Debating a two-year-old

Why have you emptied the cupboard onto the kitchen floor? No, don’t walk away. Come back. Don’t hide in that cupboard. Are you listening to me? Izzie? Come out of there. Come out or you’re on the naughty step.

‘Okay, daddy.’

Right. Good. Why are you sticking out your bottom lip? That’s better. Now, come here, I want to talk to you.

Leave the water bottle alone. I said leave it alone.

This broken.

It’s not broken.

This broken, daddy.

Don’t change the subject. Come here. The count of three. One, two…

Good. Stop sticking out your bottom lip. Now, why did you empty all the baking tins out of the cupboard when mummy told you not to?

‘Mffmffjmmmt.’

You have to open your mouth when you speak.

‘Mffmffjmmmt.’

No, you have to open your mouth. I know you’re capable of talking because you’ve been doing it all day. So tell me why you emptied the cupboard, and this time, open your mouth when you talk.

Muh huh bluh muh nuh juh bluh.’

That isn’t any better. Think about what you want to say and then say it. Why did you empty the cupboard when mummy told you not to?

‘Me sit in my chair.’

Fine, sit in your chair. Then tell me why there are baking tins all over the floor. No, look at me. Why are you sticking out your bottom lip again? That’s better. Now. Why did you disobey your mummy?

‘Mmf luff juh buh muh Daisy.’

Only one word of that was in English. What about Daisy?

My friend Daisy.’

I know she’s your friend. What’s that got to do with this?

‘Mmf luff juh buh tell me.’

Daisy told you to empty the cupboard?

‘Yes.’

When did she tell you to empty the cupboard?

‘Yesterday.’

You haven’t seen Daisy for a week. Are you lying to me?

‘No.’

Lying is naughty.

‘Me lying.’

So Daisy didn’t tell you to empty it?

‘No.’

Then why did you empty it?

‘Mummy tell me.’

Your mummy told you to empty the cupboard?

‘Yes.’

The person who told you not to empty the cupboard told you to empty the cupboard?

‘Yes.’

Are you lying to me again?

‘Yes.’

So why did you empty the cupboard all over the floor? Suck in that bottom lip. Do you know why you emptied the cupboard?

‘No, me not know why.’

Well, at least you’re honest. When mummy tells you not to do something, don’t do it, okay?

‘Okay, daddy. Me go in my playroom now?’

No, let’s pick these all up off the floor and put them back in the cupboard, please.

‘Daddy do it.’

No, you made the mess so you can tidy it up.

‘Me want daddy do it.’

And me want holiday, but we don’t always get what we want.

‘Me not want holiday.’

Then you’re in luck. Now, please put all of these baking tins back in the cupboard.

‘Mummy do it.’

No, mummy’s not going to do it. Where’s this bottom lip thing come from?

‘Me need a toilet.’

Do you really need the toilet or are you trying to get out of clearing up?

‘Me need a wee-wee. Me not wear a nappy, me not wee-wee in my pants.’

Fine. Come on, let’s go sit on the potty.

‘You not look at my wee-wee.’

I won’t look at your wee-wee. Come on, take your trousers down, and your pants, there you go.

‘You not listen, daddy.’

I won’t listen. There. Are you doing anything?

‘No. Me not need a toilet.’

Goddamnit. Okay, stand up then. That’s it. Pull your pants up, and your trousers. There, all done.

‘Me play in my playroom now?’

No, you’re going to tidy up first.

‘Why?’

Because I said so. No, don’t sigh at me.

‘Me not want to tidy things, daddy.’

Why not?

‘Me naughty.’

Well, don’t be naughty.

Why?’

Because it’s not nice.

‘Me not want to tidy.’

Look, how about this – if you put the baking tins away, I’ll come in your playroom with you.

‘Okay.’

Thank God. Okay, that’s one. No, leave the water bottle alone.

‘This broken.’

It’s not broken, it’s meant to be like that. Now, put the baking tins away before I scream.

‘Daddy sad?’

No, daddy isn’t sad.

‘Daddy cry?’

No, daddy isn’t going to cry.

‘Daddy cry. Do it. Do it now.’

Wait, you want daddy to cry?

‘Yes. On my birthday and mummy’s birthday.’

Why would you want me to cry on your birthday?

‘You always do.’

What? You’ve completely lost me now.

