Parents as Partners

Nope, this isn’t a post about Appalachian sexual practices. If that’s what you were looking for, then I’m sorry – for so many reasons.

For everyone else, it’s about attempting to balance the twin roles of parent and partner.

I’ve said before that the person who is everything you want in a partner can simultaneously be frustrating as hell to co-parent a child with. No matter how well you think you know someone, you can’t ever be sure what kind of a parent they’ll make until that kid pops out, and nor do you know how having kids will affect the dynamic between the two of you. You just have to have faith that whatever comes up, you’ll deal with it and get through it together, because that’s the commitment you made.

What I am discovering, as a father of a two-year-old and a seven-week-old, is that the gulf between words and reality is filled with sharp sticks and broken dreams – and a hefty dose of disillusionment.

You see, when you’re a couple, how one of you behaves as a parent inevitably affects how the other behaves. In an ideal world, each individual parent will have a mix of playfulness and responsibility, to differing levels, and you’ll share the load as best you can.

Unfortunately, it is not an ideal world.

In my household, my wife has abrogated all responsibility and so is situated right down the playful, irreverent, impulsive end of the parenting scale, alongside the fun uncle and your friend’s older brother who lets you drink beer. Trouble is, the only way to balance things is for me to go ever further towards the responsible, controlled side – I’m sitting with the school librarian and the ticket collector who won’t let you stand on the seats of the bus.

And I hate that.

While my wife dodges the surf with my toddler on a cold October day, I fret about the fact that they’re both now soaked up to the knees, the shoes will have to go in the washing machine to clean away the salt, and they’re going to freeze on the way home – not to mention we’re going to get sand in the car. While they carve their Halloween pumpkins, I hover around them on knife patrol, groaning as every drop of pumpkin juice splashes down onto the carpet, and trying to catch the seeds before the dog eats them. And while my wife is happy to say yes to just about anything, I’m the one who has to say no, and then deal with the nuclear fallout.

The trouble is, not only do your differing parental styles annoy the crap out of each other, they change how you see one another as partners as well. I’ve started seeing my wife as irresponsible instead of playful, argumentative instead of passionate, stubborn instead of determined and inconsiderate instead of simply absent-minded. For her part, she now sees me as boring, controlling, uptight and dogmatic instead of reliable, sensible, safety-conscious, and by-the-book. It’s all in how you define it.

Of course, matters aren’t helped by lack of sleep (mine), the spectre of postnatal depression (hers) and physical exhaustion (both of us). And to be fair, she has gone a long way down Nuts Street lately, with her moods up and down like a yo-yo, her OCD out of control, and the language she uses enough to make a sailor blush. So she blames her unreasonableness on hormones, I blame my irritability on tiredness, and neither of us really gets to be accountable for our behaviour, even though we’re driving one another up the walls and out the door quicker than a gas leak. I don’t remember the last time our wires were so completely crossed.

Actually, I do. It was a month or so after our first baby. Hmm, I’m spotting a pattern here.

On that occasion, things got better after I asked myself what it was I was doing that was unhelpful to the situation, and it turned out that I was being controlling and dogmatic, though for the right reasons – I was trying to help.

In similar fashion, I think I have located the root of our problems here, but they’ll be far more difficult to solve – it’s not what I am doing, but what I am not doing.

It was a throwaway comment in an argument that contained a thousand other throwaway comments, most of them spurious, many of them said simply to hurt me. It was that I’ve replaced her with the children, and on reflection, it’s a charge that I cannot deny. I have, over the past seven weeks, largely forgotten about my wife.

Well, that’s not true. As an autist – or maybe simply as a male – I thought that the fact I do all the nights and let her sleep, make most of the meals, sort out the dog, cat, chickens and fish, take the toddler to nursery and swimming and ballet, and do the lion’s share of the baby care so my wife doesn’t have to, showed the level of my respect and my regard for her. But it doesn’t.

I’ve been doing my damnedest since the baby arrived to make sure my toddler doesn’t feel left out, so what my wife sees is a man hugging his kids, telling them stories, making sure they’re okay, and then falling exhausted into bed – basically, giving them all the affection and attention he used to give her. And she feels left out, and resentful, and self-pitying. So she snaps at me, which makes me cross as I think, ‘Why isn’t she appreciating me?’ And then we argue, and the cycle repeats.

