Betrayed by mine own kin!

You spend twenty months building a bond with your child – changing her nappy, cleaning up her sick, giving her cuddles all through the night, and letting her wipe her runny nose on your shirt – and you expect a certain amount of loyalty in return. You know, the way a dog follows you because you feed it or a cat because you let it sleep on your lap. At the very least, you assume there has developed between you a modicum of trust.

Don’t be fooled. Toddlers cannot be trusted.

Yesterday morning, my daughter wanted a gingerbread biscuit that she could see on the counter in the kitchen. I knew mummy wouldn’t approve, because it was just after breakfast, but little Izzie smiled at me, pointed and said, ‘Bease,’ in her adorably cute childish fashion, so how could I resist?

There was one proviso, however – as I placed it into her outstretched fingers, I whispered to her, ‘Shh, don’t tell mummy, it’s our secret. You’ll get daddy in trouble. Okay?’

She nodded emphatically. Yes. Our secret.

I have no doubt she understood.

The moment my fingers released the biscuit, she ran into the lounge waving it in the air and shouting, ‘Mummy, mummy!’ Look what I’ve got, mummy.

‘How did you get that?’ mummy asked.

Beaming from ear to ear, my daughter pointed right at me. ‘Daddy,’ she said, sat down and ate it.

Disloyal little bastard.

This morning her mummy gave her a piece of iced doughnut to eat. ‘Ooh,’ I said, kneeling before my daughter. ‘Can daddy have some?’

She shook her  head violently. ‘No.’

‘Please?’

‘No.’ And she crammed the entire piece into her mouth, so much she couldn’t even close her lips, just so I couldn’t have it.

Disloyal little bastard.

In fact, ‘no’ has become her favourite word, particularly when she knows how much hurt it can cause.

‘Can daddy have a kiss?’

‘No.’

‘Do you love daddy?’

‘No.’

Those times she does deign to allow me to kiss her, she turns her head and points to her cheek as if to say, ‘Oh, go on then, kiss my cheek if you must, peasant, then go refill my water bottle.’

Actually, it’s her second favourite word, the favourite being, ‘mummy.’ When she gets her own way, you see, it tends to involve mummy, so she figures that if she calls everyone mummy, she’s far more likely to get what she wants.

I’d develop a complex if I wasn’t so sure of my sex. Today, for example, my wife is out, but that hasn’t prevented the name ‘mummy’ being mentioned around a thousand times, mostly screamed at me because I won’t give the little one a biscuit. All day, ‘mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy.’ Not one ‘daddy’, no matter how many episodes of the pig I let her watch, no matter how much I colour with her, read to her, build towers with her, walk her round the block – ‘mummy, mummy, mummy.’ That’s loyalty for you.

And she’s using her mother’s tendency to be more indulgent than me to play her parents off against one another. If I say no, she starts to cry and toddles over to mummy to see if she can get what she wants, and lays it on really thick by pointing at me in the midst of her despair and sobbing, as if saying, ‘Daddy was mean to me, mummy, sort him out!’ Bloody tattle-tale. It’s amazing how quickly she’s learned that skill.

And to add insult to injury, when mummy asks, ‘What’s wrong? Why are you so upset?’ my darling, cherished daughter says the word she never says under any other circumstance: ‘daddy.’

Disloyal little bastard.

 

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A Heart Made of Iron

When I was a kid, walking to middle school each day, the teenagers I passed on their way to the upper school seemed like giants. Tall, stubbled, confident and proud, their uniforms modified to reflect their unique personalities, there was nothing they couldn’t achieve. They were gorgeous, the closest I ever got to movie stars or comic-book heroes. At least, that was the impression of an insecure, anxiety-ridden social outcast with four eyes, goofy teeth and chronic asthma.

One day, I thought, when I’m that age, it’ll all come together, it’ll all make sense. I’ll be strong, I’ll be capable, I’ll be able to cope. Teenagers are made of iron.