‘Me play in my playroom with daddy?’

Put them away, and then I’ll play with you. I said don’t sigh at me.

‘Why?’

Because…oh for crying out loud, I’ll put one away and you put one away, how’s that? Okay?

‘Okay, daddy.’

Okay, good. Here, that’s one. Now it’s your turn. It’s your turn. Pick that one up. That one right there. Where I’m pointing. Where I’m pointing, look.

‘Me not see it.’

Okay, now you’re just mucking me about.

‘Me not see anything.’

Right, that’s it. Straight to bed with no supper. Come on, up to bed.

‘No, me not go to bed. Me not tired. Me busy.’

With what?

‘Me got to put things in the cupboard.’

I know. I know you do. I told you to do it. Ten minutes ago. Ten minutes. You’re driving me insane, child, insane. Do you understand?

‘Daddy want a cuddle?’

Aaaaaaaawaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!

Managing the Toddler Stage

When people see you struggling with a heavy load, they don’t ask if you’re doing an awesome job or exceeding all your expectations, or if carrying heavy loads comes naturally to you – they say, ‘Can you manage?’

I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.

As a dad, and an autistic dad at that, I want to be the best parent on the planet – guide, teacher, confidante, protector, therapist, playmate, master and friend. I want to be friendly, understanding, patient, relaxed, calm, tolerant, respected and in control. I’m pretty sure that’s normal – no parent thinks to themselves, ‘Damn I wish I was worse at this than I am.’ But where I possibly differ from many is my rigid, black and white, all-or-nothing approach to the subject.

You see, to my way of thinking, if I’m not the best dad in the world, then I must be the worst; if I’m not excelling, then I’m failing; if I’m not winning then I’m most definitely losing. My benchmarks, my expectations and my standards are set so high you need oxygen and ice axes to reach them. This is unrealistic, and I know that, but it doesn’t stop me striving for greatness.

Up to now, this hasn’t been much of a problem. There have been trials and hardships, sure, but every step of the way I’ve overcome them. A bit of perseverance here, some tender loving care there – all it required was patience, endurance and a sense of humour. Simple.

Not so now that she’s hitting two. This terrible toddler stage is something else entirely.

Everything that took minutes before now takes hours. Everything that once was easy is now like quantum mechanics. And everything she used to do willingly has become a clash of nuclear powers that leaves only devastation in its wake.

Bedtime, for example. I used to put her down, read her a story, and that would be that – maybe I’d have to stick her back under the covers a couple of times overnight, but nothing more than that.

Now it’s like carrying a hissing, spitting baby tiger up the stairs, trying to avoid getting your eyes scratched out while enduring a barrage of feral, bestial roars that befuddle your senses and threaten to burst your eardrums. You put her down in bed, and she kicks off the covers and is at the bedroom door before you can escape. So you fight to lie her back down, and you reason, threaten, beg, cajole and finally bribe her with a story until she’s finally quiet and allows you to leave.

Three seconds after you close it, the door flies open and she hangs over the stairgate screaming blue bloody murder at you, as though the sky is falling down and you’re the one to blame. You hide in your bedroom, wait a minute and then pick her up, against her struggles, put her in bed, against her screams, throw the covers over her and race to the door.

And then the whole thing repeats.

It’s like being trapped in Tartarus with a cruel and unusual punishment picked out exclusively for you. Two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, putting her back in bed each time only to have her wrench open the door behind you and claw maniacally at the bars. Five minutes, six, seven. The screams descend into choking splutters, snorts, grunts, growls, a demon in your midst.

Until that wonderful, horrible moment, hours later, that she’s all cried out and sits on the floor like a dejected prisoner, rattling her dummy against the bars of the stairgate locking her in her room. And you sink to the floor yourself and you slither across the carpet to the stairs, lowering yourself inch by inch, praying they don’t creak because at the slightest sound she’ll start up again.

And you slink away and fall on the sofa, and you feel like bursting into tears because you’re battered and bruised, it’s all so hard and you can’t take it anymore.

And then she starts screaming again.

Unbelievably, the days can be worse. For the past three days, my home has been a war zone. The house is a mess, the floor covered with toys, and I decided that enough is enough. I told her she couldn’t get out any more toys, or watch Peppa Pig, until she had put her wooden blocks away. Two-and-a-half hours later, having screamed, cried, shouted, attacked me, laughed, giggled, batted her eyelids, hugged me, pleaded with me, thrown herself into the walls, thrown the blocks, hit me with her doll and overturned half of the furniture, she put the blocks away.

