Too smart for a three-year-old

I think one of the biggest problems in my relationship with my daughter Izzie is that I keep treating her like a five- or six-year-old, expecting an older child’s level of understanding, emoting and behavioural control. Why? Because she’s too damn smart for a three-year-old.

Take yesterday, for example. She was sitting in the kitchen, drawing with her mummy, granny and sister, when I came in, sat down, and started chatting. After a few minutes, she said, ‘Daddy, you haven’t read much of your book today.’

‘No, I haven’t,’ I said. ‘I thought I’d sit in here with you.’

‘Well, I know you want to read your book, so why don’t you go and read your book? We’ll be okay.’

‘I’m alright.’

‘Daddy. It’s starting to get dark. You should read your book now.’

‘You really want me to read my book?’

‘Yes.’

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘See you in a bit.’

‘Okay, daddy, bye bye.’

I got up, walked out of the room, and then heard her say to the others, ‘Ah. Nice and quiet.’

And they all burst out laughing.

I raced back in. ‘Hang on,’ I said. ‘Were you trying to get rid of me?’

Izzie gave me an apologetic look and said, ‘You just talk so much, daddy.’

Oh my gosh. Instead of telling me to be quiet or go away or any of the other things you might expect a three-year-old to say, she used subtlety and subterfuge to remove me, playing on my own desires and interests to get what she wanted. I’d like to think it was about sparing my feelings – it’s an improvement on a month ago when she said, ‘Daddy, daddy, stop talking, I’m just not interested’ – but I’m pretty sure she was simply sharpening her manipulative wiles for the future.

Gosh darn.

A couple of days ago, she showed another keen eye for social interaction. I have to admit that, despite writing on this very blog that you shouldn’t shout at kids because they won’t listen to you, I haven’t been following my own advice. Lately, Izzie has been very disobedient, or, to quote the ladies at nursery, ‘not using her listening ears’ – basically completely ignoring the authority figure and doing what she wants. And I have doubled down on the shouting because she’s testing every boundary, and getting on every last nerve of every person she meets.

So the other day she was in the bath, throwing water all over me, and I told her to stop. And I told her to stop. And then I shouted at her to stop or I would get her out of the bath and make her sit on the naughty step.

‘Daddy,’ she snapped. ‘When I’m being naughty, treat me like I’m not being naughty.’

I stopped. ‘Huh? You mean let you do whatever you want?’

‘No, talk to me like you talk to me when I’m not naughty.’

‘You mean, don’t shout?’

‘Yes, daddy. Don’t shout at me when I’m naughty.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t listen when you shout. So I keep being naughty.’

‘Oh. So if I speak in a normal voice, you’ll listen to me when I tell you to stop?’

‘Yes, daddy.’

‘Okay.’ I thought a moment. ‘Let’s make a deal then. From now on, I’ll speak to you in a normal voice when you’re being naughty. But you have to listen when I do, and do what I say.’

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘We’ll do that. High five.’

So we high-fived on it. And at least one of us is upholding his side of the bargain…

But here is my question. If she’s that freaking smart that she’s a nursery room lawyer and can wind everyone in her life around her little finger at just three years of age, how come I have to check under the bed for dinosaurs every night?

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Between a Baby and a Little Girl: The Joys of Ageing

As the father of a four-month-old and a two-year-old, I’m currently caught between two extremes. I have a child who needs carrying everywhere, feeding, dressing, changing, soothing, nurturing and supporting, and a child who is Miss Independent, insisting she walk everywhere, feed herself, dress herself, use the big toilet, and do whatever she wants, whenever she wants, without parental supervision. Unfortunately, I’m only talking about one child: my eldest daughter Izzie.

I’m constantly reminded of that Britney Spears song, ‘I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.’ For my daughter, it’s more like, ‘I’m not a baby, not yet a girl, because I don’t want to be either, except when I do.’ Which makes parenting her a bit of a nightmare at the moment.

One minute she’s refusing to wear a nappy because ‘me not a baby, daddy,’ bragging to her friends that ‘me wearing Peppa Pig pants!’ and using the toilet because she’s far too grown up for the potty; and the next, she’s screaming because she isn’t wearing a nappy, refuses to wear pants, and won’t go on anything because ‘me not a big girl!’

