Unshockingly shockable

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m writing this while wearing my third pair of trousers today.

By the time your second baby comes around, you’re pretty sure you’re unshockable. The first introduced you to diarrhoea so explosive it went up the walls, poo so gravity-defying it could somehow climb from the nappy up and out the neck of a sleepsuit, and vomit so pungent it melted the clothes from off your body. I’ve had piss on my nipples, shit on my neck and puke on my toes. The second child? A breeze.

And it has been. My four-month-old Rosie has been much easier, as far as that sort of thing goes, than her sister. She’s always snotty – my clothes are held together by snail-trails at the moment – but she isn’t particularly poopy or pukey. Indeed, other than a poo that jumped into my lap like a rocket-propelled sausage when I was changing her at about four weeks, she hasn’t grossed me out once.

And then today happened.

I was sitting on the sofa with my baby on my lap, happily cooing and gurgling and squawking to herself, as she does from half-five every morning. The Olympics was on the TV, my toddler was playing with a colouring book, and all of a sudden I noticed my testicles were getting incredibly warm.

Weird, I thought – my baby’s sitting on my thighs so it’s not her. But now my butthole is getting hot, too. It’s like I’m lowering myself into a lovely relaxing bath. What the hell is going on?

I lifted up my baby and discovered the awful truth – her sleepsuit was sopping wet. It was dripping down between my legs onto the sofa cushion, and then soaking up into my jeans and boxers. And yes, my nether regions were now swimming in baby piss.

It’s amazing how quickly urine goes cold. I stood up and as my boxer shorts tightened against my balls, I couldn’t keep a look of horror from crossing my face. You know the one – the look that comes over you when a pleasant, refreshing fart in a restaurant turns out to be something a little more than gas.

Screaming at the utter horribleness of it all, I handed the baby to my wife and hobbled upstairs looking like John Wayne after riding a stallion for twelve hours. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Stripping off, I washed my junk in the sink, relieved to be free of the curse, and changed into fresh underwear and jeans. I went downstairs, to where my wife was changing the baby, and sat down on the sofa to watch.

Why does my butthole still feel wet, I wondered to myself. And then I realised I’d sat down in the puddle of urine still soaking into the cushion, and my newly-sterile groin was covered in baby pies again!

Poo from your face to your feet? No problem. Puke from my nipples to my nuts? Unpleasant, but I’ve got it in the bag. But white wine on my wedding tackle? You can get the hell out of my house.

I guess I’m still shockable after all.

A New Little Sister

I was regularly told that having two kids wasn’t twice as hard as having one – it was exponentially more difficult. I can’t say that I’ve found this to be true as of yet. Sure, it can be a little tough supporting the baby with one hand, holding the bottle in the second, and then fending off the over-eager attentions of a toddler with the third, but overall I’d put the addition of another member to our family at around 1.5 times more difficult than before – so it’s not all that bad.

Of course, that’s probably because Rosie is four weeks old, so she mostly only sleeps, feeds, poops and cries. When she’s just as mobile, inquisitive and determined as her 28-month-old sister, I imagine I’ll revise that figure upwards, but for now we’re certainly coping.

But that’s not to say it hasn’t been bloody difficult.

When Izzie came to the hospital to meet her little sister, she was so excited that the first thing she did was to slap the bed twice. And then, without missing a beat, she grabbed the nearest bottle of milk and tried to ram it down Rosie’s throat.

You see, to Izzie, Rosie is a doll – a flesh and blood doll she wants to cuddle and kiss and feed and change and do all the things to that a parent does. Which is all well and good, except I’ve seen how Izzie treats her dolls, and Rosie wouldn’t last thirty seconds without a dislocated shoulder or worse. It’s a sobering thought that the greatest threat to my second-born is not the dog, not the cat – it’s my first-born.

It has been difficult convincing the wider family of this basic reality.

‘Well I trust Izzie,’ said one with great pomposity in response to this statement, as though trusting a toddler with a baby is a sign of virtue instead of gross negligence.

‘I think she’s lovely,’ I replied, ‘but you never know what a toddler might do.’

‘Only a child with mental health difficulties would harm a baby,’ this person went on to say, clearly believing toddlers are in complete control of their emotions, have mastered fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and fully understand cause and effect.

