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.

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Millimetres from disaster

Every parent has been there, probably multiple times. You’re doing something, anything, and you come a hair’s breadth from disaster.

Sometimes it’s small – you’re carrying the little one up to bed in your arms and her head skims the door frame. You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing  you were a cat’s whisker away from cracking her skull into a solid piece of wood.

Sometimes, it’s bigger – you’re holding her in your arms, normally in public and over concrete, when she braces her feet against you and suddenly launches herself backwards into space. Somewhere between instinct, determination and sheer dumb luck, you arrest her fall with hands, arms and thighs. No trips to the hospital today, you think, shrinking from the disapproving stares. Crisis averted.

And sometimes, it’s on a whole other level.

I changed Izzie’s nappy the other morning, got her dressed, and left her to roam free upstairs as I finished getting myself ready. Long gone are the days where if you did that, she’d close the door to the nursery then sit behind it, sending you into a mild panic as you struggled to get back in without squishing her. Nowadays, she’s far more interested in exploring, and as long as you look round to check on her every thirty seconds, there’s not normally that much trouble she can get herself into.

And you can hear her – she’s fast, but boy is she noisy. Even when her hands and knees aren’t drumming over the floorboards, she babbles to herself constantly. If you want to know where she is, just listen for a couple of seconds and she’ll announce herself.

Anyway, the other morning Izzie was in the nursery pulling sleepsuits out of the drawer and throwing them over her shoulder, and I figured it’d be the ideal time to pop to the toilet. It would take her at least half a minute to completely empty the drawer, then another few minutes of flinging them to every corner of the nursery for her job to be truly finished. Plenty of time, and I’d hear her if she left the room.

So, I’m standing there, peeing, minding my own business, looking down, as you do when you’re a polite man who was taught how to aim, when to my absolute horror a little hand appears between my knees and grips the rim of the bowl. Then another little hand appears beside it, followed by the head of my little daughter, mesmerized by the majestic stream cascading down mere millimetres away from her face.

Oh. My. God. I cannot describe to anyone who has not experienced it the awkward awfulness of such a moment – hands full, mid-flow, the peace of a second before now hanging in shreds, replaced by the terrible fear you’re about to piss on your baby’s head!

I sprang into action. But just as I was pinching it off to avoid something that would haunt my nightmares for years to come – no mean feat in itself, any man can tell you – she switched her focus to the water (and other) in the bowl and reached down into the toilet, ready to scoop –

My free hand caught her wrist and stopped her a gnat’s bum fluff away from breaking the surface.

Manoeuvring her safely off the toilet and out of the bathroom – one hand on my junk, one clutching her wrist, and her so unsteady on her feet – wasn’t the easiest of things, but was nothing compared to what had come a moment before.

Now, I will never have to flashback to the day I gave my daughter the world’s worst hair wash. Never before have the words ‘millimetres from disaster’ held so much truth!

The Dreaded Moment

It’s the moment every parent dreads. You put your baby in her cot, flat on her back and half-asleep. You wander to the bathroom to cut the tag off her new gro-bag. And when you return you see your not-quite-eight-months baby doing this:

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I am your worst nightmare!

Yup, she can stand. By herself. With no help from daddy anymore. Who needs you? Not me!

So in the morning you put her on her little pink scooter-car thing, and she not only shuffles around the floor like an infant Lewis Hamilton, she’s cocky about it:

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Ha! One hand! Eat my dust, turkeys!

It’s made mealtimes rather interesting, because along with this latest development comes a desire for independence stronger than some separatist movements. She doesn’t want me to hold her beaker anymore – she wants to do it herself. And if I try to help her, I get screamed at. Damn it, dad, I don’t care how much water I pour over myself, just let me do it my way!

Every achievement on the way to full mobility is written large upon her face. She grins from ear to ear, laughs uproariously, and babbles excitedly at how freaking cool she is.

But her ego has outgrown her ability.

She’s increasingly annoyed at how slow crawling is. You can see (and hear) her frustration that she can’t move as quick and easy as she wants. She keeps getting up on one knee and lifting both hands skywards as though asking to be picked up – but woe betide if you try, because she’s actually raising her arms in victory that she’s one step closer to walking and doesn’t appreciate you stepping on her freedom, thank you very much.