A few years later I became a teenager, and lived as a pimply-faced, hormonal, anxiety-ridden social outcast. I saw adults with their jobs and pensions and mortgages and I thought that when I became an adult, it would all come together, it would all make sense, and I’d finally be able to cope. Adults, I thought, are made of iron.

By the time I was twenty-five, with many years of work and study behind me, I was very much aware that growing older wasn’t actually making me feel any stronger or more capable or better able to cope. As a depressive, anxiety-ridden social outcast, I looked at people with children and I thought, wow, look at them – they’re so strong, and capable and able to cope. And I figured that when I had kids, it would all come together, it would all make sense. Parents, after all, are made of iron.

As the father of a nineteen-month old, I can tell you for a fact that I am not made of iron. Quite the contrary, actually. I might give off the impression of competence, might fool people into thinking that I’m coping perfectly well, but the truth is that I’m just very good at faking it.

In reality, I’m a little tender at the moment. A couple of weeks ago, my precious little darling discovered how to scream, and the tantrums I thought we’d experienced before were actually mild disagreements because they are nothing like what she does now.

What was hitherto a very well-behaved child has turned into a monster. Half the time, I don’t know whether to give her a hug or call a freaking exorcist.

She screams and kicks and fights every time I try to change her nappy. At breakfast she screams because she wants my food, not hers, my coffee, not her water. She screams because I won’t take her for a walk every time she wants, she screams because we won’t have dawn-to-dusk Peppa Pig, she screams because I want to go to the toilet, she screams because she steals my nose and I’m not really fussed about getting it back, she screams because I make her wear a coat to go out in the cold, she screams because I put her in a seatbelt in the car, she screams because her hands and face are dirty but she screams when I wipe them clean, she screams when I make dinner, she screams because she can’t feed her dinner to the dog, she screams because I wash behind her ears, she screams because I get her out of the bath, she screams because I dry her hair, she screams because I kiss her goodnight and she screams because I turn out the light. Phew. It’s a lot of screaming.

What’s worse is that she has an upset stomach at the moment, precipitating a greater number of nappy changes than usual, each resulting in me getting kicked in the chin, stomach and testicles; she has a nappy rash, meaning nappy changes are even more violent as I fight what seems like a wild animal in order to put on the cream; and she has developed a severe aversion to bedtime that provokes at least three hours of screaming every night.

The nightly ritual was so easy just over a week ago. Night night mummy, night night doggy, up the stairs, brush teeth, into pyjamas, read a story, pick a book for bed, into the grow bag, big kiss, lights out, silence. Bliss.

The nightly ritual for the past eight days: ‘It’s bedtime, say goodnight to mummy.’ Huge screaming fit, tears, purple face, stamping feet, I go to pick her up and she runs away and then hisses and struggles and lashes out as I catch her, screams all the way up the stairs, mega-violence at the nappy change/pyjamas, very quiet when I read her the bedtime story, then mega screams and struggles as I put her to bed. Lights out causes a guttural, alien, hacking snarl-growl, like two demons having a fight, which goes on for around ten minutes, accompanied by thuds as she thrashes about in the cot, before descending into choking, spluttering, dying sounds that mean I have to go calm her down or else I’m afraid she’ll die. It takes a long time to calm her down once she’s worked herself up into that state, and as soon as I’ve got her quiet and breathing properly again, I go to put her down and the whole ordeal starts again.

I’ve sung to her, rocked her, read to her, let her come downstairs, ignored her, and always the same result – screaming that devolves into a choking, coughing total loss of all control, which stretches from her usual bedtime at seven until gone ten o’clock. And that’s before I mention the two or three times she’s up in the night nowadays. Where before, bedtime was a blessing, it has become a nightmare.

Eight days, three hours a night, is 24 solid hours of screaming tantrums in a week. It might not sound like a lot, but when those three hours of screaming follow a twelve-hour day of regular screaming fits, trust me, your whole world shrinks down to tears, red faces and an ever present sense of drowning.