There’s no cure for stupid.

So the past month has involved extremely careful supervision alongside the usual aspects of baby care. We’ve had to keep a certain distance between the two girls until Izzie can understand how to be gentle, which has caused plenty of tears and tantrums. Izzie wants to hold Rosie, and rock her, and get in the pram with her, and stuff her dummy in her mouth, and open her eyes when Rosie isn’t awake, none of which we can allow. But we have taken steps to alleviate this tension.

I instituted a rule from the word go that when people come to the house they have to greet and make a fuss of Izzie before allowing her to introduce them to her little sister. Furthermore, we involve Izzie in all aspects of childcare by encouraging her to fetch the changing mat and nappies and wipes, and she sits with us during feeds, and we make sure we spend plenty of time hugging as a group.

It’s had the effect of avoiding any jealousy, giving Izzie some sense of ownership of the situation, and encouraging her to love her little sister.

And, without a doubt, love her she does.

When Rosie cries, Izzie tries to comfort her – well, on those occasions she doesn’t put her finger to her lips and shout, ‘Shush!’

She’s also rather conscientious about keeping Rosie involved, telling us to take Rosie with us, to give her a hat, to give her milk, to change her nappy – which is lovely.

And Rosie responds to Izzie in ways she doesn’t to us. Now that Izzie is finally cottoning on to the fact she’s not allowed to touch the baby, when Rosie lies on the floor or sits in the bouncy chair, Izzie often lies and sits in front of her and tells her stories and sings and giggles, and you can see that Rosie is being stimulated by it. They have a connection to each other, as siblings and as infants, that we don’t seem to have with them as adults.

I mean, there are some teething troubles – Izzie doesn’t want to go to bed because the baby’s still up; she wants to be carried because the baby’s carried; when I’m rocking the baby in my arms I find Izzie clinging to my legs; and whenever Rosie is out of the car seat, Izzie climbs into it and makes it her own – but these are all normal, I think. Other than the clumsy roughness, Izzie is the very model of a doting big sister.

Although tere has been a really weird development: Izzie has become incredibly squeamish about poo.

Every time the baby poops, Izzie says, ‘Me not touch it, daddy, me not touch it.’

‘You don’t have to touch it,’ I reply. ‘Nobody’s making you touch it.’

‘Not touch it, daddy.’

The most hilarious manifestation of this was the first time Izzie held Rosie on her lap. I surrounded her with cushions, including one across her thighs, sat close beside her, and gently placed Rosie down. Izzie looked like the cat that got the cream, the happiest I’ve ever seen her.

And then Rosie did a noisy poop.

I’ve never seen Izzie move so fast. ‘Not touch it!’ she screamed as she somehow slipped out from under the cushions and over the arm of the sofa and off in the blink of an eye.

We think it’s because she went to her mother’s baby shower shortly before Rosie was born where they played a game involving putting strange substances into tiny nappies – peanut butter, chocolate, Marmite – and getting people to sniff and taste it to correctly identify the substance.

And now Izzie is traumatised.

Thanks mummy.

Baby care: what you should know

Looking after my second baby girl, now twenty days old, I really feel I have a handle on what this baby-rearing thing is all about. While all babies are unique, it seems to me to be a difference of degree rather than of kind. As I’ve said before, baby care is mostly a case of putting stuff in one end and cleaning it up when it comes out the other, and in the interim making sure she isn’t too hot or too cold. If you keep that in mind, and don’t sweat the small stuff, you should do fine.

That said, becoming a parent for the first time is an incredibly scary, difficult thing. I know that some of my readers are planning on having children, and some are soon to become parents themselves, so for your benefit I thought I’d share my take on parenting – all the facts you need to confidently raise a baby. At least, the facts as I see them, and the things that I’ve found invaluable in my own life.