The solution? I have to show affection to my wife. I have to make time to give her hugs and cuddles, and tell her she’s special, and make sure she’s okay. Basically, I have to make her feel special.

Which is tough when I’m so busy and tired, and is tougher still when she says such awful things to me that I’d rather clip her round the ear than whisper sweet nothings into it. It’s like cuddling a rabid pitbull that hates you.

But it’s something I’m going to have to do. These are the sacrifices you have to make when you’re a parent as well as a partner.

Alone and Afraid

It’s amazing how kids can unlock parts of you that have long lain dormant.

As an adult, it’s not often that I’m afraid. I was often afraid as a child, especially of the dark, but as soon as I realised there were no monsters hiding in the woods – no supernatural ones, anyway – that visceral, uncontrollable, preternatural fear that was programmed into our ancestors’ DNA to keep them safe faded into an erstwhile caution. Of course, having autism and social phobia, I’m used to an all-pervading anxiety, but out-and-out fear is a different entity entirely, and something I’m not particularly familiar with.

I’m far too rational, sceptical and sensible to feel true fear. I went through a period in my early twenties when I decided to test myself, so I did bungee jumps and threw myself out of airplanes, climbed mountains, descended into caves, watched every scary movie I could lay my hands on, visited witches and mediums, hung out in graveyards after dark, crossed rickety rope bridges, trekked through rainforests, slept in wooden huts on barren hillsides, and learned to scuba dive down to a depth of 100 feet in a place called Shark Bay. I’ve been nervous, sure; anxious, definitely; but afraid? Not really. I analyse, process, plan, prepare, adjust, and execute. Control the variables. Assess the risks. And trust in myself. What’s to fear?

Which is why I was thoroughly unprepared for how afraid I felt in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Late Friday evening, my wife Lizzie fell ill. Like, end of the world in a frying pan ill. So I packed her off to bed early with a hot water bottle and a handful of drugs, and the understanding that she would be of no use for at least the next 24 hours. If the house caught on fire, the dog grew an extra head, the chickens started eating meat, or the fish learned to fly, it would be up to me to keep it all together. But I’m used to that, so without a care in the world I put the baby to bed and settled down to a pleasant evening of reading/watching TV/killing aliens, depending on which took my fancy.

Half midnight, my daughter Izzie started screaming. So far, so normal. Except this screaming didn’t stop when I put her dummy back in and laid her back down in the cot. If anything, it got worse. If anything, it was the worst screaming I’d ever heard.

I picked her up, I cuddled her, I sang to her, I danced, I whispered, I begged, but she only grew more agitated, trying to fight me off, choking on her own screams. I took her downstairs, tried milk, tried water, tried biscuits, all to no avail. She was frantic, distraught, so agitated I thought she might suffocate or have a fit. Her face was bright red, her expression horrible. Tears and snot and dribble were everywhere, making her choke, and still the dreadful sobs, the heart-rending screams. Oh God, I just wanted to be able to do something, anything, to help, to stop the screaming, the distress writ large across every aspect of her being.

And it was then, one in the morning in the lounge, unable to do a thing to comfort my daughter and knowing I was totally alone, that I felt afraid. Terrified, in fact. And there was something instantly familiar about this fear, because I’d felt it before. When I was twelve. In a heartbeat, I was twelve again.

This story begins when I was ten. We were on holiday in Spain, and with my twelve-year-old brother, we befriended an older boy on the campsite. I suppose he must have been about fifteen. At some point we went to the swimming pool, at dusk, unsupervised, which was fine because my parents were having drinks with his parents in the caravan awning and he seemed a nice kid and there was a lifeguard and they told us to stay at the shallow end and this was completely normal. But that night wasn’t normal at all.

In the pool he had a couple of other friends who were a few years older than him. One of them had long hair and stubble and I’m sure was eighteen, the other maybe seventeen. And at some point, the three of them thought it would be fun to drag little ten-year-old me out of my depth into the middle of the pool and duck me under the water.

The sky was dark by then. I wasn’t a big fan of water. I hated being under the water. They held me under. I writhed, I fought against them, my arms flailing. My terror seemed to amuse them. They ducked me again and again. I couldn’t touch the bottom. They’d let me up for a breath then hold me under again. My brother watched from the shallow end. Each time my head broke the surface my ears would ring with their laughter. They kept passing me between them. Sometimes they’d let go, and I’d try to swim away but they’d grab me and start up again. I thought I was going to die. Between mouthfuls of water I screamed at the lifeguard for help. He watched with a smirk on his face – the one adult, the one person who was meant to keep me safe, enjoyed my suffering. I was frantic.

