The Terrible Ten-Months

New parents hear so much about ‘the terrible twos’ that it’s very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. You sit there with your incredibly well-behaved baby and think with smug complacency that you have two years of parenting practice before having to face the horrors of unstoppable tantrums and a wilful refusal to behave.

And then you discover that’s a load of total crap.

For the past couple of months Izzie’s known what ‘No’ means, but played a little game called ‘how far can I push it?’ That’s normal and natural and the sign of a confident baby with an active mind and growing sense of independence, and I welcomed it.

The door to the hallway, for example –  it doesn’t close properly, and Izzie’s aware that if she rolls the doorstop out of the way, slips her fingers into the crack and pulls, she can wrench it open and escape into the magical and dangerous world that is the rest of the house. So whenever she tries this, I give her a stern ‘No,’ with a pointed finger and a glare.

In the past, she looked back, her hands dropping into her lap. Then, slowly, without breaking eye contact, she’d lift her hand and start to stroke the door jamb – ‘not touching it, daddy, see? Quarter of an inch away, but my fingers aren’t in the crack. Not doing anything wrong.’

Same with the plug sockets. ‘I’m just stroking the wall, daddy, millimetres from the plug you told me not to touch. You could barely get a sheet of paper between my fingers and the socket, but I’m not touching it, so you can’t punish me.’

And if she ever did get the door open and I told her ‘No’ a moment too late, she’d hover on the threshold, hold my stare, tentatively ease a toe into the hallway, listen to me tell her ‘No’ again, and then slowly and deliberately shift her whole foot across the line – just to see what she can get away with, just to see how far she can go.

Provocative, sure, but entertainingly so. She was intelligently exploring the limits of my authority and the consequences of her actions; I was showing her where the boundaries are while she pushed against them to see how flexible they might be. Normal and natural. How I miss it.

In the past fortnight, Izzie has learned to clap, developed her first mole (on her forehead), and yesterday cut her first tooth (lower left incisor). And since she’s now so clearly an adult, she thinks she doesn’t have to listen to a word I say anymore.

It doesn’t matter how many times I tell her ‘No’, if she wants to open the hall door she’s damned well going to open it. And if she wants to touch the plug socket, hell, she’ll touch it just to show me that she can. And if she wants to crawl into the magical and dangerous world that is the rest of the house, nobody is going to stop her.

She forgets that I’m bigger and stronger than her and actually can stop her simply by picking her up and moving her somewhere else. But alongside the wilful disobedience comes the other symptom of the terrible twos – the tantrum.

Boy, does Izzie know how to tantrum. You wouldn’t think a ten-month-old could do it, but she’s got it down pat. She can’t even walk yet, but she knows how to stamp her feet. She’s as uncoordinated as the next baby, but she can ball her hands into fists and thrash them about in a temper.

A couple of nights back I was bathing her and she was playing with her plastic stacking pots, one in each hand. She took great delight in filling them with water and throwing it over me, before hitting me in the forehead with them and repeating it. After six or seven goes, I decided that enough was enough and tried to take them off her.

It was as if I had just declared World War III.

Getting the pots off her was no mean feet as she has the grip strength of an Amazon, but once I was done, the angry, screaming, thrashing, leg-kicking, arm-flailing, fist-waving tear monster sending tsunamis of water out of the tub and over the bathroom floor bore no resemblance to my cute little well-behaved daughter. It was like being caged with a wild animal with a toothache.

This stroppy self-righteousness has spread to all areas of her daily life. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a very good baby, hardly ever cries, and is a delight to be around most of the time. But she’s decided she can do what she wants, when she wants, and woe betide anybody who tries to stop her.

Terrible twos? If only they’d wait that long!

The Autistic Elephant in the Room

When you look at your baby it’s impossible not to wonder about inheritance. My daughter has her mother’s eyes, ears, nose, lips, hair and fingers. The only thing she seems to have inherited from the Drew family’s genetic legacy is the bum chin that I don’t even have. And despite being less than a month old, she still has more hair than me.

Luckily, her behaviour is more equally shared between us: she slurps her milk like her daddy, spills it down herself like her mummy, and is as noisy and uncoordinated as the both of us. I imagine the incontinence must come from elsewhere.

When you have autism, and so does your partner, the question of what your children might inherit from you takes on additional weight. While Lizzie and I were trying for a baby we were often asked if we were worried our child might be autistic. Whilst there’s no convincing evidence that autism runs in families – around one in twenty people with autism have siblings on the spectrum – anecdotally, many of us with Asperger’s can see autistic traits in at least one of our parents. So what if we create an autistic child?

As an individual, autism infuses the whole of my being. It is who I am, and my ways of thinking and feeling are inseparable from my condition. The same is true of Lizzie. I love her in spite of her autism, and because of it. We would not have achieved the things we have, in the ways we have, if we did not have Asperger’s Syndrome.

So would I want Izzie to be autistic? That’s an impossible question to answer. If I say no, it does a disservice to all the people I know with autism who would not be who they are without it. If I say yes, I am setting her up for a lifelong struggle in addition to the regular trials and tribulations that come with being human. In truth, whether she has it or not, it doesn’t matter at all. Aspergic or neurotypical, she will be uniquely herself and I will love her just the same and be there to support her regardless.

And yet I keep watching her for signs. You can’t tell below six months, apparently, but I thought the other day, ‘She makes good eye contact, she can’t be autistic.’ We gave her a bath for the first time last week. She sat in silence until we wet her head when she absolutely screamed the house down; I cannot abide anybody touching my head. But she loved her second bath. It’s just too early to tell.

I think it’s only natural for parents to want to wrap their children in cotton wool. Knowing the life I have led, spending a quarter of a century bouncing from misdiagnosis to misdiagnosis, doped up to the eyeballs on various mood stabilising and antidepressant medications, and suffering several breakdowns to boot, my family didn’t want me to have children. There was too much risk the child would be autistic. How would I cope? What if Social Services took her away? What if, what if, what if?

Deep down, I probably don’t want Izzie to have autism: I know firsthand just how hard it can be. But as I said to my parents, by protecting me from the bad things in life they’re also protecting me from the good. If I didn’t have a child, my life would be easier, but emptier; avoiding the risk of things going wrong means you avoid every opportunity to better your situation. And I wouldn’t change having Izzie for the world.

I have to remember this going forward. As a parent, I’d rather Izzie had an easier life and thus didn’t have autism. But perhaps autism would open up opportunities for her that she’d never have without it. It is not for me to say who she ought to become. I just have to make sure that, whatever issues Izzie might face in her life, she knows that her dad is behind her all the way.