Her ‘victory hands’ are actually a little counter-productive to the whole standing project – she gets to her hands and feet like a cat arching its back, makes a triumphant one-armed salute, and face plants right into the carpet. But that doesn’t faze her at all, because she starts right up again.

And all of this while teething and fighting off an ear-infection. Determined is not the word: she’s a little trooper!

And yet, along with the pride, comes a tightening of the chest and a catching of the breath, because my baby is on the verge of becoming a toddler. I thought we’d have more time with our baby, that it’d be at least a year before she gave up her total dependence on us. I want to tell her to slow down, to stop being in such a rush, that it’ll come regardless, but she’s inherited my willfulness – I was the same as a baby, racing towards developmental milestones as though they came with prizes. I already feel like I’m being pushed aside, and I can’t say I altogether like it.

But then, when I think how far we’ve come since those first days of life in June, when I worried she wouldn’t be coming out of hospital, to how she is now, I have nothing to complain about. She’s a bona fide miracle.

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Week One
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Week 34

If her journey to independence continues at this rate, before I know it she’ll be trying on funky hats and telling me in a Mockney accent that she wants to be a chimneysweep’s scamp. I dread that day.

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Too late!

Endless changing

When you’re having a baby, you expect its arrival to be the Great Unknown: you’re going to jump off the edge of a cliff in the night, with no idea what awaits you. But once you get into it, you’ll get into a rhythm, and the changes from then on will be incremental and manageable.

Not so. Not so at all.

Sure, the birth and first month is like leaping – falling – into the abyss, but gradually you learn how to fly. You learn to interpret the sounds the baby makes and what they mean, become adept at nappy changing, feeding, prepping bottles, soothing her. You work out ways of carrying her that are safe and don’t break your back or your arms, get into a routine, discover you can cope with the lack of sleep and the irritations of cold or skipped dinners, vomit-stained clothing and the ever present weight of responsibility. Things are getting easier. The future looks rosy.

And then, around three months, it all changes again.

She suddenly makes different sounds, different facial expressions. Whereas before, you knew exactly what she wanted and could meet her needs right away, now you can’t anticipate them at all, and you only realise she wants something after she’s started screaming. But on the plus side, she starts to sleep through the night and you have time on your hands and no idea what to do with it. You’re now an expert at nappies and bottles. You’re finally getting a handle on this parenting thing.

And then around five months, it all changes again. She wants to roll over all the time, so nappy changes turn into a nightmarish battle of wills. She starts waking again in the middle of the night for two hours at a time, and you’re so out of practice at missing sleep, it hits you worse than it did the first time around. She wants solid food – well, mush – because the milk just doesn’t cut it anymore. And everything within arms reach is a potential hazard that if she gets her hands on goes straight into her mouth and causes her to choke.

But you invent new methods to cope. I kept losing count of how many spoonfuls of formula I put in her milk as I had to keep one eye on her, so I’ve scrapped the numbers 1-7 and replaced them with the words ‘Thumb, pointer, middle, ring, pinkie, thumb, pointer,’ along with visualising the relevant fingers. Such an effective method, I can have a conversation while doing it and still keep count.

And changing her is so much easier if you give her a plastic baby coat hangar to play with, as it keeps her on her back and keeps her hands busy (and thus out of her own poop). [But a word of warning on this technique – never use something big, like a teddy bear. I made this mistake yesterday. The first thing she did was rub it between her legs and smear poop all up her belly, so I tossed it aside and gave her a sock instead. Finished, I turned to recover the poop-covered teddy bear to find the dog licking it clean. Gross does not describe it!]

We are approaching another change. In the past three weeks, from six-and-a-half months to now (seven months and five days), she has learned to crawl, sit unsupported, remove her nappy, manoeuvre herself anywhere she chooses to go, throw her dummies across the room, and speak, albeit in Spanish (‘habla, habla, habla, habla’, which prompts me to reply ‘Espanol? No habla Espanol. Habla Ingles, por favor.’).

