Hot Weather Parenting

You think you’re getting the hang of this parenting thing – dang it, you know you’ve definitely got the hang of this parenting thing – and then you enter a heatwave and have to learn it all again from scratch.

Where before you spent your time worrying that your child will be too cold, now you have to strike a compromise between keeping her cool and keeping her covered. Instead of cardigans and sleepsuits, you’re packing sunhats, suncream and sunshades, dresses, shorts, cotton shirts and sandals. You overload on water until you’re weighed down like a pack mule, and you start to spend all your time in gardens and parks because the house is like a freaking furnace.

At thirteen months, Izzie is happily walking, running, playing, and being a normal little girl, and that makes it worse. You’re constantly chasing her around the lawn, trying to steer her into the shade, rescuing her sunhat from the bush she’s thrown it into, surreptitiously spraying her with the sunscreen, pulling twigs and acorns from her inquisitive fingers, fending off over-friendly dogs and local children, and swatting away stinging insects, all the while trying not to trip over the pink plastic crap that has turned your back garden into a garish graveyard of slides, paddling pools, sandpits and water tables.

Since she’s wearing dresses without a vest, her nappy is exposed, meaning within minutes it turns into a grass-stained, leaf-carrying, twig-dragging mess. Add to this that her mother and grandfather have a penchant for throwing her into paddling pools and dousing her with watering cans – which she loves, by the way – it turns said nappy into a gargantuan jellyfish that collects around her ankles. Unsurprisingly, she’s now spending a lot of her time naked from the waist down.

While that’s totally normal, the downside to this is that although she can walk, she’s not exactly ready for the Olympics. Twenty steps, perhaps, before she loses balance and slams down onto her bottom, then repeats the process ad finitum. And being in the middle of a heatwave, the ground is like concrete. With a nappy on, there’s a certain amount of padding – without, and her bottom is a mottled black-and-blue mess of bruises. No wonder she fidgets whenever we put her in her high chair!

And that’s another unexpected difficulty of hot weather parenting. All the good, hearty, wholesome, home-cooked grub that she was eating fine before, she now treats as though we’re trying to force feed her dog poo. She wants crisps, cheese, ham, wafers, raisins, biscuits, toast – the kind of stuff that’ll keep you alive, but probably isn’t the most healthy diet three meals a day. So mealtimes have become a lesson in patience and torture.

Nights are tough, too. Her room got up to 29-degrees the other evening. We borrowed an incredibly noisy A/C unit and got it down to 23, but the second I turned it off and put her to bed it jumped back up to 26. But then, of course, it cools as the night presses on. The current procedure is that I put her to bed in just a nappy, then a couple of hours later I put a breathable blanket over her, a couple of hours after that I slip her into a sleepsuit, and around four in the morning she’s ready for a gro-bag. Then the sun rises, and by the time we get her up the temperature is starting to rocket again. And I find I’ve barely slept.

Then there are the little indignities. Because of the heat, nappies start to smell like cheese within minutes of a wee. You change them twice as often, but can’t eliminate the noxious odour that pervades your house, even after you’ve emptied the steaming nappy bin and consigned it to the dustbin outside.

And to add boredom, social isolation and frustration to your plight, none of the mother-baby groups run over the summer holidays so you have to entertain yourselves, in public places now overrun with screaming terrors and their children. The other day, Lizzie suggested we take the little one to a water park at a local recreation ground. It’s free, like a little play park with fountains and water features and a paddling pool. So as I have committed myself to going out with Lizzie and Izzie more as a family (since I’m a hermit), I agreed.

We went in the afternoon. In a heatwave. In the summer holidays. As expected, the place was RAMMED. A veritable cornucopia of colours and movement and noise, noise, noise! Kids splashing you, bumping into you, stepping on your feet, shooting you with water pistols, screaming, shouting, throwing things, urgh!

I may have mentioned before that, as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I get rapidly overwhelmed by, well, colour and movement and noise and touch.

Lizzie and Izzie loved it. I went and sat under a tree.

It’s going to be a long hot summer.