The General Stuff

  1. There’s a lot of sentimental guff spoken about babies. You hear people on the way out of the delivery room saying, ‘I love her so much, she’s perfect in every way, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’ There’s this expectation that you’re going to feel an instant connection. In my experience, new born babies look like asthmatic Smurfs – blue-skinned, gasping for breath, and stuffed into oversized hats. You look and think, ‘What on earth have I done?’ If it takes you a few days to warm to the little creature, a few days to work out how you feel, a few days to get your head round things, that’s okay. You’ve got a lifetime of emotions to come – don’t expect too much too soon.
  2. New born babies feed every couple of hours, sometimes for a couple of hours. If it feels like you’re always feeding your baby, you are – their stomachs are very small and with all the growing they do, they use up what they’ve drunk very quickly. Luckily, it settles down and they get into a pattern, sometimes having a big feed and a three hour sleep, sometimes cluster feeding every thirty minutes before drifting off. And when they’re finally asleep, I have one word of advice: sleep!
  3. Baby poo changes rapidly over the first few days, from black tar to green whole grain mustard to yellow mush. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
  4. Babies aren’t made of porcelain. They’re designed to make it through the birth canal, so unless you’re really clumsy, you’re probably not going to break them. But don’t put that to the test!
  5. You might not think of yourself as a particularly violent or jealous person, but you may find that when people pick up, touch, or even look at your baby, you feel like scratching out their eyes. This is normal, but try to remember you’re not the only one excited about your child, and you’ll have more opportunities for cuddles than anyone else can ever hope for.
  6. Even though they seem to prefer lying on their front, when you put your baby down to sleep, always put her on her back. If your relative tells you that the advice in their day was to put them on their front, ignore them – the advice was wrong. Babies on their front are eighteen times more likely to die of cot death than babies on their back.
  7. Though it is lovely to let your baby fall asleep on you, and such cuddling is to be embraced, be sure to transfer them to the cot or Moses basket for a proper sleep – you don’t want to get to the point where they will only sleep on you, or you’re setting yourself up for a very tiring couple of years.
  8. Babies communicate. Try to learn the little signs that they’re hungry (rooting, poking out tongue) or need burping (fidgeting, gasping) or need changing (a slightly shocked facial expression accompanied by the smell of sour milk), and deal with these things before they start to cry – it makes life much more peaceful.
  9. Babies cry as a form of communication – mostly because you haven’t met their needs quickly enough (i.e. within about thirty seconds!). It can be distressing for a parent to hear their child wail, seemingly in despair, but don’t take it to heart – it’s how she’s talking to you. It’s your job to figure out what she needs.
  10. Babies only have a handful of needs. They need to be fed; they need to be winded; they need their nappy changed. Do these things and they are normally happy.
  11. Babies are sometimes unhappy. When they have belly ache or a non-disclosed need, or simply want to hear their own voice, they can cry and keep crying. This can be upsetting for you, but there’s not really a lot you can do about it except rock them and hug them until they fall asleep.
  12. If you suspect something more serious is wrong, don’t be afraid to get advice or seek help. If you go to an out-of-hours doctor or A&E, they’re jam-packed full of new parents with young babies. It’s part and parcel of being a new parent, so don’t ever feel like you’re being neurotic.
  13. In the womb, babies are lulled to sleep by movement, light and noise (i.e. during the day, when mum is busy), and come awake when all is still and quiet and dark (at night, when mum is exhausted). Why, then, do we expect them to sleep in a dark, quiet room? If you’re struggling to get your baby down at night, a Moses basket on a rocking stand at the bedside, a night-light and some quiet music or a radio tuned to static can really help give you some well-earned rest.
  14. Make sure you have plenty of everything. Taking off a poopy nappy at 3am to discover it was the last one is nobody’s idea of a good time. That said, there will be occasions when you need to buy something in a hurry, so be sure to locate a good 24-hour store long in advance of actually needing it.
  15. You’re going to be tired, you’re going to be crotchety, and the baby is going to push your buttons. That’s just the way it is. If you ever feel yourself at breaking point, put the baby into the cot or Moses basket – somewhere safe, at least – and walk away. Take some deep breaths. Make a cup of tea. Ask for help. Don’t keep going until you break.
  16. Forget the housework. Sure, do enough to keep the place ticking over, but you don’t need to live in a show home. Provided it’s clean, don’t get too hung up on it being tidy or spotless, unless you’re prepared to add extra stress to your life in pursuit of perfection.
  17. Babies are better off being too cold than too hot. Older people are paranoid that your baby isn’t warm enough, but being too hot is actually dangerous for babies as their brains are vulnerable to increases in temperature. In fact, the recommended temperature to keep your home with a baby around is 19 degrees centigrade – colder than we like it.
  18. Eat. Drink. Sleep. You might think you can keep going forever, but trust me – if you neglect your own needs, eventually you’ll be good for nothing.