Eventually, they let me get too close to the side – I grabbed the metal steps. They were bigger, holding onto my arms, and there were three of them, and they certainly didn’t want me to escape and ruin their fun, but there was no freaking way I was ever going to let go of that railing – I thought that if I did, I would die, and thus I literally clung on for dear life until I managed to drag myself from their grasp.

Afraid they’d now target my brother, who was stupidly sitting in the shallow end, completely oblivious to the danger, I shouted at him to get out and fled from the place I had been sure I would die. Maybe it didn’t look so serious from the outside. Maybe they only held me under ten seconds at a time. But if you’ve ever been held under water by strangers when out of your depth, ten seconds might as well be a lifetime. I was traumatised.

Skip forward a couple of years. We were on holiday in the south of France with three families my parents were friends with, each of whom had kids the same age as my brother and me. We spent a day at a lake and, in two inflatable canoes, the eight of us kids paddled out to an island in the middle. It was meant to be great fun, exploring the unknown – I was excited by it. It might even have been my idea. But it went horribly wrong the moment we got there.

The second my feet hit the sand, I freaked out. It was, without a doubt, my first panic attack. The rest of the kids ran up the beach, darting about the rocks, climbing into the dunes, flitting about the bushes – I sat on a boulder, hugging my knees and rocking forward and back, my skin crawling and every sense telling me that something was wrong and I wanted out. I asked to go back, I demanded we go back, I kicked up such a fuss and ended up so crazed they finally boarded the boats and we set off.

The end of this affair was captured on that ultimate early-90s status symbol – the camcorder. My parents filmed our return journey, the arguing in the boat, and my decision to leap into the water half-way across and swim the rest of the way to shore as it was taking too long. It even made it onto our yearly Family Video – that kooky Gillan, what’s he like?

My brother put my behaviour down to me being an arsehole, and my parents probably agreed – in all fairness, erratic, disruptive and destructive behaviour was hardly out of the ordinary for me, given I had autism and it wouldn’t be diagnosed as such for a further sixteen years. But the feelings that triggered the episode were certainly new, and being an introspective sod, even as a twelve-year-old, I decided I had to get to the bottom of why it happened.

Ultimately I realised that my fear on that beach beside a lake in the south of France was a direct result of my experience two years earlier in a swimming pool in Spain. The moment I stepped out of the canoe I was alone with a bunch of children, no adults around, no rescue, no safety, and my vulnerability in that situation was more than I could bear.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, as Izzie screamed and choked and sobbed, while upstairs my wife lay ill in bed, I was back on that beach. I was a child again, with nobody to save me, nobody to protect me, only myself to rely on in all the world. I had no idea what to do. I was trapped in the situation as surely as I had been years before in a swimming pool at dusk. And I was afraid.

I hadn’t thought of those experiences in years. I hadn’t felt those feelings in forever. I have been an adult almost all of my life. My daughter made me a child again.

And then she vomited all over me.

And I’ve never been so relieved.

A Father’s Role

 

In the olden days – like, the really, really, really olden days – a father’s role was simple: catch food, drive your enemies before you, hear the lamentations of their women. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly simple, especially when all you have is a wooden club, but cavemen knew what it was to be men.

Years later it was decided that, while the father still had to provide for their children, they should also guide them towards successful adulthood by administering discipline, principally using ‘the rod’, ‘the birch’, ‘the staff’, or ‘the belt’, depending on their particular inclination.

Then we had this pesky thing called the sexual revolution, in which women decided they no longer wanted to sit around raising babies, baking cakes and waiting for their husbands to give them their pocket money, and instead go out and earn money for themselves. No bad thing in itself, but it upset thousands of years of a clear gender split in parenting roles.

The father is no longer the provider, because the mother can do that too. He’s also equally expected to help out with the night feeds, change nappies, give baths, nurture, cuddle, sing songs, mollycoddle, encourage and entertain. And discipline is hardly an exclusively masculine preserve. As a result, many men have lost their way, with nothing they can cling onto as an exclusively XY domain, unlike women, who have a sacrosanct arena of XX dominance: no matter how much I might want to, I shall never be able to give birth, breastfeed, or discuss pelvic floor exercises with my girlfriends – at least, not without embarrassment.