My wife’s means of coping is to ignore it, to go out and forget about it and leave me to deal with it – after six pm, and for much of the day, I’m a single parent. I could switch off from it too, I suppose, but hours and hours and hours of my daughter screaming and crying and getting herself so upset that she’s choking is not something I can just rationalise away and get over. I feel horribly sensitive, bruised inside and out. I feel like I want to burst into tears. When I’m holding my screaming, struggling child I have to fight with every fibre of my being not to run away and hide. Just five minutes, I think to myself. Dear God, five minutes surely isn’t too much to ask?

I’m still waiting for the day it’ll all come together, it’ll all make sense, and I’ll be able to cope. Until then, I’ll just have to fake it. Until then I’ll use what little strength I have to pretend I’m made of iron. Unless someone could recommend a cheap nanny?

Back-in-my-day Parents vs. Today’s Parents

We’ve all met them – it’s impossible not to – those people who had things so much harder in their day. Paper round uphill both ways, had to earn money or they didn’t eat, bath was a bucket in the front room, left school at fourteen, none of your namby-pamby ‘qualifications’, went to the University of Life, worked at the coal face sixteen hours a day with hand tools they had to hold with their feet, in total darkness, without breathing apparatus, lose a finger you kept working till the end of your shift, got paid a pittance but never complained because men knew how to be men, dammit, didn’t do me any harm, and your generation doesn’t even know it’s born, bloody snowflakes, the lot of you.

That’s all fine – while I don’t believe that anybody’s life is free from suffering, I accept that we have labour-saving devices that past generations could only dream of. And nor is this a new thing – in Jaws, Quint moans that there are no ‘good’ men left under the age of sixty, and that movie came out in 1975. Every generation thinks the next has it easier than they did. It’s natural. I accept that.

What I cannot accept, and what I find frankly bizarre, is how many of these people seem to want everyone to suffer the same way they did and despise any progress that makes things easier for the future – particularly when it comes to parenting.

Parents have spaces for pushchairs on buses? Well why should they? We never had those. We had to wake up our children and hold them under one arm while we collapsed the buggy and put it on the front of the bus – and with an armful of shopping too. That was how we did it and we had to cope, so they should too.

Parent-child spaces? They’re not disabled, why should they get extra-wide spaces? Is it because they have such big cars and such big pushchairs and such big car seats to keep their precious little darlings safe? We never had that, we had to make do with little cars, not even seatbelts, and we didn’t get any special treatment. They chose to be parents, get used to the struggle. And why are they so close to the store? They should put them at the back of the car park so the obese little bastards get some exercise.

Mumsnet? What a ridiculous pile of self-indulgent tripe. We didn’t have anywhere to go to get advice about our ‘darling’ sons and daughters, we had to deal with things by ourselves, on our own, with no help or support from anyone. And that goes for parenting books too – we didn’t have complicated parenting theories and techniques, we just had to get on with it. So just get on with it.

Breastfeeding discreetly in a public place? We were never allowed to do that, we had to go somewhere in private, no, we wanted to do it in private because we had self-respect, not like these modern women who whip it out in front of anyone.

And don’t get me started on disposable nappies, or bottle sterilisers, or Perfect Prep machines – we had to wash our nappies, and this was back when washing was difficult, and we had to boil the bottles and teats in water on the stove, and this was when water took hours to boil, and we had to heat the formula while our baby screamed and screamed and screamed until we thought we’d all die.

So why, I have to ask, why, if you know how hard it is to be a parent, would you want to keep things that hard for all time to come? Why would you resent anything that makes our lives that little bit easier? And are you really saying that, if you’d had in your day the advantages that we have in ours, you wouldn’t have used them?

Having a hard life doesn’t buy you a badge of honour. Nor does it make you better than anyone else, somehow superior to today’s parents, somehow purer. Being a compassionate member of society means wanting other people to have things easier than you did, so they don’t suffer quite so much.

Unless you believe that life is meant to be hard, and parents are meant to suffer, in which case I don’t think we’ll be seeing eye to eye any time soon.