaviours she’s recently introduced a number that could be categorised as ‘How to manipulate mummy and daddy’. They are, from mildest to I-want-to-die-est:

  1. The throw-your-bottle-on-the-floor-for-attention.
  2. The pouty bottom lip.
  3. The fake cry.
  4. The angry shout.
  5. The lose-all-control-and-scream-like-a-wild-animal-that’s-being-poked-with-a-red-hot-poker-until-you-start-to-choke-and-then-turn-purple-in-order-to-get-your-own-way.

This last one is used every time she’s put in the play pen, every nappy change, every costume change, every time I take her out of the bath, and every time I take something off her.

And so, in response, I have had to break out Bad Dad.

Bad Dad is tough but fair. Bad Dad tells her no when she’s pulling hair, or trying to open the door to the hall, or going into mummy’s handbag. Bad Dad takes car keys off her, and TV controllers, and the dog’s toys. And Bad Dad doesn’t take any shit.

No matter how much Izzie cries, screams and pitches a fit, Bad Dad doesn’t let her get her own way. She completely understands the word ‘No,’ but it’s a battleground right now as she tests the boundaries to see what she can get away with.

‘Daddy says No? I’ll reach for it again. Oh, he still says No. In that case, I’ll stick out my bottom lip and – wow, it’s still No. Maybe if I cry a bit, real tears even, now I’ll just reach out – nope, that didn’t work. I’ll shout as I reach for it – damn it, I’ll just throw a full-blown tantrum, then he’ll have to give it to me.’

To be honest, I don’t like Bad Dad either. He’s nowhere near as fun or as happy as Good Dad. He’s mean and unkind and strict and severe. He hardens his heart to his daughter’s tears and holds her while she sobs, even though he was the cause of it all, and it would be so easy to make her happy by giving her what she wants.

But Bad Dad doesn’t give in, no matter how hard it gets, and how much it upsets him, because he’s as good a dad as Good Dad. And it takes both personas to be the father of a happy, well-adjusted daughter.

But I know which one I prefer.