My Daddy-Obsessed Daughter Rosie

My daughter is killing me.

I don’t mean that figuratively. I’m pretty sure that each day that passes, she’s shaving a bit off my life expectancy. I was going to reach a hundred. I’m down to eighty-nine. Keep this up, and I won’t be seeing fifty. Sometimes I think I’ll be lucky to see tomorrow.

Allow me to explain.

Over the past year, while I’ve repeatedly mentioned my three-year-old daughter Izzie on this blog, I’ve rarely referred to her sixteen-month-old sister Rosie. This has not been a deliberate decision, but come about as a result of the fact that, as Izzie continues to break new ground and present me with new challenges as a father, she gives me new things to write about. Rosie, on the other hand, as the second child, walks in her older sister’s footsteps as far as growing up goes, and as such gives me less new subject matter to work with.

As in the world of blogging, so in the world itself. My daughter is in the unfortunate position of being younger sister to the shining star that is my Izzie. While Rosie is no less delightful, no less adorable, no less loveable and intelligent and playful and lovely, she has been cursed to be born two years after her sister arrived. Had Rosie arrived first, I have no doubt she would be the world’s darling, but, through no fault of her own, she did not, and the consequence is to not only follow in her sister’s footsteps, but to be in her shadow.

Rosie is my forgotten sweetheart. It breaks my heart to see her so neglected by the very people who ought to be the most attentive. The family loved Izzie as she was the first daughter, grandchild, niece, whatever. They organised one day a week they’d look after her; two evenings a week they’d cook for her; booked her into classes; got memberships so they could visit zoos and soft play centres and adventure parks with her. When Rosie came along, these things were already in place, and they couldn’t possibly look after two children at once, so they simply stuck with the one. Meaning they were already so invested in Izzie they didn’t have the room or the inclination to integrate Rosie into their lives.

The long and the short of it is that for the past year, Rosie has mostly stayed at home with her daddy while Izzie has been gallivanting about the countryside with the extended family. Our household has become two separate teams – mummy going out with Izzie, and daddy staying at home with Rosie. This might be okay in families whose division of labour within the home is roughly equal, but since I do the lion’s share of the childcare – I get them up in the morning, get them breakfast, lunch and dinner, change all the nappies, wipe all the bottoms, do all the baths and put them both to bed every night – it means that while Izzie gets attention from both of us, Rosie only has me. And this has a significant effect on our relationship.

For a long time, Rosie has been a daddy’s girl. If I left the room she started to grizzle. If she felt unsure, unsafe, it was daddy to whom she fled. I thought it was rather cute, at first.

Then it started to concern me. Izzie would come and give me a hug, and Rosie would scream and try to pull her off me. Sibling rivalry, they said. Perfectly normal, they said.

About a month ago, I was lying on the sofa and my wife came over, got on her knees and placed her head on my chest. In a flash, Rosie had my wife’s hair entwined around her fingers and was dragging her away from me. And then, mission accomplished, she climbed up onto my chest and sat there like the king of the castle. Mine, she was almost saying. He’s mine.

Ouch. You can imagine what that does to a mother’s self-esteem.

Worse comes at night. She will only fall asleep with daddy, which means when I try to walk away, she morphs into a snarling, spitting, screaming creature that I barely recognise as human. I’m seriously waiting for her head to rotate 360-degrees as she projectile vomits pea soup. I’ve even found two sixes on her scalp – one more and we’ll know her true name (joking! But she does have an unusual birthmark on the back of her head…).

It’s a horrible life I seem to have carved out for myself. I advised in a previous post that you shouldn’t get into a place where your child will only fall asleep on you, but I unfortunately didn’t follow my own advice.

It’s my own fault. With the first baby, I went upstairs with her every night, rocked her in my arms, sang her to sleep or else read her a chapter of a book. With the second, I didn’t have the energy. I’d put the first to bed and, instead of rocking the second for hours, I figured it’d be easier just to lie on the sofa with her till she fell asleep naturally.

Big mistake.

The plan for the new year is to distance myself from my youngest. It sounds mean, sure, but she needs a far wider base of support than I can give her – especially if she wants me around in future years. Because, as much as I love her, I wish my little Rosie didn’t love me quite so much!

Mummy’s Girl

Izzie’s first word has well and truly arrived. I’m not talking about the rather funny imitations she does – pronouncing buzzard as ‘buggered’ and beach hut as ‘bitch hoe’ – no, this is a real, bona fide, unmistakable word, used without prompting and in the appropriate context.

Unfortunately, that word is ‘mummy.’

I say ‘unfortunately’ because now that she has learnt the word, she has decided to use it in earnest. ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy,’ she says as she wanders about the lounge. ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy,’ she mutters when she’s supposed to be napping. ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy.’

This is a particularly galling word to hear when you’re a daddy, and you’re the one getting her up in the morning, or changing her nappy, or bathing her, or feeding her, or playing with her, or cuddling her, or all of those things you do that you really wish she’d be grateful for, and for which she might reward you by saying ‘daddy’. It’s hard to remain upbeat at three in the morning when she wakes you up crying, and as you try to settle her down all she can say is, ‘mummy, mummy,’ as she gets snot all over your shoulder. And it’s rather difficult not to feel a little aggrieved when you put her to bed, kiss her cheek and bid her goodnight for her to reply, ‘mummy, mummy.’

