Walking on Sunshine

The day you buy your child her first pair of shoes is meant to be a red letter day, the seminal event on her journey towards mobility and toddler-hood, and a time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Trouble is, there’s no time to savour this feeling of satisfaction because as soon as they’re on her feet, the world shifts beneath your feet again.

It’s not like walking is necessarily a new thing for Izzie – she was standing with support at two months, walking with support at seven, and took her first unaided steps at eleven – but now she can put a dozen steps together, everything has changed. As soon as we slipped on those cutesy pink shoes she decided that crawling was for babies. Even if she only has to move a foot, she’ll stand and walk it now. Her determination knows no bounds.

IMG_2558
Bow before me and my big-girl shoes!

Unfortunately, and here is the reason her first pair of shoes is not a day for celebration, she has also now decided that she’s too grown-up for a pushchair. She just wants to walk, walk, walk. But not just anywhere – she wants to walk where she wants to walk, irrespective of you.

We put on her shoes in the shoe shop and walked her around in them and that was that. She screamed like a frustrated banshee when we put her in the pushchair, screamed like we’d never heard her scream, and in public too. We figured we’d let her walk since she had new shoes on, a little treat.

Holding onto both my hands, she wandered around the square. So far, so good. But the second I walked her into a shop, she let go with one hand, pivoted on her heel and walked out again. So I steered her in, and she walked out again. And again. So I picked her up.

Oh my gosh. More screaming. ‘I’m a big girl, daddy! I go where I like!’

And it’s been that way ever since.

If you’re taking her somewhere she doesn’t want to go, she either lets go and turns, drags you in another direction, or else drops to the floor. This spirit of independence is rapidly turning into a spirit of defiance that we’re really going to have to keep an eye on!

She certainly wants to run before she can walk – literally! When we’re not holding her hands, she runs everywhere, that whole ‘I’m-falling-forward-so-I’ll-just-walk-faster-to-counteract-gravity’ thing. Which means that when she falls – and she’s falling a lot – she lands with a bang. Her legs are covered in bruises and she keeps throwing herself headlong into the furniture with no regard for her safety. But when she does, she’ll just pull herself back up to her feet and run on again, the imprint of a chair leg down the side of her face.

This devil-may-care attitude has extended to her rocking toys too. Sitting down is clearly too easy for a girl with big-girl shoes, too boring for someone who can (sort of) walk. So she does stunts that terrify the hell out of her daddy.

IMG_2541
I call this one ‘standing on the crossbar with my butt overhanging the back’
IMG_2551
And this is called ‘holy shit she’s on one leg and still rocking!’

I have no idea where she gets it from.

bike stunt

bike stunt 2

No idea whatsoever…

So beware the day you buy your child her first pair of shoes – it might change things in ways you never expected.

AS, Anxiety and Baby Safety

It is rare to meet someone with AS who doesn’t have some kind of anxiety problem, and yet anxiety is not part of Asperger’s Syndrome. Rather, it seems the symptoms of Asperger’s – the social confusion, difficulties with understanding, need for routine and inability to cope with change – often lead us into situations we can’t cope with and encourage others to tease us, humiliate us and bully us, and it is a lifetime of such occurrences, repeatedly falling on our arses, that causes the anxiety.

Even then, some of us can be bigger worriers than others.

It turns out that I have a reputation amongst the NCT crowd of being something of a worrier and rather overprotective (shocking, I know!). As I’ve said before, in order to cope with our anxieties, people with Asperger’s plan their lives to avoid risk and the unpredictable. Having a baby means that you don’t just have to plan to keep yourself safe – you have to think of the baby too. And your anxieties about yourself pale into insignificance alongside your need to protect your baby.

Now eight-and-a-half months old, Izzie has reached that stage where she wants to be involved with everything. And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING. She wants to know what you’re doing, what your partner’s doing, what the dog’s doing, what the cat’s doing, what the people out the window are doing, what’s behind that sofa, what’s in that cupboard, can I open this drawer, why can’t I wear that hat, your glasses would look better if I bent them, what happens if I empty out your bag, and everything in between. And keeping her safe has become a nightmare.