Did I feel jubilant, triumphant, victorious? Hell no. I felt emotionally raw from the hours of abuse, fighting to stay calm as she pressed every button and tested every boundary. I am the mountain worn away by the sea. But I consoled myself that the next time, it would be easier.

Yesterday, I told her to put away her wooden blocks before we went to the park. Three hours later, on the verge of screaming and crying myself, she put her blocks away. I won. At the cost of my soul and my sanity.

Today, to be fair, it only took one hour. But who knows how long it’ll take tomorrow?

I’ve never really understood the idea of picking your battles – I’ve always been of the opinion that if a principle is at stake then you attack it wherever you find it – but I’m discovering that flexibility in parenting a toddler is a must. After hours of fighting over the wooden blocks, when she started taking the DVDs out of their cases and putting them back in the wrong ones, you know what I did?

I pretended I didn’t see.

I’ve drawn a line in the sand, nailed my colours to the mast – the wooden blocks are the issue on which I hang my hat. If I can master this one thing, then I’ll deal with everything else, but I can’t do it all at once and I don’t have the energy or the emotional resilience right now to be master of all things.

Because the truth is, while I might want to be good at every aspect of parenting, to excel and overcome and be the best damned parent in the world, I’ve realised that in order to survive raising a toddler you have to lower your standards, relax your ideals and temper your expectations, or you’ll go crazy.

And that’s okay. Like the man with the heavy load, nobody is asking if I’m excelling – they’re asking if I can manage. And yes, I can.

That’s the lesson I take from this week – I might might want to conquer Everest, but setting my sights on Kilimanjaro as a more realistic alternative doesn’t make me a failure as a parent, does it?

Does it?

 

A Toddler’s Social Understanding

The first eighteen-odd months of a child’s life, their social skills are fairly simple, given that they revolve around another person’s ability to meet their needs: ‘feed me or I’ll scream, too late, waaaaaahhhhhhh!’

Their first hand gestures – pointing – are merely to make it easier for you to meet those needs. ‘I want that. No, not that: that! What are you, a moron?’ At this stage, it’s difficult to argue that kids are social beings at all, given that they’re self-centred hedonists who think other people exist solely to satisfy their desires, and they only acquire social skills as a cynical ploy to better manipulate those around them. If they were bigger, we’d call them psychopaths, or perhaps ‘rock stars’. It’s a good thing they’re small.

Then things get a little less selfish. They start to understand the pleasures of giving and receiving affection, by kissing and hugging and asking to be held. Around the same time they discover it can be fun to share their enjoyment with others – playing basic games, singing interactive songs, dancing, joking and imitating the behaviours of others (making pretend phone calls, cuddling pretend babies, preparing pretend cups of tea). They start to make friends, or have people they prefer to be with and those they wish to avoid. And they even learn a few key words (hello, goodbye, please, ta) to facilitate their entry into the social world. So far, so simple.

And then, after about eighteen-months, their level of social understanding mushrooms so quickly you struggle to recognise the increasingly complex creature that you share your home with.

My daughter is at this stage, and it is a daily dose of crazy.

For example, she has discovered hierarchy. A month ago, the dog was just another person around the house – albeit a hairy, smelly, waggy-tailed person. Now my daughter has realised that the dog is a non-human animal, and thus lower in status in the household than she is. And that means she is in charge, and can tell the dog to ‘shush!’ and ‘down!’ and ‘g’way!’ And woe betide if the dog doesn’t do as he’s told. It’s like having a pint-sized drill sergeant wandering around the lounge, demanding obedience at every turn. ‘Sir, yes, sir!’ cries the dog. Poor thing. She’ll be shaving his head next.

My daughter has also discovered the joys of storytelling, which is incredibly cute and incredibly confusing given her lack of spoken language. The other day I asked her what she did at her grandfather’s.

‘Izza da bed, bong da whoosh!’ she said, swinging her arms around and spinning on one foot.

‘You did what?’

‘Da bed. Dee bosh tan dum bin bed. Da whoosh da bed, an bed, sa bed, whoosh.’

‘What about the bed?’