You might think she’s simply saying the word without knowing what it means, or because she likes the way it rolls off the tongue, but you’d be wrong because she knows exactly what it means. I’m not sure which came first, her obsession with the word or her obsession with her mummy, but she’s decided that mummy is the coolest person on the planet and daddy is just some guy that mummy lives with. Yes, I have been pushed aside in favour of a person with bigger boobs.

Who does Izzie want to see in the morning? Her mummy. Whose lap does she want to sit on? Her mummy’s. Whose hand does she want to hold when we walk down the street? I’m sure you can identify the pattern in this. I jokingly asked her this morning who her favourite parent is (like she’d be able to understand, ha!) – and she pointed at Lizzie and said, ‘mummy.’ Ouch. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was hoping to gain from that question!

Following quickly on the heels of Izzie’s first word came her first full sentence yesterday – we often show her how to do something and then say, ‘Izzie do it,’ so when she was struggling to fit the shapes through the correct holes on her toy, she picked it up, plonked it down on Lizzie’s lap, and said, ‘Mummy do it.’ It was a revelation to her – now she can ask mummy to do everything!

It has been a week since this started, and while Lizzie initially rubbed it in – ha ha, she’s not saying ‘daddy’, is she? – even she’s getting a little tired of the constant, ‘mummy, mummy, mummy’. More worryingly, when I tried to kiss Lizzie earlier, the little tyke clambered up into her lap and started slapping me in the face, as if to say, ‘Get away from my mummy, you horrible man, she’s mine, all mine!’

A few weeks ago she was definitely a daddy’s girl. Now when I cuddle her she reaches out for mummy. I figure this is all just part of growing up, and toddlers being toddlers, and it’s not like Lizzie and me are in competition. Still, I’m looking forward to the day that as I close her bedroom door I’ll hear the words, ‘Night, night, daddy.’

Perspectives

I don’t want to go all New Age tree-hugger on you, but having a baby changes your perspective. As someone set in his ways, and a bit of a cynic with it, I figured my attitudes wouldn’t change much – none of that wishy-washy heal-the-world tosh. But loathe as I am to admit it, having a baby alters your perspective on things you were sure you had pegged.

That national treasure known as the NHS, for example. From the perspective of one who’s never used it, it’s the best of Britain, albeit sadly dying under the dual weights of lack of funding and mismanagement. From the perspective of a dad who spent a week visiting his newborn daughter and her mother, it’s already dead. I can’t fault the staff that work there, but one midwife covering a ward of twenty-five beds? That’s not just dangerous understaffing, it borders on criminality!

My perspective has changed on people too. Some of the ones I thought before the birth would be the greatest help have been conspicuous only by their absence, while others I thought were a waste of space have given generously of their time and effort and stepped up to the plate. It’s amazing how a little thing like a baby can bring out the true nature of people. I guess it’s done that to me.

I’ve changed my stance on public breastfeeding. Whenever I heard about somebody being asked to stop breastfeeding in a restaurant, or swimming pool, or public library, I’d go all Daily Mail and agree. ‘Too bloody right,’ I’d think. ‘There’s a time and a place for that sort of thing.’ But after watching Lizzie whip her boobs out in front of all and sundry, and the relief it gives to the baby, I really can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

And single mothers. Let nobody say that being a single mother on benefits is easy. This parenting lark is hard enough with two people, let alone one. So now, when I see a woman on Channel 5 with three kids under four by different dads, instead of right-wing indignation I wonder how she’s able to cope and if she’s getting enough sleep. Before you know it, I’ll be reading The Guardian!

My perspective on my parents has changed too. I look at my little baby, so perfectly formed, so pristine, and I wonder if one day she’ll want to deface her skin, or punch holes in her body parts. I speak as somebody with four tattoos who had his ears, nose and tongue pierced by the age of twenty. I understand now why my parents were so against it. It’s not because they’re culturally-arrested conservatives who can’t appreciate artistic self-expression, it’s because they can’t bear to watch you damage the body they’ve been protecting since the day you were born. Sorry mum and dad – my bad.

There are a host of behavioural changes too. When I’m out driving with precious cargo, I hesitate at junctions and roundabouts, passing up gaps I would have taken four weeks ago because now they seem too risky. It takes me forever to cross a road with the pram, waiting until there’s absolutely nothing coming before I make my move. The cat isn’t even allowed in the same room as Izzie, and when people come to visit I wonder how good their personal hygiene is, and what germs they might be bringing into my home. My perception of risk has changed the world into a significantly more dangerous place.

And my emotions have changed. Never a proud man, when I push the pram I feel a burst of pride; never sentimental, if I see a cute outfit I go all gooey inside and have to buy it; and never possessive of anything in my life, if somebody’s been holding my baby too long, I have to fight the urge to claw their eyes out while screaming, ‘Get your grubby hands off my daughter! She’s mine, mine, mine!’

And along with all these other changes, having a baby has changed my perspective on cliches. I hated all that guff about how ‘you’ll feel differently when you have kids of your own,’ and, ‘until you have a baby you’ll never understand.’ I hate it even more now because, from my perspective, it turns out that it was right.