 The Controversial Stuff

  1. Breast is not always best. Since breastfeeding has become something of a sacred cow these days, you might be treated like a pariah by the sisterhood if you shun its self-evident benefits. But not everyone can breastfeed, despite their best efforts, and you shouldn’t be made to feel a failure because of that. Faffing about with nipple shields while you’re tired, the baby’s tired and hungry, and you’re both crying does not help either of you. It can harm your self-esteem and mental well-being, and make it more difficult to bond with the baby. If you don’t feel you can cope breastfeeding then switch to the bottle – it’s as easy as that.
  2. Dummies (pacifiers) shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Like bottle-feeding, these simple tools have earned the opprobrium of the ‘all-natural’ brigade, but unfairly so. It’s not a means of making a baby shut up but of meeting her needs. Sometimes, between feeds, a baby needs to suck to soothe, and giving either the nipple or the bottle is inappropriate. As with anything, it’s a personal choice and nobody has the right to judge you for what you decide is best for your baby and family.
  3. Never underestimate the utility of swaddling. A fidgety, unsettled baby can be transformed into a contented sausage roll by wrapping her in a blanket and gently rocking her.

The Little Everyday Stuff

  1. When a baby breastfeeds, if done right, the first part of its body that comes into contact with its mother’s boob is its nose. If you’re breastfeeding, using a bottle or trying to keep a dummy in, and having little success, rub the baby’s nose – it often triggers the baby to latch-on.
  2. If your baby is distressed, has a rock-hard belly but isn’t able to poop, sit with your knees up in front of you and rest her in your lap, facing you and leaning against your thighs. Using two fingers, rub her belly in a clockwise direction centred on her belly button. After a few minutes, switch to gently pushing her knees up towards her chest. Alternate between the two. If this fails to work, pick her up under the armpits and allow her to stretch out in the air – oftentimes, gravity will cause the world to fall out of her arse.
  3. Whether male or female, while changing nappies you will get explosions from front and back. Before removing the nappy, be prepared: make sure you have cotton wool, water, nappy bag, clean nappy, and toilet paper. Keep them out of the way so that if things do go flying, they don’t get soiled too.
  4. Urine has a chemical in it that can’t simply be scrubbed out of the carpet with soap and water. I’ve tried. A couple of days later, you start to smell stale wee and go mad trying to locate the source. If there’s an accident and baby champagne goes everywhere, you need to use a proper cleaning product. I recommend the spray cleaners sold in pet shops as they contain enzymes that neutralize the odour while also disinfecting the area.
  5. When bottle-feeding a baby, an armchair or a sofa with a cushion – or even putting your knee beneath your elbow – prevents you getting a dead arm. Make sure you’re in a comfortable position that you can maintain before you start feeding or you’ll regret it.
  6. Always burp your baby after feeding. Babies have immature digestive systems and inefficient swallowing reflexes, so gulp down a great deal of air along the milk – air that causes wind and discomfort. It’s sometimes tempting in the middle of the night when the baby falls asleep at the breast or bottle simply to place her gently down and return to bed. Don’t. You’ll be getting up again in 5-10 minutes to burp an unhappy baby, right when you’re falling asleep, making both of you grumpy.
  7. Check out Dunstan Baby Language. This is the idea that all babies are born with five ‘words’ that they use for the first three months – ‘neh’ (I’m hungry), ‘eh-eh-eh’ (I need burping), ‘eairh’ (I’ve got belly ache), ‘heh’ (I’m uncomfortable/please change my nappy), and ‘owh’ (I’m sleepy). Though this hasn’t been scientifically scrutinised, it has undoubtedly worked for both of mine, especially the first three words. It makes it so much easier to know what she wants, and this leads to a calmer household.
  8. Make a record of every time she eats, poops, sleeps, for at least the first couple of weeks. You can very quickly spot patterns to her behaviour, and knowing when she last ate or had a bowel movement is very reassuring. It’s also helpful to be able to tell to doctors, midwives and health visitors, in case there is anything wrong.