‘Inda ban bed,’ she said, bewildered that I couldn’t understand. ‘Da bed, whoosh, bong ta bed. Whoosh. Da bed ta whoosh!’

Nope. Ten minutes of this. Something about a bed, that’s all I got.

A phone call to her grandfather established that what she’d been trying to explain was that she had been jumping up and down on the bed all afternoon. So obvious (not)!

Now, storytelling is a complex skill involving careful selection and omission – knowing what to include and what to leave out. My daughter will spend ages talking about something that lasted two seconds, and the rest of the day won’t even get a mention. She also has a weird predilection for the more morbid aspects of a toddler’s experience.

It doesn’t matter what she’s done, where she’s been or for how long – ask her what she did and she’ll tell you how she hurt herself. You went to the beach today? She’ll rub her eyes to show she got sand in them. What did you do at the park? She’ll point to a graze on her knee. Did you see your aunt? She’ll indicate where she banged her head on the table. You do not want to babysit my little girl – you make the slightest mistake, she’ll act it out and tell me all about it.

And that’s another complex social skill she’s developed lately – the concept of blame. After I put her to bed the other night, I came downstairs with the monitor and started to write. After a while, I started to hear giggling through the speakers – child and adult. This went on for around fifteen minutes until I popped upstairs to see what was happening. My wife had climbed into the little one’s cot and they were playing peekaboo. Nice.

I stood and watched for a moment, such a lovely scene of innocent joy – and then my daughter saw me.

The change was instantaneous. The smile vanished, her face fell and she pointed at my wife. ‘Mummy! Mummy!’ she shouted, as though saying, ‘It was her, daddy, it was her!’ She then gestured over the side of the cot. ‘Mummy, bed, da bed, mummy,’ she said, which I interpreted as, ‘I told her to get out, daddy, but she wouldn’t go, it’s her fault, I didn’t want to, she made me, it wasn’t me!’ Forgetting, of course, that I’d stood there and watched her, and she was in every way an active participant in the game.

Scary how quickly she’d sell out her mother. Scary that she’s already developed a concept of behaviour and consequence. Even scarier that she sees my wife as a playmate and me as the lawmaker who’ll tell them off for messing about after lights out. I guess that answers the question of how she sees the hierarchy between her parents.

For the next few nights, every time I walked past her room I could hear fake snoring as she pretended to be asleep. At 21-months! What a devious little sod. And what a socially-complex kid compared to a couple of months ago.

You have to watch out for these toddlers. One day they’re crying for a bottle of milk; the next, they’re planting evidence to frame others for their misdeeds. If your kid is approaching eighteen-months of age, watch out: the next few months are going to be interesting!

Aspie Family Update, Pt 1

It has been over a month since my last post. I’d like to say it was a deliberate attempt to track incremental change over a longer timescale, but that would be a misrepresentation of reality. The truth is I could neither find the energy to write nor think of anything to say. It has, however, led to a benefit, in that, all bullshit aside, I have been able to track incremental change over a longer timescale. Which is good for all concerned.

You see, in the first thirteen or so months, Izzie changed dramatically and so did our lives, giving fertile ground for blogging. But by the time you’re over a year into parenthood, the changes become rather less profound. For one thing, by this point you’re used to the whole parenting lark, so dramatic, soul-searching incidents occur with less frequency than at first; for another, the changes in your toddler become developments in extent rather than in kind. What I mean by this is that first steps, first word, first use of a spoon, are milestones that require an entire post, but more steps, more words, and further use of the spoon don’t really warrant much comment. It’s like a person confined to a wheelchair after a horrible mountaineering accident – the first time they get up and walk they’re in all the papers and magazines, but as they continue to walk and gradually get better at it, nobody gives a crap because it’s just a person walking. We have to wait for them to climb Everest before we hear about them again.

All of this is a longwinded way of saying the time away has been a good thing, as I’ve been able to notice and reflect upon things that, had I been writing every couple of days, would surely have slipped by unnoticed.

Here, then, are the developments that have occurred in the past two months to my almost-nineteen-month-old daughter.

Communication

Izzie still can’t talk, but that’s okay, because she communicates just fine. By which I mean she points at things she wants and then grunts, nods emphatically if we pick it up, or shakes her head and screams if we fail to understand.