Four months ago she started to make representational art forms – a wooden brick airplane with wings and a tail – yet one day last week she assured me she didn’t know how to walk. She’s caught in that awful netherworld of identity between the easy, dependent life of an infant and the scarier, independent world of the little girl.

It’s obvious why – she sees her baby sister getting the attention and monopolizing our time and she wants the same for herself, but she also wants to play with her friends, do her own thing, and have some control over her life. Sure, it’d be nice to keep her a baby, but as she gets older it’s inevitable that she’ll have to leave that world behind.

Which her younger sister Rosie is doing right now. The first three months are sometimes called ‘The Fourth Trimester’ because you have a child that is little different from a baby in the womb, only you have to feed it and change it as it doubles in size and keeps you awake at night. But around three months she suddenly started to become interested in the world. She gurgles and snorts, smiles and laughs, and squawks like a cockatoo. Loudly. All blooming day.

And she’s become mobile. She rolls from her front to her back, from her back to her side, and, a couple of days ago, mastered reaching and grabbing hold of objects and steering them into her mouth – my necklace, my glasses, my beard. And that helpless little baby is now well on her way to a P60 and National Insurance payments.

It’s a confusing time. You want to tell them to slow it down, to accept who they are at this stage of their lives. You want to tell them to keep their fear of the dark because life is more exciting that way, and to hang onto their beliefs in a world bereft of magic. You want to tell them to stop wishing it all away.

But I remember being five years old in reception class at school, desperate to be older. I remember feeling powerless and small and longing to be autonomous and as big as the sky. I told the dinner lady, and she said that when I was older, I’d wish to be young again. I didn’t believe her. Who would want to be young? So I know my daughters won’t listen to a word I say, will only see the benefits of getting older and not what they’re leaving behind, even as we parents pine for the youth we lost.

But maybe they’re right after all. As a society, we glamorise youth and villify ageing – innocence and beauty and purity don’t have grey hair and wrinkles and saggy bottoms. We seem to spend our lives longing for some mythical time when we were happier and had it all in front of us. But why do we always define ageing by what we’ve lost instead of by what we’ve gained? Experience, stability, stature. A wealth of knowledge and the wisdom to wield it.

Instead of seeing ageing as decay, why don’t we see it through the eyes of our children, as a natural progression towards the people we want to be? Because each day we are becoming more, not less. Each day we are gaining, not losing. Ageing is not the enemy – it’s our perception of ageing, of what it means, that makes us suffer.

So whatever age you find yourself, embrace it. You are exactly the age you’re meant to be, and the features of that age are beautiful and yours to own – even hair loss and premature ejaculation. And that wonderful time long ago when we were happy to be young?

It never actually happened.

Becoming a dad for the second time

Having become a dad for the second time a grand total of four hours after my last post, I would like to announce the arrival of Rosie Grace Drew into the world. Weighing in at 7lbs 13oz, she was born in a blisteringly quick six hours from start to finish, meaning I was finishing my blog while my wife was in labour – shh, don’t tell her! In my defence, I thought it was another false alarm, such as we’d had the day before, during which we’d spent eight hours in ‘labour’, including five in hospital. Also, I was timing the contractions while hiding on the landing to write, so…no. No excuse. My bad.

Anyway, becoming a dad for a second time, and in such a quick and easy fashion, has given rise to a number of observations.

Firstly, your understanding of birth clearly relates to the manner of birth you experience. After the traumatic arrival of our first daughter, my impression of birth was as an incredibly stressful, dramatic and terrifying ordeal, a medical process involving tubes and tools, a score of specialist personnel, massive aftercare, and the ever-present fear of death. Indeed, whenever I heard about people giving birth at home, I’d think: are you freaking nuts!?!

This second birth couldn’t have been more different. When we arrived at hospital, my wife was 3cm. Ninety minutes of sweating, shivering and grunting later, the midwife said, ‘You know what? I don’t think you’re in established labour yet. I think we should probably give you some pethidine, you go have a sleep, and then we’ll resume this – it’ll be hours yet.’

Here we go again, I thought. But she decided to check before administering the drug.

‘There’s your show, and there’s your waters, and you have no cervix so you can push anytime you want.’

And four pushes later, out plopped Rosie. These experiences don’t really give you confidence in NHS midwives, do they?

As a result of this birth, which was quick, easy, and entirely carried out under my wife’s own steam, I now see childbirth – the uncomplicated kind, at least – as a very natural, everyday process. An incredible process, to be sure, but a biological function rather than a medical intervention. Having a baby at home? Why wouldn’t you have a baby at home?