The Annoying Stuff

  1. If you’re female and you go out with the baby, nobody will bat an eyelid.
  2. If you’re male and you go out with the baby, you’ll be stopped by every old woman you see. But they’ll only ever ask you how the mother’s coping, and then congratulate you on ‘doing your part’.
  3. People will give you advice. Lots of advice. Much of it will be wrong and directly contradict what you’ve been told by the midwife. Much of it will be against your principles. Luckily, advice is free and is not mandatory. You might as well listen, smile, and say ‘I’ll think about it.’ And then do what feels right for you.
  4. People will give you opinions. Lots of opinions. You will feel judged, because they are judging you. But the only expert in your baby is you, and everyone else can bugger off, because opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one and they’re mostly full of shit.
  5. People will make out like modern parents are useless because when they were parents, they never had car seats and parent/child parking, or washing machines or paternity leave or Perfect Prep machines. They’re just resentful they didn’t have these conveniences, and criticising us makes them feel better about the fact that their infant mortality rate was about ten times what it is today.
  6. You will feel patronised because people will be patronising. This is my second baby, yet I’m still told to ‘make sure she’s warm enough’ and ‘support her head’, as though without these instructions I would somehow flush my baby down the toilet without realising I was doing anything wrong. Unfortunately, there’s no way I know of not to get annoyed by these ‘helpful’ comments.
  7. Your family and friends will no longer talk to you, except about the baby. They’ll come to see the baby, but not you. And they won’t listen. You can break off mid-sentence and nobody will notice. You’re not going to have a grown-up conversation for a while.
  8. Unless you’re really weird (or single), you and your partner will argue. You’re both tired, you’re both under stress, you’re both trying to adjust to this new life you find yourselves in, so don’t expect your relationship to be perfect. In my experience, you’ll have a crap time for a few months but it’ll pass. Don’t take your disagreements too seriously. Don’t throw in the towel too quickly. It all works out in the end.

The Good Stuff

  1. Being a parent is awesome.
  2. Looking after something that is entirely dependent upon you for its very existence is an honour as well as a responsibility.
  3. You get to use parent/child spaces.
  4. When you hop about, sing, dance and act like a clown, you can say you’re doing it to ‘entertain’ the baby.
  5. You gain a new understanding of your own parents.
  6. You watch more sunrises than you ever knew existed.
  7. You get the morning news before anyone else.
  8. You realise it’s the best thing you’ve ever done and you’re grateful to experience the ever-changing miracle that is your child.

And that, mums and dads, is baby care in a nutshell. Here endeth the lesson. Now go forth and multiply!

Hot Weather Parenting

You think you’re getting the hang of this parenting thing – dang it, you know you’ve definitely got the hang of this parenting thing – and then you enter a heatwave and have to learn it all again from scratch.

Where before you spent your time worrying that your child will be too cold, now you have to strike a compromise between keeping her cool and keeping her covered. Instead of cardigans and sleepsuits, you’re packing sunhats, suncream and sunshades, dresses, shorts, cotton shirts and sandals. You overload on water until you’re weighed down like a pack mule, and you start to spend all your time in gardens and parks because the house is like a freaking furnace.

At thirteen months, Izzie is happily walking, running, playing, and being a normal little girl, and that makes it worse. You’re constantly chasing her around the lawn, trying to steer her into the shade, rescuing her sunhat from the bush she’s thrown it into, surreptitiously spraying her with the sunscreen, pulling twigs and acorns from her inquisitive fingers, fending off over-friendly dogs and local children, and swatting away stinging insects, all the while trying not to trip over the pink plastic crap that has turned your back garden into a garish graveyard of slides, paddling pools, sandpits and water tables.

Since she’s wearing dresses without a vest, her nappy is exposed, meaning within minutes it turns into a grass-stained, leaf-carrying, twig-dragging mess. Add to this that her mother and grandfather have a penchant for throwing her into paddling pools and dousing her with watering cans – which she loves, by the way – it turns said nappy into a gargantuan jellyfish that collects around her ankles. Unsurprisingly, she’s now spending a lot of her time naked from the waist down.