Which reveals a mistake that we, as first time parents, have made with our daughter – responding to her non-verbal communication. Don’t do this. It is bad.

When she first started her snippets of words and what have you, she seemed to be coming on quite well; then we started understanding her, and she suddenly stopped advancing, because who needs to talk when you can just point and grunt? So now when she asks for things we have to feign ignorance, which makes her incredibly stroppy because we hitherto understood her, but it must be endured if we want a human daughter who communicates in full sentences, and not a pet monkey.

Speaking of which, her monkey impression is great: oo-oo ah-ah. And she’s got a whole other bunch too: baa (sheep), oof oof (dog), guck guck (chicken), gack gack (duck), choo choo (train), oooo (Frankie Howerd or possibly a cow), sssss (snake, though I have no idea where she learnt that from), and ‘Ummm,’ which is her impression of a teenager and the sound she makes every time you ask her a question. At least, I hope it’s an impression and it’s not that she really is that indecisive!

To be fair, though, while she doesn’t have a broad vocabulary, she understands freaking everything. She knows all the who’s, what’s, where’s and why’s of everything you say. Over there, the other one, not on your head, where’s your bellybutton, no that’s my bellybutton, sit down, stand up, if you splash me again there’ll be trouble, get out the way of the telly, shut up and go to sleep, put the knife down, let go of my leg, stop feeding your breakfast to the dog, what happened to my youth, oh God I’m old, and the like.

In fact, what I’ve noticed is that while she understands most things, she doesn’t seem to understand negatives. For example, she understands ‘eat it’ but doesn’t understand ‘don’t eat it,’ and while she seems to grasp ‘sit on the floor’ she doesn’t understands ‘don’t sit on the floor.’ So instead of saying ‘don’t touch the plug socket’, which invariably results in her touching the plug socket, you have to distract her instead by saying something like ‘go get your crayons, we’ll do a drawing’.

And nor does she understand it if you say ‘no’: she just shakes her head and laughs and does it anyway.

At least, I hope these last few examples are because she doesn’t understand it, and not because we’re raising a right little bastard…

 

Mobility

I’ve been taking Izzie to soft play. I was brought up to believe in hell. I have found it.

Over the past two months her mobility has come on leaps and bounds, pun entirely intended. All day she runs and jumps and falls and bounces off every surface imaginable. She has inherited her mother’s total indifference to danger, and it seems that the higher the object, the more determined she is to throw herself off it.

Her favourite pastime at the moment is crawling under the dining table, dragging herself up onto a dining chair, then clambering onto the back of the sofa. Perching there a moment, she checks to make sure you’re watching, then does a forward roll/somersault onto the seat cushions and bounces onto the floor with a thud, whereupon she pulls herself to her feet, gives herself a round of applause, and then repeats the whole terrifying stunt.

The self-congratulation appears to be an important part of the whole process. I think it comes from swimming – she’s been taught to stand on the side of the pool and then, ‘One, two, three, go!’ and jump in, after which we praise her. If I’m helping her down the stairs, every so often she stands, says ‘Doo, doo, doo, oi!’ and then leaps into space. She does the same from the coffee table. She even does it standing on books, all of 5mm from the carpet: ‘doo, doo, doo, oi,’ jump, clap, repeat. Half the time, it’s really cute and entertaining; half the time it scares the bejesus out of me!

A slightly safer pastime is her newfound love of dancing. She always enjoyed gyrating to music, but now she’s turned it into an art form. We discovered this in December while watching a film scarier than any horror. I don’t normally mind kiddie movies, but this one is painful. In TV, the moment a show exceeds the point of ridiculousness, it is called ‘jumping the shark’, after a diabolical scene in Happy Days. Having now seen the abomination that is Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger! I would like to suggest a new term: ‘lowering the donkey’ – the point in a movie at which you realise it truly is an irredeemable piece of crap and you are wasting your life watching it.

Needless to say, Izzie loves it.

For the duration of the songs, she laughs and skips and dances and claps, and points at you to join in, and shouts at you if you don’t. Then, when it’s over, she wants you to rewind it so she can dance all over again. If you dare to turn it off, ouch, you’re in for a tantrum.

Don’t put it on, I hear you cry. Well, every day she points at the TV, points at you, points at the TV, starts to dance, points at you again, and then goes up and starts tapping the TV screen – come on, where the hell is my movie? I have nightmares I’m going to be watching this awful tripe until October, when it’ll be on again.