 

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Hysteria

Historically, hysteria only affected those with wombs. Bizarrely, it was believed that the womb wasn’t fixed in a woman’s abdomen – it could go wandering about her body wherever the hell it felt like, going up and down and side to side like an animal within an animal. And depending on where it happened to be and what parts of the body it was pressing on, it could cause physical symptoms like headaches and nosebleeds and even bad knees. That’s the reason the words ‘hysteria’ and ‘hysterectomy’ are so similar – ‘hystera’ is ancient Greek for uterus.

By the time the Victorians got hold of it, knowledge about the location of the womb had moved on, but so too had the symptoms of being a woman. Instead of causing physical ailments, hysteria now described a cluster of mental symptoms typically associated with a drunk fifteen-year-old girl at a party: anxiety, excitability, irrationality, excessive outpouring of emotion, irritability, weepiness and fainting. Hence in modern parlance the word ‘hysteria’, and its derivative ‘hysterical’, means a ridiculously over-the-top reaction with a level of emotional performance not normally seen outside of musical theatre or reality TV.

I give this lesson in etymology because we have reached a phase with Izzie that can best be characterized by, you guessed it, hysteria.

Basically, multiple times per day for the past couple of weeks she has broken down in floods of tears, sobs and screams. Sometimes I think she’s broken a bone, she’s so distressed. She cries so hard she can’t breathe and starts to choke. She gets so hysterical, it’s scary, and she won’t be soothed. Cuddles, sing-songs, kisses, rocking, water, milk, biscuits, nothing. The only way to stop her sometimes is to run a bath and put her in it, stroke her back until she gradually gets her breathing back under control. And when she’s finally calm, you say, ‘My God, girl, you were hysterical!’ and she giggles.

It takes very little to set it off. One of the most regular is that she wants to hold your hand all the time and walk from every here to every there. The second you let go, she drops to the floor, her forehead touches her knees and the screeching begins.

Same with leaving the room. That’s all it takes. Your foot crosses the threshold and she’s reduced to a wreck.

The other times are weird and unpredictable. She undid the zip on her bag, right to the bottom, but as the zip didn’t keep going any further, she burst into tears. She ate her banana, then cried because she had finished her banana. The chair was against the wall and she wanted to squeeze through the inch-wide gap instead of go around it, and because she couldn’t fit, no matter how hard she forced her head against the wood, she started screaming.

She pointed at a cactus on the window sill and cried because I wouldn’t give it to her; she held a book horizontally with the spine at the top, and screamed because the pages wouldn’t open right to left; she sobbed uncontrollably because her right shoe had to go on her right foot when she wanted it on the left.

Then there are the times when you can’t work out what the hell is the reason. She’s sitting on your lap perfectly fine, and suddenly she’s out-and-out screaming and crying, and nothing has changed from one moment to the next. It frays your nerves and tests your patience. In your mind, a good dad keeps his kids happy, and this screaming, crying baby taunts you, every tear a knife to the heart saying, ‘bad dad, bad dad, bad dad, bad dad.’ She’s having a bath every day now – not to keep her clean but to stop the tantrums when they start.

So this is the phase we have reached. At least, I hope it’s just a phase and not her personality coming to the fore. In ancient Greece, the cure for a wandering womb was to get pregnant. If that’s the case, we’ve got a lot of years to wait until this passes!

First Words

One of the major milestones all parents look forward to is their child’s first word. After all, a spoken language is what distinguishes us from the rest of the intelligent apes, and the first word is the moment when your little bundle of neediness and poop becomes a fully integrated part of the human race. Every baby diary dutifully stipulates you must record this sacred first word, and people can often tell you what it was as it sinks into the familial consciousness as a treasured anecdote.

I’m finding it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Izzie talks. That is, she makes lots of babbling noises that she combines in long streams of phonemes. Every so often, she’ll therefore come out with something not simply resembling a word, but as clear a word as you’ve ever heard. By accident.

Do these random noises count as words? I bloody hope not. About five months ago when she was sitting on our bed, she looked at me, smiled, and said as plain as day, ‘Murder.’ When I was bathing her a month after that, she pointed at me, all innocent and sweet, and said, ‘Man-boobs.’ There’s no way in hell I’m writing that in her baby diary!

