Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 1)

Today I am reflecting on the preponderance of the number two in my life. My wife and I together are two; my daughter is two years and two months old; we have two household pets (a dog and a cat); after the tragic death of Peking the Pecking Pekin two weeks ago, we now only have two chickens; and two weeks from today, we are due to welcome baby daughter number two into the world.

And then we’ll be in more number two than we know how to handle! (Come on, admit it, you were expecting a poop joke).

Yes, my wife is thirty-eight weeks pregnant. I might have forgotten to mention this over the past, oh, thirty-eight weeks. Partly because I wrote a series of posts about how I wasn’t keen on having another baby, and I hate going back on myself; and partly because of good, old-fashioned denial.

Not that the pregnancy wasn’t planned – it was, and I’ll explain about the decision process in Part 2 – but I’ve been caught in a quagmire of complacency and the mistaken belief that I had more time. It was always, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ or, ‘I’ll do it next week,’ but I’ve run out of next weeks and I might have run out of tomorrows too, so I’d better do it now.

You see, the first time you’re expecting, you go to all these classes, buy all these weird and wonderful products, read everything you can about babies and child-rearing, rearrange the entire house, get everything ready, and pontificate about what it means to be a parent. Consequently, the baby takes forever to arrive and you’re in touch with the process every step of the way.

Not so with second pregnancies. The second time round, having been through it all before, you’re a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. I mean, you’ve already got everything a baby could ever need, the house is as babyproof as a marshmallow, and having successfully raised a child from babyhood to toddlerhood, you’re pretty confident you know how this parenthood thing works. Instead of living, breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping pregnancy, therefore, you’re not as closely tied to the day-to-day development of your child, so it races by with little notice until you realise with shock that it could literally arrive any moment and you’ve not prepared yourself emotionally for that wonderful, terrifying, exhilarating, traumatic and altogether life-changing day.

But that’s only half the story of why second pregnancies race to an unexpectedly sudden climax. The other half is that there’s already a pint-sized version of yourself tearing around the house, and throwing herself down the stairs, and loving you, and hating you, and hitting you, and hugging you, and generally taking all your attention, all your love, and all your energy, so you can’t spend anywhere near as much time thinking about the second unborn baby as you did the first. That’s not really fair on the second bump, I know, but it’s the way it is, although I’m fairly certain that my neglect of my child in utero won’t have that many long-term consequences. What’s important is that I focus on her once she’s born.

And therein lies the other reason I’ve avoided thinking about my impending second child until the last moment – I’m terrified of how it’ll change things, I’m terrified of how it’ll affect my relationship with my first daughter, and I’m terrified of letting them both down.

With your first child, you don’t have to divide your attention. You lavish everything upon her because you can. Every need she has, you meet there and then. You give yourself to her, body and soul. She is the centre of your universe.

How can I give that to my second child? Clearly, I can’t. And how will my first child cope when I can’t give it to her anymore either? The best thing I’ve got going for me is the closeness of my relationship with my daughter, and I don’t ever want to lose that, but equally, I want to have the same with my second daughter, and I’m struggling to see how that’s possible. I’ve always considered my heart as fixed in size – one child can have all my heart, two children can have half each, three a third, four (god forbid!) a quarter, and so on. The only way out of this diminishing is for my heart to double in size each time – and I’m not sure there’s enough room in my chest for that. Or perhaps, in my typically autistic way, I’m far too focused on this ‘heart’ metaphor and should stop trying to intellectually analyse something that is beyond conscious comprehension.

I said in my earlier posts on the subject that having a first child is a matter of faith – trusting that you’ll be able to cope and it’ll all work out okay – but that a second child is more of a conscious decision. I’m only now realising that having children is always a matter of faith.

Because for all my cocksure complacency, my know-it-all arrogance and bluster, I’m just as scared this second time around as I was the first.

 

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My Funny Toddler

‘No chi-shen no poo daddy!’

That’s what my daughter shouts every morning when I let the chooks out of their house – no, chickens, don’t poop on my daddy.

Like most of the things she says, you have to train your ear to hear it properly. Having a toddler, you spend your life picking through the mispronunciations and the comedy juxtapositions, fighting to make sense of it all. Every morning when I brush her teeth, I have to put poo-paste on the poo-brush. All day I’m asked to shit on the phwoar. And every night I put boo-balls in the bart so she can have a bubble-bath.

But sometimes, I frankly don’t have a clue what she’s saying. That’s when she shouts at me in frustration. Because what’s plain to her isn’t always obvious to everyone else.

Like yesterday, when I asked her what she wanted for lunch. ‘Piss, please,’ she said excitedly.