While that’s totally normal, the downside to this is that although she can walk, she’s not exactly ready for the Olympics. Twenty steps, perhaps, before she loses balance and slams down onto her bottom, then repeats the process ad finitum. And being in the middle of a heatwave, the ground is like concrete. With a nappy on, there’s a certain amount of padding – without, and her bottom is a mottled black-and-blue mess of bruises. No wonder she fidgets whenever we put her in her high chair!

And that’s another unexpected difficulty of hot weather parenting. All the good, hearty, wholesome, home-cooked grub that she was eating fine before, she now treats as though we’re trying to force feed her dog poo. She wants crisps, cheese, ham, wafers, raisins, biscuits, toast – the kind of stuff that’ll keep you alive, but probably isn’t the most healthy diet three meals a day. So mealtimes have become a lesson in patience and torture.

Nights are tough, too. Her room got up to 29-degrees the other evening. We borrowed an incredibly noisy A/C unit and got it down to 23, but the second I turned it off and put her to bed it jumped back up to 26. But then, of course, it cools as the night presses on. The current procedure is that I put her to bed in just a nappy, then a couple of hours later I put a breathable blanket over her, a couple of hours after that I slip her into a sleepsuit, and around four in the morning she’s ready for a gro-bag. Then the sun rises, and by the time we get her up the temperature is starting to rocket again. And I find I’ve barely slept.

Then there are the little indignities. Because of the heat, nappies start to smell like cheese within minutes of a wee. You change them twice as often, but can’t eliminate the noxious odour that pervades your house, even after you’ve emptied the steaming nappy bin and consigned it to the dustbin outside.

And to add boredom, social isolation and frustration to your plight, none of the mother-baby groups run over the summer holidays so you have to entertain yourselves, in public places now overrun with screaming terrors and their children. The other day, Lizzie suggested we take the little one to a water park at a local recreation ground. It’s free, like a little play park with fountains and water features and a paddling pool. So as I have committed myself to going out with Lizzie and Izzie more as a family (since I’m a hermit), I agreed.

We went in the afternoon. In a heatwave. In the summer holidays. As expected, the place was RAMMED. A veritable cornucopia of colours and movement and noise, noise, noise! Kids splashing you, bumping into you, stepping on your feet, shooting you with water pistols, screaming, shouting, throwing things, urgh!

I may have mentioned before that, as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I get rapidly overwhelmed by, well, colour and movement and noise and touch.

Lizzie and Izzie loved it. I went and sat under a tree.

It’s going to be a long hot summer.

 

Funny ha-ha and funny weird

Thanks to that funny thing called life (along with a chemical imbalance called ‘my brain’), I’ve been rather down of late, so I thought I’d cheer myself up (and others?) by recording those funny and weird things my daughter’s been doing. Because really, when you’re circling the abyss and getting ready to fall, there’s no better lifeline than a child’s laughter to pull you back from the edge (disclaimer: a child’s laughter is no substitute for a lifeline. Always use a rope from an accredited climbing centre when circling abysses.)

I discovered this last night while dancing about to John Denver as I was cooking dinner. It was, apparently, the funniest thing Izzie had ever seen. I’ve never heard her laugh so much. And nice laughter too. I guess in a few years, the laughter will come for a different reason, but for now she thinks I move like Justin freakin’ Timberlake, so that’s a boost to the self-esteem.

Of course, a slight blow comes from the fact I just realised yesterday that instead of singing about his lover, a hillbilly strumpet named Country Rose, John Denver was actually singing about ‘country roads’. So I’ve been singing it wrong for twenty years. Yikes! A bit like Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy…’

Which brings me neatly to sounds. Izzie has learnt two new sounds. The first isn’t so bad. It’s a loud, drawn out roar that combines hello, how are you, I’m Izzie, do you want to be friends and let’s play. A little weird when you’re pushing her round the village and she roars at everyone you walk past, but survivable.

The second sound is drawn from the depths of hell.

She’s discovered she can make a noise on the in-breath as well as the out-breath, but this  in-breath noise is enough to make you shudder. It’s a gasping, choking hiss, like she’s being strangled or some strange demon creature has possessed her and wants to summon serpent warriors from a netherworld. It’s worst when you’re settling down to sleep and this freaky, banshee shriek comes through the monitor, sending a chill down your spine. You leap out of bed because it sounds like she’s having an asthma attack, but no, she smiles up at you, innocent eyes all aglow. And then roars at you in greeting. Creepy.