The house is starting to resemble a fortress. There are barred gates across every doorway, a wooden fence blocking access to the TV, a hexagonal playpen that looks like a cage-fighting arena taking up half the lounge, and foam corner protectors uglying up most of the furniture. We’ve put down a soft mat as the floor was (probably) too hard, and I’ve even relented about bumpers and put protectors around each slat of the cot because she keeps falling and cracking her head against the bars. Every single night.

But it’s all to no avail. She’s determined to stand and walk before she’s ready, which means she falls often and falls hard. Worse, she doesn’t seem to care – if she’s standing up against the sofa and wants to get to the other, she throws herself down like an unemployed stuntman so she can crawl; if she has a toy, she thrashes it about until she’s knocked herself almost senseless; and within a few seconds of putting her in her cot you’ll hear an awful, heavy thud as she drives her head into the wood, deliberately and repeatedly, as if that’s how the cool kids get to sleep these days.

I’ve had to come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to safeguard her entirely. I can chase her around the room as she waddles about, and catch her if she falls backwards – I can’t stop those face-planting forward falls that squish her nose and knock her teeth back into her gums. Nor can I stop her crawling over her wooden blocks, getting her fingers caught when she bashes two toys together, headbutting my knees or suddenly slamming her face into my forehead – no matter what precautions you take, she’s got you.

I was sitting on the sofa the other day when the lamp started sliding across the sideboard all by itself. Did we have a ghost? I jumped up to find Izzie had pulled herself to her feet, squeezed into the gap down the side of the dresser, reached up to the top and, even though it was out of sight, found the lead with her fingertips and was slowly preparing to pull the whole, heavy ceramic base of the lamp down on her head. This is just one example out of a hundred. Unless we have no phones, lights, chairs, sideboards, tables, floors, people in the room – anything, in fact – we will never eliminate risk.

All of this means the bruise above her eye the size and shape of a thumbprint has been joined by two on her temple the size of peanuts and one right in the middle of her forehead as big as an egg. And she’s into scratching herself too. We take her out in public, all black and blue and red, I’m terrified we’re going to get arrested for using her as a football. ‘It happened when she fell,’ I tell family and friends, and even I think I sound guilty.

The same is true of weaning. I freaking hate feeding her these days. Before, it was milk – pure, wholesome, liquidy milk. Now, it’s all kinds of food, food with bits, with lumps, with chunks. It’s bread, it’s meat, it’s pasta, it’s fruit. So at least once a meal she’ll laugh, or try to talk, or simply swallow something too big, and she’ll start to choke. Totally normal, apparently, totally natural, since she’s learning new textures and tastes, but as her face turns purple and her eyes bulge and tears spurt out of them, I have to fight down the panic because I don’t want to alarm her any more than she already is. So I’m a nervous wreck before we even begin, waiting for that unexpected moment she’ll suddenly start choking, and – something particularly hard for me – there is nothing I can do to prevent it. We can’t keep her on yoghurt and soup all her life, but good gosh I wish we could!

It’s a hard reality to accept but one that I guess all parents eventually have to – we cannot protect our children from the world or from themselves. We can try our best to ensure they’re kept safe, in a protected environment that minimises the risk factors, and be there to pick them back up, but ultimately they’re going to get bumps and bruises, fall out of trees, start dating that boy you don’t like just to piss you off – the trick is not to make a big deal out of it and hope that the damage is never too great. Otherwise you’ll make them neurotic and yourself a basket case, or worse – you’ll turn them into you.

The Dreaded Moment

It’s the moment every parent dreads. You put your baby in her cot, flat on her back and half-asleep. You wander to the bathroom to cut the tag off her new gro-bag. And when you return you see your not-quite-eight-months baby doing this:

IMG_5128
I am your worst nightmare!

Yup, she can stand. By herself. With no help from daddy anymore. Who needs you? Not me!

So in the morning you put her on her little pink scooter-car thing, and she not only shuffles around the floor like an infant Lewis Hamilton, she’s cocky about it:

IMG_5345
Ha! One hand! Eat my dust, turkeys!