And suddenly she’s decided she wants to be a drummer. Everything’s a drum to her – the tray table of her high chair, her toys, the floor, the sofa, her inflatable donut chair, daddy’s belly, mummy’s boobs. It used to be ‘can I pick it up, can I put it in my mouth?’ It’s now ‘can I pick it up, can I slap it and make a noise, can I put it in my mouth?’ Anything comes on TV with a heavy beat, like the intro to Modern Family, she stops what she’s doing and stares transfixed at the screen. Weirdly, she didn’t bat an eyelid when a compilation of old Sugababes videos was on, but put on Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Sleepwalking’ or ‘Shadow Moses’ and she’s fascinated (look them up if you want to know why that’s so unexpected! And yes, my musical tastes are eclectic).

And she’s started hooking things over her feet – any hoop or ring toy she gets she tries to turn into an ankle bracelet. The developments are coming so thick and fast – in sitting, crawling, walking, talking, facial expressions, reaching, holding, manipulating, weaning – that it’s hard to keep up. And she’s reached the point where she suddenly gets clingy and shy. A couple of weeks ago, she’d have gone with anyone; now, she glances at strangers then buries her face in my chest before glancing out again, or looks to me as if to say, ‘Is this okay, daddy? Are we safe? Or should I show this person the door?’

According to the Health Visitor, she’s way ahead of the curve, and she can’t believe how these developmental milestones have been reached so close together. Normally, she says, they’re more spread out so you have the chance to process them.

The end result of this is that Lizzie and I both feel we’re walking along the edge of an abyss. We can feel a giant change coming, a truly Great Unknown just ahead, invisible and unavoidable. We don’t know what it is – walking, words, a rudimentary nuclear reactor. We keep expecting to walk into the nursery in the morning to find her sitting dressed on the floor with a cup of tea, asking us whether we’d like one lump or two.

It’s not a very comfortable feeling. It feels like it did the week of the due date – like something huge and life-changing is rapidly approaching and we don’t know how we’ll cope and if we’re sufficiently prepared. Yet again we’ll have to find a way to adapt. And honestly, we’re both a little terrified of this unseen future.

So if you think having a baby will change your life, you’re wrong. It will change your life, then change it again, and again, and again, and again, and again…

Codependent Parenting

Izzie’s crawling! Well, not crawling as such – commando crawling, as though she’s in combat fatigues on an army assault course while someone fires a machine gun over her head.

You can’t believe how happy we were the first time we saw her do it. I knew she could get about somehow because every night when I go to check on her, she’s up the top of the cot, head pressed hard against the headboard, neck at an acute angle, and fast asleep – despite it being a position Rip van Winkle would struggle to find comfortable.

The same sense of pride and accomplishment comes from her walking. If you stand behind her and hold her hands, she’s off! Today we toddled ten metres in a single stretch. She giggles while she’s doing it, excited that she’s a big girl now. In a room full of people, I absolutely burn with pride because she’s only six-months old.

But then I started thinking: how insecure am I if I need to show off about how quickly my daughter is developing? And how shallow am I that everyone’s amazement at how ahead-of-the-curve she is feels like a personal compliment to me? Her rapid development is mostly down to genetics and her own personality, so why am I claiming it as my own achievement? And why does it feel so much better than my own accomplishments?

I mean, in the past year I’ve won four short-story writing competitions, got a distinction for my Masters Degree, and a publisher is interested in my book on autism, yet this feels like nothing next to the fact that Izzie can take off her own nappy. Which begs the question: have I become codependent with my own daughter?

The signs are there. My whole sense of purpose at the moment revolves around Izzie and her wellbeing. My emotional security rests on being able to meet her needs. I’m happy because I can keep her safe and secure. And the other day when we picked her up from her grandmother’s and she totally blanked me, I took it as a personal slight. She looked everywhere but at me – please look at daddy, tell me you missed me and you still love me, please, ah!

But then, perhaps it’s normal at this stage – below the age of one – for a parent to feel so connected to his child. It’s meant to be that way, right? We’re programmed by evolution to nurture our children, protect them, because they’re so vulnerable. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have survived as a species.

And the last few nights when I’ve been putting Izzie to bed, holding her close and rocking her to sleep, she’s taken out her dummy and pressed it into my mouth. How can you not be touched by such an innocent and selfless act of sharing?

That is, unless she’s actually saying, ‘Stop singing, dad, you sound like a jackass.’ Nah, I’m sure she does it because she loves me, right? Right?