Actually, night time has become altogether weird. Three a.m. I’ll hear a noise and get up to check on the baby. I stand outside the door to listen, but there’s silence. I gently, oh so gently, push open the door, and then I see…it. This figure, dressed in white, bathed in the white glow of the baby monitor, standing up, motionless, just staring at the wall two inches from her nose. Just standing there. Not moving, not making noise. Staring at the wall. It’s like something out of Poltergeist.

Then she slowly turns her head to look at you. Ye gads, at three in the morning that’s enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies!

They're Hee-eeere!
They’re Hee-eeere!

Even weirder are the sounds from the monitor. A few weeks back it started playing piano music for a few seconds. There was nothing in her room that plays a tune. I looked at Lizzie, she looked at me. ‘Did you just hear -?’ ‘Yes, that was weird.’ Checked on Izzie and she was fast asleep.

A couple of nights back I jerked awake as I was sure I heard a man’s voice shouting profanities right in my ear, right through the monitor. But the baby was sound asleep.

And speaking of sound asleep, because she’s so active during the day, Izzie has started sleeping like a log. Or perhaps a better way of saying it would be that she sleeps the sleep of the dead. Half a dozen times in the past fortnight I’ve gone to check on her and she’s so still, so quiet, I’ve momentarily thought she’s dead. I watch for the rise and fall of her chest – nothing. I put my hand by her mouth to feel her breath – nothing. It then takes a huge effort of will to reach for her wrist and check her pulse, because I dread feeling cold skin beneath my fingertips. But she’s never been dead so far, so that’s good!

She’s developed a fascination with Grandpa’s cans of cider too. There’s this thing called object permanence – basically, once something’s out of their sight, babies don’t realise it still exists so won’t look for it, whereas later they realise things exist even if they can’t see them. Well, Izzie’s cracked that one – no matter where he puts it, where he hides it, she continues to look for it, crawling all over him like an alcoholic spidermonkey. Gives new meaning to the expression ‘monkey on my back’.

Her level of activity is astonishing. If I need the toilet during the day, I pop her down in her cot and go sit on the loo with the door open as it faces the nursery. Within seconds, a little hand will appear on the top of the headboard, then another, before the top of the head, eyes and nose come straining to get a look. She’s like that graffiti motif Kilroy Was Here. Watching me take a crap. Thanks honey.

It extends to nappy changes. You put her on her back on the changing mat and she immediately rolls onto her front and crawls away because she knows what’s coming. You manage to grab her by the ankles, drag her kicking and screaming back, take off her tights – she crawls away again. You hold her by the ankles, lift them up in the air, but she twists so her upper half is facing the opposite direction to the lower. In that odd, contorted position, you take off her nappy, clean her up. You let go for a split second, look away, look back to see a little naked bottom disappearing behind the sofa. At which point you think, ‘Sod it!’ and let her keep on half-dressed. Although it’s a bit like Russian Roulette – peace right now weighed up against the risk of having to clean poo out of the carpet. Sometimes peace right now is worth any amount of future scrubbing.

 

 

And since she’s just vomited yellow stuff all down my trousers, I’m going to sign off here. Like I’ve said before, you need a sense of humour to be a parent – otherwise, it’s just tragic!

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…

Travels With Baby, Part 1: Facilities

The main thing I’ve learned from taking Izzie on holiday to the Isle of Wight is how baby-unfriendly the world can be. And that’s not just the occasional person muttering, ‘F**king babies,’ as you squeeze the pushchair past their rotund frame on the pavement – it’s the facilities, or lack thereof. If you’re a parent in general, or a dad in particular, they sure don’t make it easy.

Arreton Barns, for example. I asked about baby change facilities in the pub. They had them, but only in the lady’s. So can I go in? No. They brought out the changing mat and I was obliged to take it into the men’s loo and change her on the floor of a cubicle. Not the cleanest or most hygienic place to put my knees, or, for that matter, my baby.

Cowes: the baby change was in the public disabled toilet, which was locked with one of those special keys disabled people have, but that parents don’t have. Not overly helpful. So I went to the nearest pub, which didn’t have baby changing facilities but allowed me to change her on a bench out the back. Very good of them.