It’s made mealtimes rather interesting, because along with this latest development comes a desire for independence stronger than some separatist movements. She doesn’t want me to hold her beaker anymore – she wants to do it herself. And if I try to help her, I get screamed at. Damn it, dad, I don’t care how much water I pour over myself, just let me do it my way!

Every achievement on the way to full mobility is written large upon her face. She grins from ear to ear, laughs uproariously, and babbles excitedly at how freaking cool she is.

But her ego has outgrown her ability.

She’s increasingly annoyed at how slow crawling is. You can see (and hear) her frustration that she can’t move as quick and easy as she wants. She keeps getting up on one knee and lifting both hands skywards as though asking to be picked up – but woe betide if you try, because she’s actually raising her arms in victory that she’s one step closer to walking and doesn’t appreciate you stepping on her freedom, thank you very much.

Her ‘victory hands’ are actually a little counter-productive to the whole standing project – she gets to her hands and feet like a cat arching its back, makes a triumphant one-armed salute, and face plants right into the carpet. But that doesn’t faze her at all, because she starts right up again.

And all of this while teething and fighting off an ear-infection. Determined is not the word: she’s a little trooper!

And yet, along with the pride, comes a tightening of the chest and a catching of the breath, because my baby is on the verge of becoming a toddler. I thought we’d have more time with our baby, that it’d be at least a year before she gave up her total dependence on us. I want to tell her to slow down, to stop being in such a rush, that it’ll come regardless, but she’s inherited my willfulness – I was the same as a baby, racing towards developmental milestones as though they came with prizes. I already feel like I’m being pushed aside, and I can’t say I altogether like it.

But then, when I think how far we’ve come since those first days of life in June, when I worried she wouldn’t be coming out of hospital, to how she is now, I have nothing to complain about. She’s a bona fide miracle.

20150619_085153
Week One
IMG_0794
Week 34

If her journey to independence continues at this rate, before I know it she’ll be trying on funky hats and telling me in a Mockney accent that she wants to be a chimneysweep’s scamp. I dread that day.

IMG_5123
Too late!

Codependent Parenting

Izzie’s crawling! Well, not crawling as such – commando crawling, as though she’s in combat fatigues on an army assault course while someone fires a machine gun over her head.

You can’t believe how happy we were the first time we saw her do it. I knew she could get about somehow because every night when I go to check on her, she’s up the top of the cot, head pressed hard against the headboard, neck at an acute angle, and fast asleep – despite it being a position Rip van Winkle would struggle to find comfortable.

The same sense of pride and accomplishment comes from her walking. If you stand behind her and hold her hands, she’s off! Today we toddled ten metres in a single stretch. She giggles while she’s doing it, excited that she’s a big girl now. In a room full of people, I absolutely burn with pride because she’s only six-months old.

But then I started thinking: how insecure am I if I need to show off about how quickly my daughter is developing? And how shallow am I that everyone’s amazement at how ahead-of-the-curve she is feels like a personal compliment to me? Her rapid development is mostly down to genetics and her own personality, so why am I claiming it as my own achievement? And why does it feel so much better than my own accomplishments?

I mean, in the past year I’ve won four short-story writing competitions, got a distinction for my Masters Degree, and a publisher is interested in my book on autism, yet this feels like nothing next to the fact that Izzie can take off her own nappy. Which begs the question: have I become codependent with my own daughter?

The signs are there. My whole sense of purpose at the moment revolves around Izzie and her wellbeing. My emotional security rests on being able to meet her needs. I’m happy because I can keep her safe and secure. And the other day when we picked her up from her grandmother’s and she totally blanked me, I took it as a personal slight. She looked everywhere but at me – please look at daddy, tell me you missed me and you still love me, please, ah!

But then, perhaps it’s normal at this stage – below the age of one – for a parent to feel so connected to his child. It’s meant to be that way, right? We’re programmed by evolution to nurture our children, protect them, because they’re so vulnerable. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have survived as a species.

And the last few nights when I’ve been putting Izzie to bed, holding her close and rocking her to sleep, she’s taken out her dummy and pressed it into my mouth. How can you not be touched by such an innocent and selfless act of sharing?

That is, unless she’s actually saying, ‘Stop singing, dad, you sound like a jackass.’ Nah, I’m sure she does it because she loves me, right? Right?