‘Piss?’

‘Piss, please, daddy.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Piss, daddy. Piss. Pissssss!’

‘Honey, she says she wants piss for lunch.’

‘She means crisps.’

‘Oh thank God for that.’

At least it’s different to what she normally requests – ‘Cheese and marmite,’ morning, noon and night. I’m fine putting it on her toast, in her wraps and croissants. Not on chips or fish fingers. I refuse to put it on her yoghurt. Tonight, just to shut her up, I put a big dollop of marmite in the risotto I was making. It’s not an experiment I intend to repeat.

Then there’s her favourite expression. Every few minutes she sits on the floor among her toys, looks up at me and says, ‘Punch me, daddy. Punch me.’ Or she’ll be hanging halfway over the stairgate. ‘Punch me, daddy, punch me.’ Or slipping off her seatbelt while I’m doing sixty along a country lane, forcing me to pull over yet again. ‘Punch me, punch me.’ Don’t tempt me…

From contextual clues, I think it means some combination of ‘Play with me’ and ‘help me,’ but where she’s got it from, I have no idea.

Driving has become awkward of late. Every time I stop – at lights, in traffic, at a junction – she shouts, ‘Doe!’ and scares the life out of me. And no matter how I try to explain that I can’t go because there are four cars in front of me, it makes no difference to her. ‘Doe, daddy, doe, doe!’

In the car, she also has a captive audience. I’m fine with the singing – it’s mostly Wheels on the Bus. ‘The conductor on the bus says “All Aboard”‘ becomes ‘Ad-jee boose “ball baball,”‘ but that’s okay. What’s definitely not okay is when she says, ‘Daddy, a diddin?’

‘What am I doing? I’m driving, sweetheart.’

‘Ah. Daddy, a diddin?’

‘Driving. I literally just said it.’

‘Ah. Daddy, a diddin?’

‘Conjugating Latin verbs. I’m teaching a class of underprivileged children to read Martial’s epigrams in the original language.’

‘Ah. Daddy, a diddin?’

‘Quadratic equations. It’s part of a project to solve the energy crisis using quantum mechanics.’

‘Ah. Daddy, a mummy diddin?’

But if I don’t answer, I just get an endless stream of ‘daddy, daddy, daddy,’ so I pick the lesser of those two evils, and die a little inside each day.

She thinks I’m the master of horses, too. We’re lucky enough to live on the edge of the New Forest, so wherever we go in the car, we have to avoid scores of ponies walking in the road. And every time we pass a horse or two, she says, ‘More gee-gee. Daddy, more gee-gee. Daddy? Daddy!’

‘I can’t magically conjure up horses out of thin air!’ I reply.

‘Oh,’ she replies, subdued. And then, ‘More gee-gee, daddy. More gee-gee!’

She’s started experimenting with her voice too. She’ll scream with excitement. And then, discovering the wonderful noise, walk around screaming for the next ten minutes. Same with crying – she gets over whatever made her cry, but then becomes so enamoured of the noise she’s making she keeps it going. On and on and on. Until she asks you to punch her again.

This has made bedtimes somewhat unpleasant. I read to her at night – we’ve finished Treasure Island and are halfway through Black Beauty – and she’s started making this weird groaning hum every time I talk. I can hear it as I’m reading, but every time I stop at the end of a sentence or pause to take a breath, she stops. It’s like I’ve got a ghostly echo.

This same experimentation has spread to many of her reactions, which have become completely over-the-top. If I show her anything, draw anything, make anything, she looks at it, puts her hands flat on her cheeks, and goes, ‘Whooooooooaaaaaaa daddy! Wooooooooow! Daddy, whoooooaaaaa!’

She’s either incredibly impressed or her understanding of sarcasm is well beyond her 25-months.

That said, she seemed very enamoured of the tower I built this morning. She held up her index finger – ‘Wait,’ she said, rummaged through her toy box, returned with a pretend pink camera and proceeded to photograph it from all angles. Then, the tower preserved in pretend posterity, she kicked it down and laughed.

Impressively for her age, she can count to ten. Unfortunately, she thinks there are eleven numbers, since clearly it goes, ‘One, two, three, go, four, five…’ And she has her colours, too, although she gets very annoyed when I can’t tell if she’s talking about daddy’s ‘wed car’ or mummy’s ‘whet car’ (red or white).

But the worst thing she does, the most horrible thing she manages to say, is whenever she sees me without my top on. She smiles, points at my belly, and says with delight, ‘Baby girl!’

No, I’m not pregnant. It’s just fat.

‘Daddy baby girl!’

I’m now on a diet. Punch me.