And Sandown is clearly still stuck in the 1960s since there are no baby changing stations in the men’s loos, forcing me to change her on the passenger seat in the car in the rain – not much of a problem except the seat slopes towards the rear of the car, meaning she keeps face-planting into the upright. But that’s better than Whitecliff Bay, which has no toilet facilities whatsoever, and doesn’t seem to mind you getting sand in your baby’s bits.

I’m starting to sound like a bit of a moaner, but in addition to the above, in the past week I’ve changed my daughter’s nappy in a doorway down an alleyway, in a lady’s toilet, in the boot of the car, on a grass verge beside a car park, and on the floor of a tent – though the latter was admittedly kind of unavoidable since we were camping. It’s not so much that I mind  changing Izzie in random places – after three months you’re a dab hand at changing a nappy – it’s that if people object to something as discrete and inoffensive as breastfeeding in public then how will the crowds of shoppers and tourists react when I pop her down on a bench in the High Street, whip off her clothes and proceed to wipe oodles of smelly green and yellow poo out of her creases? I’m going for ‘unsupportive’ at the very least.

I know there are people out there who’ll say, ‘There weren’t changing stations in my day, we had to make do with broken glass and rusty nails,’ but just because they suffered doesn’t mean everyone has to or the situation can’t be improved. Sometimes you’re quite a distance from the car with the baby in a sling when she drops a bucket of gloop in her nappy that starts to spill out and soak through her clothes and you just can’t wait. And it’s incredibly awkward trying to change a baby when you’re on a slope and it’s blowing a hoolie, with one hand holding her ankles, a second cleaning her up, a third hand trying to keep leaf matter out of her bottom, a fourth preventing her from sliding off the changing mat and rolling down the hill into a ditch where she’ll never be seen again – you get the picture.

So top marks to Osborne House for having an entire room in which to change your baby, and a large one at that, without a toilet in the corner and piss on the floor. Unfortunately, they lose points for their dashedly rubbish bottle-warming arrangements.

For those of you that don’t know, you make a baby’s bottle by mixing cooled boiled water (boiled water that has been cooled, yo) with some scoops of formula (powder) and either heating or cooling the resulting liquid to body temperature, since we’re trying to fool kids into thinking the milk comes from a breast and not an udder with additives.

But here’s the rub – the mixture is apparently only safe to drink for two hours and it’s impossible to keep stuff at the right temperature until you need it. So before heading out for the day you boil the kettle, fill a bunch of bottles with water, pack the powder and leave the house weighed down like a freighter. When little one needs a drink, you take a bottle of water, pour in the powder, shake vigorously and ask a nice waitress or waiter to bring you a small jug of hot water into which you can place the bottle until the formula is the right temperature. Simple.

Except when I asked for a jug of hot water, the man at Osborne House looked at me like I’d asked him for a mug of pure, unfiltered urine. He went away, came back and told me he couldn’t bring me hot water because of ‘health and safety reasons’. But he offered to take the bottle out the back and heat it up for me.

Now, the reason you see us splashing milk on our wrists is not because we like the smell of dairy – it’s to check it’s not too hot and going to scald her, or too cold and going to make her gripe. While there’s no real evidence that cold milk is necessarily bad for a baby, their digestive systems are still developing, and if from an evolutionary viewpoint we’ve evolved to drink milk at body temperature, at least for the first few months, then why mess with nature?

Yes, daddy, why?
Yes, daddy, why?

So how on earth was Mr Waiter Man going to get my baby’s bottle to the right temperature? Splashing it on his wrist? No thank you, sir, she’ll just have to drink it cold.

He then proceeded to serve us our teapots of boiling water without a trace of irony. Health and safety, my ass!

But then, perhaps he had a point. Two other places gave us boiling water in wine coolers. Great for the heating, but when it comes to getting the bottle out, it bobs up and down like a fishing float and burns your fingertips while red hot steam scalds your hand. But even that was preferable to the place that gave us a cup of hot water – a cup that was smaller than the bottle!

So, restaurateurs and city planners: you have the power to make the world a much easier place for us parents. A plastic changing table that folds down from the toilet wall, and half a jug of hot water – not a cup, not a wine cooler, a jug. That’s not asking too much, is it? Is it?