Then there are the words she uses that aren’t actual words. Whenever she sees my father-in-law’s dog she says, ‘Wo-wo,’ and does it consistently enough for us to know what she means. If a word is a bunch of sounds that carry a specific meaning that is used to communicate information, then ‘wo-wo’ is definitely her first word. But ‘wo-wo’ isn’t a word – at least, not in any language of which I’m aware.

And what about words she mispronounces? If you greet her and say, ‘Hello,’ she replies with, ‘Ay-oh’. There are two problems with this one. First, she’s simply repeating what you’re saying rather than volunteering the sound herself. Secondly, ‘ay-oh’ is not ‘hello’. So do these facts invalidate it as a word?

Anyway, what she can say seems, to my mind at least, far less important than what she can understand. It’s said that for every word they can say, a child understands ten. I think that’s an underestimate – Izzie seems to understand freaking everything.

Mummy, daddy, Nana, Granny, Poppa and Gramps are a given by this age, and there’s no doubting she knows her own name. Yes, no and don’t are also in the bag, even if she chooses to ignore them more often than not. And key events are well known – bedtime (rubs eyes), nappy change (runs away), bye-bye (waves).

More impressive are the actions. Most of them are quite simple, one-action commands. ‘Where’s so-and-so?’ will prompt her to seek it out. ‘Get it for daddy,’ results in her fetching it. ‘Put it in the box,’ will make her do just that, and she’s very good at ‘hands up’, ‘clap’, and ‘twinkle, twinkle’ (opening and closing fists).

Some, however, are far more complex. If you say, ‘Mummy needs to put on her shoes,’ she crawls over to a shoe, picks it up, brings it back, and tries to put it on mummy’s foot. Generally the wrong foot, but it’s still remarkable when you consider she can’t actually speak yet. Before you know it, she’ll be making daddy his morning coffee.

So if anyone asks, many years hence, about Izzie’s first word, it was ‘murder’, followed by ‘man-boobs’, ‘wo-wo’ and ‘ay-oh’. But until she says something like ‘mummy’, I’m leaving the baby diary blank!

MMR and Autism

I’ll lay out my position right at the start so those who have already made up their minds to the contrary are prepared for my vitriol: MMR does not cause autism. The MMR/autism link has no basis in reality. As an autistic father of a neurotypical child who has her MMR tomorrow, I am sick to death of people telling me that vaccinations cause autism, and I will therefore be disparaging towards the anti-vax movement and, by extension, anti-vaxxers as a whole. You have been warned.

There. Now we can get started.

To the average man on the street, the letters MMR and the word autism have been inextricably linked since the early noughties. The media had a field day whipping up a national health scare, frightening parents and misreporting the facts. As a result of this, there seems to be a general undercurrent of feeling that MMR might cause autism, that scientists don’t really know the answer, and that the jury is still out on whether it’s safe or not.

Not true. The jury is in. The jury has been in for years. But news stories about all the studies published in the past decade showing how MMR doesn’t cause autism are far less newsworthy than sobbing, guilt-ridden parents with shattered lives bewailing the fact that a vaccination might have damaged their baby. Thus the one highly questionable, discredited and fraudulent study suggesting a link between MMR and autism has received massive amounts of media coverage, and the rest have received pretty much none at all. And that makes the press equally culpable in the propagation of the anti-MMR scam.

The fact is, the jury should never have been out in the first place as there has never been any evidence to suggest MMR causes autism beyond gut feelings and anecdotes. The thing is, I understand the parents jumping on the anti-vaccination band wagon. To discover your child has autism is obviously a big thing, and when life deals you a random blow, it’s human nature to look around for someone or something to blame. Thanks to a man named Andrew Wakefield, the object of blame became the vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella.