The thing is, we men are full of testosterone, ready to contend with nature red in tooth and claw, but there’s little call for that on the way to the chemist to get more baby wipes or when choosing between pink paint or floral wallpaper. So modern man channels all his brutish, preternatural manliness into the one thing we can make our own, and in this find fulfilment and transcendence: personal safety.

You mothers can wander about with the baby, smell the flowers, watch the sunshine; we fathers will protect you. That’s something we can do. That’s something you have to let us do so we feel like men. While you play in the play park, we’ll stand sentry, intercepting any and all potential dangers and inconveniences. We are a cross between Secret Service agents, bodyguards and ninjas. We stand ready to do violence upon those who would harm us and ours. We are men. Hear us roar! Miaow!

Trouble is, since I became a dad, I’ve realised that the world seems to have become an incredibly dangerous place, and I’m not at all sure I’m up to the task. Every hitherto friendly dog I pass in the street is now a potential child-killer, just waiting for me to drop my guard so it can maul my baby to death. I’m not just talking about Alsatians and Rottweilers – the village is full of prissy little Lhasa Apsos, fluffy, self-important, ten inches tall, all of whom will turn into Cujo if I’m not watching them. That’s without mentioning the cats, the size of tigers, that prowl between parked cars, sharpening their claws as they lust after toddler blood. It’s a freaking jungle out there, people.

And people too. The postman has morphed from a friendly chap who delivers the mail into a blood-thirsty psychopath who wants to take my baby away with him in his post bag. Elderly neighbours ask us if we have any plans for the day: why do you want to know that, are you planning on ambushing us and stealing our baby? You would not believe just how many kidnappers lurk around our village, ready to steal my nearest and dearest if I look away for even a second. Man with walking stick = man with offensive weapon, best avoided. Every bush, every tree, could be hiding the human equivalent of Rumpelstiltskin, and it’s my job to keep these bastards at bay.

Then there are the drivers. One mile an hour over the speed limit is one mile an hour too much: ‘Slow down, Lewis Hamilton, you’re not in Monaco now!’ The car park at the supermarket has changed from a place to dump my vehicle in order to purchase goods into a nightmare murderfest organised by the prison guards in Death Race 2000, filled with elderly people who reverse without warning and ignore the one-way traffic-flow system, yes, ignore it! And by the end of each car journey these days my eyes are bloodshot from glaring at every person along the way who has the potential to cause an accident which might harm my daughter – which, to be frank, is all of them.

Nature is just as violent. I see dog poo and wonder what diseases it might be able to pass on; I look at the sky and ponder whether or not little Izzie will make it home alive if the weather changes suddenly; I question if the trees I have walked under a thousand times will choose this day, this moment, to come crashing down upon us. Are those cows going to stampede? Can that bull get out of the field? Is the slurry pit giving out noxious gases? What if? What if? What if?

And that’s just outside the house. Inside, I’m increasingly suspicious that the TV might mean my daughter harm, or the dishwasher, or the tumble-dryer. Radiators are steam-filled pipe bombs, the boiler wants to kill her with carbon monoxide, the toilet is full of water to drown her in, the bedding can suffocate her, the plug sockets might arc electricity across the room, the carpet might cause burns, the food might poison her, the picture frame might brain her as she walks past and there’s the ever-present threat of the sofa swallowing her whole. I lie awake at night wondering if I’m doing enough to keep meteors from crashing through the roof or foxes from scaling the walls and sneaking inside through the air vents.

My parents asked me what I want for my birthday.

‘A fire extinguisher,’ I said.

All in all, I’m coping really well with my paranoia. But this, you see, is a modern father’s principal role: keeping our children safe. It’s what makes us men. It’s all we’ve got. Don’t take it away from us. Because you’ll need us when the zombies come.

Provided we haven’t worried ourselves to death first!

The Fear

This week I encountered The Fear. He was on a holiday park in North Devon, of all places, roaming between the static caravans that sit on a hillside overlooking the bay. I’m pretty sure most parents meet him at some point, but this week was my turn.