So we’re channelling all this talent and energy into ballet. One lesson and she’s learnt ‘tippee-toes’, so prances around the lounge all day waving her arms with better balance than I have.

And when bedtime approaches, the craziness increases. You can always tell when five pm arrives because Izzie starts to rotate on the spot, giggling and wobbling, until she cascades into the furniture or face plants into the floor. After twenty minutes of spinning she then charges the sofas, throwing herself face first into one, shaking her head to clear it, then charging at the other, like a turbo-charged, pint-sized pinball. I sometimes wonder if there’s not a little insanity mixed in there somewhere.

Which might explain the intensity of her tantrums…

(Cont’d…)

 

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.

IMG_2558
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.

IMG_2541
I call this one ‘standing on the crossbar with my butt overhanging the back’
IMG_2551
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.

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!

Good Dad / Bad Dad

For nine months, Izzie only ever encountered Good Dad. He’s a nice guy, a caring guy. He hugs her when she’s sad, feeds her when she’s hungry, kisses her when she smiles. He sings her songs at bedtime, acts like a loon to make her laugh, and gives her everything she wants. He’s a big, cuddly bundle of fun.

The past few weeks, there’s been a new guy on the scene: Bad Dad. And Izzie doesn’t like him nearly as much.

‘Ba-da,’ she cries. ‘Ba-da!’

She’s reached the age where she’s increasingly mobile, increasingly opinionated, and increasingly capable. She watches everything you do, and you can almost hear the cogs whirring inside her skull as she works things out. Like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, it’s a problem-solving intelligence that is scary when combined with her baby-Superman-lifting-a-car strength.

Mostly, it’s small stuff. She can take off her nappy, help herself to her biscuits by swiping them out the pocket of the changing bag, and yesterday proved she can stand without any support (though when she realised we were watching her she grabbed onto the sofa). And if she gets her hands on the baby wipes, she opens the packet and pulls them out one by one, creating a big wet mess in the middle of the carpet.

Far more alarming are her attempts at overcoming safety features. She’s figured out where she has to grab to open the stair gate keeping her out of the kitchen, but luckily doesn’t have the strength or dexterity to do it yet. When you strap her into the car seat or high chair, her fingers move to the buckle the second you move yours away as she struggles to press the release button. And when you change her nappy, she knows the exact moment you’ll be looking to the left (to pick up the clean nappy) and uses that split second to roll to the right, crawl past your thigh and make a break for the door – which she’s figured out how to open.

Into this repertoire of experimental behaviours she’s recently introduced a number that could be categorised as ‘How to manipulate mummy and daddy’. They are, from mildest to I-want-to-die-est:

  1. The throw-your-bottle-on-the-floor-for-attention.
  2. The pouty bottom lip.
  3. The fake cry.
  4. The angry shout.
  5. The lose-all-control-and-scream-like-a-wild-animal-that’s-being-poked-with-a-red-hot-poker-until-you-start-to-choke-and-then-turn-purple-in-order-to-get-your-own-way.

This last one is used every time she’s put in the play pen, every nappy change, every costume change, every time I take her out of the bath, and every time I take something off her.

And so, in response, I have had to break out Bad Dad.

Bad Dad is tough but fair. Bad Dad tells her no when she’s pulling hair, or trying to open the door to the hall, or going into mummy’s handbag. Bad Dad takes car keys off her, and TV controllers, and the dog’s toys. And Bad Dad doesn’t take any shit.

No matter how much Izzie cries, screams and pitches a fit, Bad Dad doesn’t let her get her own way. She completely understands the word ‘No,’ but it’s a battleground right now as she tests the boundaries to see what she can get away with.

‘Daddy says No? I’ll reach for it again. Oh, he still says No. In that case, I’ll stick out my bottom lip and – wow, it’s still No. Maybe if I cry a bit, real tears even, now I’ll just reach out – nope, that didn’t work. I’ll shout as I reach for it – damn it, I’ll just throw a full-blown tantrum, then he’ll have to give it to me.’

To be honest, I don’t like Bad Dad either. He’s nowhere near as fun or as happy as Good Dad. He’s mean and unkind and strict and severe. He hardens his heart to his daughter’s tears and holds her while she sobs, even though he was the cause of it all, and it would be so easy to make her happy by giving her what she wants.