In fact, she arrived so quickly, we weren’t ready. We were waiting for something to go wrong – for my wife to be rushed off to theatre by people in blue scrubs, for our daughter to be put in a perspex box and dragged off to NICU, for weeks of eating petrol-station sandwiches and trying to sleep in hospital chairs – but we had none of that. Instead, we sat in a room with a baby that only a few minutes before had been inside my wife’s abdomen, and were left alone. We’d only been in hospital two hours. We could have gone home after another hour. It all seemed rather surreal.

After the first birth – at least, one the way we had it – you see childbirth as an awful thing. After the second, we saw it as a beautiful thing. As with everything, I imagine the truth is somewhere in between.

As we’re a high-risk family, we had to stay in for 48 hours for the baby to be monitored, lest she develop respiratory problems (she didn’t). It was on the postnatal ward that I realised that having a second child is completely different to having the first.

It’s amazing how chilled you are the second time round. You really notice it when you’re surrounded by first-time parents hovering over their babies, stressing about every little thing, treating them like porcelain dolls that’ll break whenever they touch them, constantly checking to make sure they’re still alive, struggling to feed them, agonising about whether breast truly is best or if they should switch to the bottle, and being thoroughly unprepared for being up half the night, every night. You know, all the stuff I did first time round.

I did none of that this time. Other than ensuring she’s neither too hot nor too cold, looking after a baby is mostly a case of putting stuff in one end and cleaning it up when it comes out the other. So while we were in hospital, I fed little Rosie, burped her, and put her back in her cot, waited three hours, changed her nappy, fed her, burped her, and repeated this for two days. In between I’d watch the other parents fussing around their kids, freaking out over every cry, and fretting through lack of sleep, and think: I’m so glad I’m a second-time dad!

Having experience makes the return home that much easier too. The first child, it’s like someone swings a wrecking ball through your life. Everything changes, and until you manage to adjust, you get caught in a baby bubble where the baby and your status as a parent are the only things that matter. No matter what you do – driving her in the car, bedding her down in the Moses basket, taking her out in the pram, giving her a bath – it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, so it seems like a massive obstacle you need to overcome.

Taking Rosie home was no big deal, because we’ve done all of that hundreds of times before. Nor do we worry so much. Having been a good feeder, she’s suddenly grazing every hour around the clock and is incredibly unsettled, but instead of panicking, we simply carry on, aware it’s just the day-ten growth spurt. It’ll settle down, as it always did with Izzie. (Note to first time parents: watch out for growth spurts, and try not to worry!)

In fact, coming home with a second baby is something of an anti-climax. Partly this is because instead of the mountain of cards, banners and balloons that greeted your first, your second is met with widespread indifference, but mostly it’s because you’re expecting hell, ready to march through a field of flames for the foreseeable future – but it isn’t anywhere near as bad as that. The only real hardship I’ve encountered is that the nights seem to take more out of me now than they did two years ago, probably because two years ago I was fresh, while this time I’m starting on the back of around 800 nights of broken sleep. But hey ho, I’ll adjust.

But there’s one thing that is exactly the same no matter how much you worried about it – the amount that you love them. You don’t love them the same way, because they’re not the same, but you love them just as much. It took me a couple of days to get there, I’ll admit – I didn’t feel as strongly for her the moment I set eyes on her – but your fatherly instincts kick in soon enough and you realise you’d die for the second just as you’d die for the first.

And like the first, she’s already a daddy’s girl, and beautiful to boot. What can I say? I make great babies.

Toddlers, on the other hand…but that’s another story.

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to all dads, whether old or young, with big children or small, neurotypical or otherwise. Remember, anyone can be a father, but it takes work, dedication and understanding to be a dad.

I spent my first Father’s Day in NICU, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, my little girl in a plastic crate with a tube in her nose. I came in first thing in the morning, bleary-eyed and overwhelmed, to find a mug beside her bed that said, ‘World’s Best Daddy’, and a card from my daughter that contained her footprint in pink paint. To the paediatric nurses and prem baby charity Bliss, I have to say that it made all the difference to me that day. Thank you for your sensitivity and your kindness. Little things make all the difference.

I have written an open letter about this experience to my daughter for Autism Wessex. Feel free to have a read.

All the best, and keep up the good work!

Gillan