I’ve been anxious about Izzie before, concerned about her safety, worried about the future, but it’s always been small scale, fantasy-land fear, the kind you get before the dentist or a particularly unpleasant meeting – you’d rather avoid it, but you know that if you have to face it, you’ll get through the discomfort because it’s not really actually all that bad. The Fear is another matter entirely.

It crept up on me unannounced. Everything was fine – a bright, crisp morning, fluffy white clouds scudding across an azure sky, the ocean stretching out below us towards the horizon. Lizzie was walking down the hill holding Izzie’s hand and while I locked up the caravan, my little girl looked over her shoulder at me, the breeze tousling her hair. Her face was a picture of innocent joy, her toothy smile so infectious as she waved at her daddy that in that moment I knew what it was to be loved and what true happiness felt like.

And an instant later I was struck by The Fear – the all-pervading, nausea-inducing, gut-wrenching, knee-weakening presentiment that I would lose her.

The closest I’ve come to this feeling before is when Izzie was around three months old. I went into her room in the middle of the night to check on her and she was so still and quiet I thought she was dead. My first thought – nay, instinct – was to travel to wherever she had gone, because she needed me and I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for her. Short story even shorter, she wasn’t dead, she was just asleep – but the incident cleared up any lingering doubts about whether I truly believed in the hereafter.

The Fear wasn’t like this at all. It didn’t come from anything scary but from something joyous. It was as though upon reaching the heights of happiness, my body reacted and rebelled, viscerally and violently. Out of the clear blue sky I was filled with the most terrible and heartbreaking dread.

I’m not just talking about death, though that’s a given – cancer, meningitis, kidnap, murder, an accident, The Fear showed me it all – I’m talking as much about change. If I could have frozen that moment she waved at me with innocent joy, I would have done, because right now Izzie adores me – I’m the smartest, coolest, funniest, most-lovable chunk of a man she knows. But all that will change, and quickly too. My days as my daughter’s faultless hero are well and truly numbered.

I spent all that day with The Fear. Maybe, I thought, it’s here because I was talking to somebody about Seneca a few days ago, and his belief that your mind is the only thing you can rely on as everything else you can lose – friends, family, status, job, home, health, hair, all of it. Or maybe, I thought, I’m preoccupied with losing Izzie because police believe they might be days away from locating the body of Ben Needham, a British 21-month-old who went missing 25 years ago in Kos. Or perhaps it’s because I had the unfortunate experience of overhearing a fourteen-year-old girl and her mother screaming life-affirming statements at one another like, ‘I’ve effing had it with you,’ ‘you effing well ruin everything,’ and, ‘I wish you were effing dead!’

But that’s not it at all. If it was, The Fear would be with me all the time. No, it’s because in that moment of perfect happiness I realised my unbridled love for another person – and simultaneously my utter and total vulnerability. Izzie has me, heart and soul, and if anything happens to her, I would be destroyed. The Fear was a safety mechanism, a reality check, because I was walking too close to contentment, and believed my happiness to be immortal. Keep away from the sun, Icarus, or you’ll fall into the sea.

And that is the dilemma of parenting. You give yourself and hold nothing back, but in so doing you risk everything. Your fate is tied to that fragile, fickle bundle of cells you call your child. And the price for your joy is The Fear, cropping up when you least expect him, reminding you you’re dancing with a moonbeam that can never be contained.

But in the meantime, long live this moment.

Time away from baby

Like many parents, the thought of leaving my twelve-month-old daughter with somebody else overnight fills me with dread, regardless of who that somebody is. Therefore, the thought of leaving her for four nights with her Granny while I went on honeymoon was a real crisis of character.

Regular followers of this blog will be aware that, when booking said honeymoon, all was not well in the Galton-Drew household. Lizzie wanted to go away for seven nights; I wanted to go for a maximum of four. She accused me of being unable to let go; I accused her of finding it too easy to let go. She wanted our old life; I wanted our new life. And so it went round.

Ultimately we went away for five days, four nights, a result of both my need to be a dad and be there for my child, and the fact we’d misinterpreted the website and couldn’t actually afford seven nights anyway. Building up to it, I wasn’t over eager to leave my troubles (I mean, my daughter) behind. How would she cope without me? How would I cope without her? What if something happened? How could I possibly enjoy myself knowing I’d abandoned my parental responsibility in order to have a jolly?

You know – normal, obsessive, neurotic parent thoughts.