‘Who is Andrew Wakefield?’ I hear you cry. It might surprise you to learn that he was the lead author of the paper published in the Lancet in 1998 suggesting the link between MMR and autism. Surprising, because perhaps you thought there were numerous studies and a body of evidence that pointed towards this link, rather than one solitary paper based on a test group of a whopping twelve subjects. One paper describing twelve autistic children, eight of whose parents blamed MMR for their autism, provoked a total of 1257 news articles in 2002 alone. That’s like responding to the neighbour’s kid throwing a snowball at you with a full nuclear strike.

Now, I don’t need to tell the intelligent reader that a sample of twelve children is ridiculously small to extrapolate a global theory of cause and effect. Nor do I need to point out that one study, the results of which were never repeated and which were outright contradicted by various meta-analyses of massive data sets, should be described as ‘unreliable’ at best. What I do feel I ought to point out is that not only was Wakefield’s study an anomaly, it was also found to be fraudulent.

There are two key facts you need to know about Andrew Wakefield that might help you judge the efficacy of his work. Firstly, he was paid £435,643 by trial lawyers who wanted evidence to suggest MMR was unsafe, with payments starting a full two years prior to his paper being published. Secondly, he applied for patents for his own vaccine to rival MMR. Therefore, he was paid lots of money to try and prove MMR caused autism, and if he succeeded, he would make tens of millions from his own vaccine. This is what we call a ‘conflict of interest’, something he hid from the Lancet, who said that, had they known, they would never have published the paper.

What’s worse, it was discovered that many of the results in the paper had been manipulated. Diagnoses were adjusted and dates were moved in order to strengthen its conclusions that autistic symptoms started directly after the children received the MMR jab. Furthermore, the parents of eight of the twelve children in the study were already seeking compensation for MMR damaging their children before the study took place. Indeed, they were represented by the same lawyers who paid Wakefield to prove MMR was unsafe. Thus the selection of subjects for the study was far from random. That’s before we mention that Wakefield formed a partnership with one of these parents to market autism tester kits on the back of an MMR scare to rake in a predicted $43 million a year. To say the conclusions of this paper were ‘unreliable’ is an understatement.

Long story short, the General Medical Council said Wakefield had acted dishonestly and irresponsibly, and that his study was improperly conducted. He was found guilty of serious professional misconduct on four counts of dishonesty and was struck off the medical register. The Lancet then fully retracted the paper. Case closed.

Except it wasn’t, and it isn’t. The damage was done. In people’s minds, MMR might cause autism, and so rates of vaccination fell. According to the Psychiatric Times, as a result of Wakefield’s paper the number of cases of measles in the UK rose from 56 in 1998 to 1348 in 2008, with two deaths. Similarly mumps, very rare before 1999, was up to 5000 cases in January of 2005 alone. The MMR scare therefore caused some very real consequences for thousands of families.

I don’t want to ram the evidence down your throat since it’s ridiculously easy to Google any number of studies rejecting the link between MMR and autism, so I’ll just mention two. A study in Denmark including all children born between January 1991 and December 1998, covering 440,655 children vaccinated with MMR and 96,648 unvaccinated found no difference in the rates of autism or autism spectrum disorders between them. Likewise, a 2012 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Library covered 14,700,000 children and found no causal link between MMR and autism. Which is much more conclusive than a study carried out on a sample of twelve.

Yet despite this evidence, anti-vaxxers still maintain a link between vaccination and autism. They claim that rates of autism are increasing and that their child’s or their friend’s child’s symptoms started around the time of the MMR jab. There must be a link, right?

It’s true that rates of autism are increasing, but not because of an increase in the actual incidence of autism – rather, better screening methods and increased public awareness of autism mean more people are being diagnosed with it. And autistic symptoms often kick in around twelve months – right at the time they have the MMR jabs. As I said before, it’s understandable that parents of autistic children might want to blame something for their child’s condition, however inaccurate that might be.