But Bad Dad doesn’t give in, no matter how hard it gets, and how much it upsets him, because he’s as good a dad as Good Dad. And it takes both personas to be the father of a happy, well-adjusted daughter.

But I know which one I prefer.

Future Worries

I had an argument with my six-year-old niece today.

‘I know more than you,’ she said.

‘No you don’t.’

‘Yes I do. All you know is how to eat chocolate.’

‘Not true,’ I said. ‘I know how to dispose of a body where nobody will ever find it.’

Her jaw dropped open. When she’d recovered, she said, ‘Well, I know how to kill a dinosaur.’

‘That’s nothing,’ I said. ‘I’m the reason there are no dinosaurs.’

And it got worse from there.

I’ve always been a bit of an easy target for kids. No matter how old I get, they treat me like I’m one of them. In fact, they treat me like I’m beneath them. When I was an eighteen-year-old sixth former – tall, bearded, tattooed and pierced, with a leather jacket, a ponytail and chunky army boots – the eleven-year-old Year 7s used to trip me up, call me names, tease me, even spit on me. And it’s always been this way.

No matter how much I threaten, shout, growl, snarl, swear, they still think I’m just a big teddy bear. Maybe it’s my Asperger’s Syndrome, but I have no idea how to get a child to respect me as an adult. And since Izzie turned six months old yesterday, that’s starting to worry me.

I want Izzie to like me, of course. I want to be best friends with her. But I also want her to respect me. To trust me. Not to see me as a figure of fun to be poked and teased, but as a person with a wealth of knowledge and experience and, stemming from this, a certain amount of authority. If today with my niece and nephew is anything to go by, she’ll laugh at me, snap at me, make fun of me, throw things at me, hit me, talk down to me, roll her eyes when I talk, and generally treat me as just another plaything. As kids have always done.

It’s worse for Lizzie. Instead of people just seeing her as a big kid, she is a big kid. Thanks to her autism, learning disability and dyspraxia, she thinks the wind is caused by trees, spends her time doing paint-by-numbers and playing with gadgets, and can’t walk past a ‘keep off the grass’ sign without cartwheeling on the lawn. She gets on great with kids because she’s on their emotional level – space hoppers and trampolines, Kinder Eggs and Happy Meals – and she’s so clumsy, everything she does looks like it’s been made by a five-year-old. This is not to be mean – she would admit as much herself.

And so, as little Izzie grows, Lizzie is daily becoming more nervous about how she’ll cope with a young, precocious child. She’s terrified of Izzie growing up and making fun of her. She’s terrified of Izzie overtaking her very quickly and coming to look down on her. And she’s terrified of Izzie growing up to be embarrassed of her immature, incapable mother.

I don’t think she has much to worry about. I have no doubt she and Izzie will be best friends. They’ll have an innate understanding of one another and while it is likely true that Izzie will overtake her in knowledge, skill and maturity, I don’t think she’ll make fun of Lizzie – she’s more likely to be fiercely protective of her mother, and help her with her deficiencies.

However, I sincerely doubt Lizzie will be much of an authority figure or a disciplinarian, and so this will fall to me. In our relationship, I’m the one who has to say ‘no’ when Lizzie is getting carried away, climbing over safety barriers, trying to dance in the rain without shoes or a coat, or spending a month’s income on frivolities. Even now, she’s the one who buys cute outfits and toys and bouncy chairs; I’m the one who buys nappies, and nappy creams, and baby wipes.

So the question is: how I can be the lawgiver parent when no child has ever respected me?

I mean, I can’t even get the dog to behave anymore. Lizzie spent six hours making a Christmas Gingerbread House. I then spent three hours correcting the mistakes Lizzie had made with the Christmas Gingerbread House. Since it kept collapsing under its own weight, I froze the pieces overnight then as I rebuilt it, I reinforced it with chocolate fingers so there was an internal frame, then glued it all together with icing sugar. It collapsed again, so I persevered, and finally I had something I was proud of. I put it on a plate on the table this evening, left the room for two minutes to change the baby’s nappy. In case you can’t guess the ending to this story, I’ve attached a photo. Now, if I can’t get an eighteen-month-old Cocker Spaniel to behave, what hope do I have with a spirited toddler?

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