For all parents considering time away from the baby, it’s of course entirely up to you and you should always do what you’re comfortable with, but having now had a holiday without the little one, perhaps my experience will help you make up your mind.

I needn’t have worried. At all. About myself or the baby.

If we start with the little one, she was absolutely fine. She didn’t seem to miss us, went to bed without a fuss and was thoroughly spoiled by her grandmother. Actually, that’s possibly the only real problem: having been fed home-cooked finger food she could feed herself with, she now steadfastly refuses food from jars and food that requires a spoon. Thanks Granny!

Not to blow my own trumpet, but I think the reason it went so well is that we’ve done a great job creating a confident, outgoing child. We’ve been there in the background but we’ve allowed Izzie her freedom, been ready to catch her when she falls but let her explore where and how she wants. It means she’s fearless, ready to face the unknown because she knows there’s a safety net beneath her and rescue just a chirrup away. It’s certainly confirmed there’s nothing wrong with our parenting style.

Going back to the baby-less holiday, I was fine too. Surprisingly fine. I put her out of my mind and barely thought about her. True, there were moments – when I saw someone pushing a pushchair, when I heard a baby crying, when I saw a strawberry-blonde toddler waddling awkwardly along the quayside – but for the most part, I didn’t find it as crippling and debilitating as I thought I would.

Perhaps this is because I’m a person, and not just a dad. It’s easy to forget, when you’re at the coalface, that there’s a whole other side to you – several sides. Lizzie and I finally got to do what we love doing: exploring. We drove down unmarked roads and walked along overgrown tracks, ducked through caves and peered into rockpools, squeezed up spiral staircases and descended into dungeons, danced on beaches in the rain and stared at Pagan trinkets scattered around Neolithic stone circles in celebration of the solstice, and still somehow found the time for hot tubs, steam rooms and meals out. That is who we are as a couple, and what we haven’t been since the baby was born.

Despite my previous claims that you can holiday just fine with a baby, the truth is that you can’t do everything. You can’t just stop at the side of the road because you’ve seen something interesting poking out of the long grass, examine it for five minutes, then jump back in the car. You can’t decide on a whim to explore this ruined castle, or wander across that causeway, or climb down these two-hundred steps to that isolated beach. Around a hundred times I thought, ‘We couldn’t do this with a baby.’

And it felt so good! Not having to think about nappies and food and waterproofs, being able to hold hands with each other instead of constantly focusing on someone else, is amazingly therapeutic after a year of unremitting parenthood. I saw many young families out with kids, and all of them were struggling, arguing, flustered, overloaded with bags and equipment, and it was such a relief not to be similarly encumbered for once.

Lizzie and I connected in a way we haven’t since forever. Of course, when you become a parent you don’t cease to be a partner, but it’s very easy to cease making an effort for one another since you’re so knackered and emotionally overwhelmed by the whole world of baby care. The arguments that characterised our lives over the past six months have gone. And that doesn’t just make you a better partner, it makes you a better parent too.

Before this honeymoon I could barely countenance the idea of going away without my child; now I think it’s a great idea. Parenting is a team sport, and the occasional team-building weekend is essential to keep it running smoothly.

So, anyone know of any cheap getaways?

AS, Children and Play

As a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome, albeit undiagnosed, I never understood how to play with others.

At playschool I’d wander straight through the middle of the toy farm the other kids had carefully set out, trampling the animals underfoot and kicking apart the barns without realising it, and unable to comprehend why they were cross with me.

When I tried to play with my brother, I couldn’t get into the fantasy the way he could – the toys were plastic, or wooden or cloth, and had no existence beyond my own control. I cared for them as objects, not as independent beings. They didn’t have feelings – they didn’t mind being thrown against the wall or stuffed under the sofa. Just so long as no one else touched them.

Because I didn’t share. What was mine was mine, and what was yours was yours until it was either mine, or I broke it so you couldn’t have it. As a young child, it’s safe to say I was an asshat.

And I didn’t know how to mix with my peers. We used to go camping almost every weekend, and every weekend we’d be sent to play with the other kids on the campsite. My brother would take it in his stride, marching up to complete strangers and joining them in football or climbing trees or riding bikes – I’d hide behind him and never know what to say or do.

When I tried to be funny, I came across as spiteful; when I wanted to be cool, I was condescending; and playfulness always turned into physical domination where my clumsiness and misunderstanding of appropriate behaviour turned me into a one-man wrecking ball – and that’s when it wasn’t deliberate. When it was, it was much worse. No wonder I couldn’t make any friends!