What I find wholly unacceptable, however, is for celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, Charlie Sheen , Billy Corgan, Robert De Niro and Donald Trump to repeatedly preach about the dangers of vaccination, ignoring any and all scientific evidence to promote scare stories and misinformation, which has led to epidemic levels of measles and mumps. Why people would choose to listen to a Playboy model, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, a drug addict, a Smashing Pumpkin, a man who strapped a boob to his chestand an orange-skinned capitalist who makes sexually suggestive comments about his own daughter, rather than doctors, scientists and the National Autistic Society, is beyond me. In regards to their views on vaccination, these people are more similar to Boko Haram and the Taliban than they realise.

Now, in order to provide balance, I have to point out that no medical intervention is 100% safe. Around 1 in 5000 children who have MMR will suffer febrile seizures, while 1 in 40,000 will develop immune thrombocytopenic purpura and 1 in a million will contract meningitis. However, if you compare this to rates of complications from measles, mumps and rubella – 1 in 1000 with measles will get meningitis and 1 in 5000 will die, while 1 in 40,000 with mumps loses their hearing and 1 in 10,000 will die – then MMR is much safer than the alternative.

I have no qualms or doubts about having my daughter vaccinated. If you’re undecided, that’s okay. All parents have the right to choose what is best for their child. Do some research, weigh up the benefits and the risks. But make sure you choose with your head, not your media-induced irrational fear of giving your child autism. Because MMR does not cause autism.

And don’t get me started on ‘Why can’t we have them as three separate vaccinations?’…

Walking on Sunshine

The day you buy your child her first pair of shoes is meant to be a red letter day, the seminal event on her journey towards mobility and toddler-hood, and a time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Trouble is, there’s no time to savour this feeling of satisfaction because as soon as they’re on her feet, the world shifts beneath your feet again.

It’s not like walking is necessarily a new thing for Izzie – she was standing with support at two months, walking with support at seven, and took her first unaided steps at eleven – but now she can put a dozen steps together, everything has changed. As soon as we slipped on those cutesy pink shoes she decided that crawling was for babies. Even if she only has to move a foot, she’ll stand and walk it now. Her determination knows no bounds.

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Bow before me and my big-girl shoes!

Unfortunately, and here is the reason her first pair of shoes is not a day for celebration, she has also now decided that she’s too grown-up for a pushchair. She just wants to walk, walk, walk. But not just anywhere – she wants to walk where she wants to walk, irrespective of you.

We put on her shoes in the shoe shop and walked her around in them and that was that. She screamed like a frustrated banshee when we put her in the pushchair, screamed like we’d never heard her scream, and in public too. We figured we’d let her walk since she had new shoes on, a little treat.

Holding onto both my hands, she wandered around the square. So far, so good. But the second I walked her into a shop, she let go with one hand, pivoted on her heel and walked out again. So I steered her in, and she walked out again. And again. So I picked her up.

Oh my gosh. More screaming. ‘I’m a big girl, daddy! I go where I like!’

And it’s been that way ever since.

If you’re taking her somewhere she doesn’t want to go, she either lets go and turns, drags you in another direction, or else drops to the floor. This spirit of independence is rapidly turning into a spirit of defiance that we’re really going to have to keep an eye on!

She certainly wants to run before she can walk – literally! When we’re not holding her hands, she runs everywhere, that whole ‘I’m-falling-forward-so-I’ll-just-walk-faster-to-counteract-gravity’ thing. Which means that when she falls – and she’s falling a lot – she lands with a bang. Her legs are covered in bruises and she keeps throwing herself headlong into the furniture with no regard for her safety. But when she does, she’ll just pull herself back up to her feet and run on again, the imprint of a chair leg down the side of her face.

This devil-may-care attitude has extended to her rocking toys too. Sitting down is clearly too easy for a girl with big-girl shoes, too boring for someone who can (sort of) walk. So she does stunts that terrify the hell out of her daddy.

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I call this one ‘standing on the crossbar with my butt overhanging the back’
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And this is called ‘holy shit she’s on one leg and still rocking!’

I have no idea where she gets it from.

bike stunt

bike stunt 2

No idea whatsoever…

So beware the day you buy your child her first pair of shoes – it might change things in ways you never expected.

Time away from baby

Like many parents, the thought of leaving my twelve-month-old daughter with somebody else overnight fills me with dread, regardless of who that somebody is. Therefore, the thought of leaving her for four nights with her Granny while I went on honeymoon was a real crisis of character.

Regular followers of this blog will be aware that, when booking said honeymoon, all was not well in the Galton-Drew household. Lizzie wanted to go away for seven nights; I wanted to go for a maximum of four. She accused me of being unable to let go; I accused her of finding it too easy to let go. She wanted our old life; I wanted our new life. And so it went round.

Ultimately we went away for five days, four nights, a result of both my need to be a dad and be there for my child, and the fact we’d misinterpreted the website and couldn’t actually afford seven nights anyway. Building up to it, I wasn’t over eager to leave my troubles (I mean, my daughter) behind. How would she cope without me? How would I cope without her? What if something happened? How could I possibly enjoy myself knowing I’d abandoned my parental responsibility in order to have a jolly?

You know – normal, obsessive, neurotic parent thoughts.

For all parents considering time away from the baby, it’s of course entirely up to you and you should always do what you’re comfortable with, but having now had a holiday without the little one, perhaps my experience will help you make up your mind.

I needn’t have worried. At all. About myself or the baby.

If we start with the little one, she was absolutely fine. She didn’t seem to miss us, went to bed without a fuss and was thoroughly spoiled by her grandmother. Actually, that’s possibly the only real problem: having been fed home-cooked finger food she could feed herself with, she now steadfastly refuses food from jars and food that requires a spoon. Thanks Granny!

Not to blow my own trumpet, but I think the reason it went so well is that we’ve done a great job creating a confident, outgoing child. We’ve been there in the background but we’ve allowed Izzie her freedom, been ready to catch her when she falls but let her explore where and how she wants. It means she’s fearless, ready to face the unknown because she knows there’s a safety net beneath her and rescue just a chirrup away. It’s certainly confirmed there’s nothing wrong with our parenting style.

Going back to the baby-less holiday, I was fine too. Surprisingly fine. I put her out of my mind and barely thought about her. True, there were moments – when I saw someone pushing a pushchair, when I heard a baby crying, when I saw a strawberry-blonde toddler waddling awkwardly along the quayside – but for the most part, I didn’t find it as crippling and debilitating as I thought I would.

Perhaps this is because I’m a person, and not just a dad. It’s easy to forget, when you’re at the coalface, that there’s a whole other side to you – several sides. Lizzie and I finally got to do what we love doing: exploring. We drove down unmarked roads and walked along overgrown tracks, ducked through caves and peered into rockpools, squeezed up spiral staircases and descended into dungeons, danced on beaches in the rain and stared at Pagan trinkets scattered around Neolithic stone circles in celebration of the solstice, and still somehow found the time for hot tubs, steam rooms and meals out. That is who we are as a couple, and what we haven’t been since the baby was born.

Despite my previous claims that you can holiday just fine with a baby, the truth is that you can’t do everything. You can’t just stop at the side of the road because you’ve seen something interesting poking out of the long grass, examine it for five minutes, then jump back in the car. You can’t decide on a whim to explore this ruined castle, or wander across that causeway, or climb down these two-hundred steps to that isolated beach. Around a hundred times I thought, ‘We couldn’t do this with a baby.’

And it felt so good! Not having to think about nappies and food and waterproofs, being able to hold hands with each other instead of constantly focusing on someone else, is amazingly therapeutic after a year of unremitting parenthood. I saw many young families out with kids, and all of them were struggling, arguing, flustered, overloaded with bags and equipment, and it was such a relief not to be similarly encumbered for once.

Lizzie and I connected in a way we haven’t since forever. Of course, when you become a parent you don’t cease to be a partner, but it’s very easy to cease making an effort for one another since you’re so knackered and emotionally overwhelmed by the whole world of baby care. The arguments that characterised our lives over the past six months have gone. And that doesn’t just make you a better partner, it makes you a better parent too.

Before this honeymoon I could barely countenance the idea of going away without my child; now I think it’s a great idea. Parenting is a team sport, and the occasional team-building weekend is essential to keep it running smoothly.

So, anyone know of any cheap getaways?