At eleven months old, Izzie loves playing with the other kids – and I am finding it like pulling teeth.

Every time she crawls towards another child, I watch her like a hawk and get so tense I’m lucky I don’t drive my fingernails through my palms. I see other parents just dump their kids and let them get on with it, but I perch on the edge of my seat ready to pull them apart at the slightest sign of aggression from either side. It’s the most uncomfortable thing I’ve experienced as a dad.

‘Why’s she doing that?’ I think as she pulls a brick out of another child’s hand. ‘Now why’s she doing that?’ I wonder as she passes it back. I’m fine when she plays by herself, but the second she starts to move towards another toddler I cringe and hope she stops before she reaches them because I don’t understand why she wants to play with them.

It’s my problem, I know. You’re supposed to let kids figure out the social rules for themselves, with a little guidance. I’m not going to stop her playing with other children, but damn I wish it was easier.

I’m terrified the other kids will hurt her. I’m terrified they’ll make her cry and she’ll sit there screaming and grow up to be a recluse like me. But more than that, I’m terrified she’ll do something to the other child, and she’s too young to understand the consequences of her actions, but everyone will look at me, and judge me, and realise what a bad dad I am, raising a little tearaway. And I’m worried they’re right, and a dad with AS won’t be able to provide for his child’s social education.

And the thing is, it’s not an idle fear – Izzie’s bloody strong for a toddler. While I was bathing her this evening she rammed her finger so far up my nose it took five pieces of toilet paper to staunch the flow of blood. What if she hits another child? Pulls their hair? Scratches them? Oh God, what would I do then?

The thing with autism is that you like to control your life. You minimise your exposure to stressful, unpredictable social situations in order to protect yourself. Izzie playing by herself in the lounge I can cope with fine as I understand it and can control the variables – the moment you introduce a second child, all control and predictability goes out the window.

But unfortunately, for Izzie’s sake, I have to expose myself to increasingly stressful, unpredictable social situations so she can learn to function as a socially active neurotypical child. I can’t allow my own hang-ups to hold her back.

I just need to learn how to relax when my little girl is learning how to play with others – or at the very least make sure my fingernails are cut so short I can’t do myself any serious damage!

Baby Blues

I got the baby blues, woo-oo, the baby blues, oh-oh.

Just imagine that sung by an itinerant black Southerner in the 1920s, Delta-style, and you’ve got how I’m feeling at the moment. Although in this context, my baby is an actual baby, and I’m not really in the mood for singing.

It started Monday when Lizzie’s mum looked after the little one for the day. I’ve been putting off accepting help from babysitters because I was afraid that if I got out of daddyship I’d struggle to get back in. Like when you make a New Year’s Resolution to go to the gym three days a week – you do it for months, and it’s easy because you get into a rhythm, but then you miss one day, through no fault of your own, and one day becomes two, becomes four, and wham! You’ve not set foot in a gym since 2010. That sort of thing.

Anyway, so Granny looked after Izzie all day Monday, then Lizzie took her out most of the day Tuesday, and suddenly every sleepless night, missed meal, repressed emotion and unfulfilled desire have caught up with me. I’m struggling to stay awake, can’t stop eating, bounce between wanting to cry and feeling completely numb, and can’t seem to motivate myself to do anything that I ought to be doing.

Before you know it, I’ll start menstruating.

And infinitely worse is how good it felt on Monday to have a day off. What kind of a dad spends a whole day thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s sooooooo nice not having the baby here’? I mean, it was great getting to reconnect with Lizzie, just the two of us, even though it was just watching crap TV on the sofa. But it was bliss just to sit without keeping one ear tuned to the baby monitor, to know I wouldn’t have to suddenly jump up, that I wasn’t responsible for once, and I feel very guilty about that. If I enjoy getting away from the baby, then I can’t love her, right?

Realistically, it’s probably normal after the hardest six months of my life, but I’m not being realistic right now. I just feel a little lost, and very, very blue.

Basically, I’m wallowing in self-pity. I’m sure it’ll pass. Izzie’s currently using her dummy-lead and dummy as a pair of nunchucks and smacking the crap out of my head. She keeps it up much longer she’ll have knocked me senseless. But maybe then I’d wake up in a better mood.