I haven’t posted anything over the last while because of the arrival of our new baby daughter – I hesitate to use the word ‘bouncing’ in reference to babies, though she’s certainly pretty sturdy. As this is my second (and my wife’s third – the second coming after a long gap), there was a little more joy and less terror than last time, although dealing with our toddler’s confused feelings added a fresh new dimension to the whole deal. If you have one or more kids, you’ll know how Maedhbh and I feel at the moment. If you don’t . . . you should try it, it’s very cool (but still scary).
If you haven’t read my piece about exposing yourself online (I mean your private information, as opposed to showing off your rude bits), I had better explain that I don’t use my kids’ names online, and I don’t show their faces in any pictures that I post. It’s a pretty basic precaution, but one that I stick to, so you’ll excuse me for keeping the new arrival anonymous.
Apart from that dynamite joy/terror combination of having a newborn child, I have discovered anew the degree to which my brain becomes emotional mush. Ever since the birth of our first daughter, I have developed some weird habits. For a start, I have found that I use an overly expressive voice whenever I talk to her (something that, when I was younger, I swore I’d never do) and I tend to say everything twice (Don’t I honey? Daddy says everything twice!).
I have also developed an habitual rocking motion that instinctively kicks in under certain conditions. Normally, it’s if I’m holding the handle of the buggy and I’m standing still for any length of time. This is fine as long as there’s a young child being rocked. It’s a little unsettling when you find yourself standing in a supermarket, rocking the shopping trolley when there’s nothing in it but shopping, because the child’s at home with her mother. Yes, I was rocking the groceries.
It’s not just buggies and trolleys that I feel the need to move. There’s that swaying thing I do, because babies like being on the move. And they know the difference between you standing up and sitting down. Is that an ape thing? They feel more secure when they’re moving around higher up? Is that an instinct? But again, sometimes I find myself doing the swaying when there’s no baby to sway. Now that I have two, the chances of babyless swaying will be thankfully reduced. It’s a rare day that I’m not dealing with one or the other.
There’s other stuff too. I have to keep resisting the urge to say ‘Ta-ta’ instead of ‘thank you’ to strangers who serve me in shops. I keep looking at household objects and wondering how long the laundry basket or a remote control or a pack of wipes would keep her busy for. From the early days of crying fits (the baby, not me), I know the places in the house where I can walk for several strides before having to turn around and walk back the other way (and then back again, many, many times). I know that, now that she can walk, if I put her down in the front garden, the first place she’ll go is straight to the front gates (leading onto a main road) to test them for weaknesses, and the second place is the gate to the back garden, just to be awkward. She is pictured here trying to escape from her granny’s garden.
Our new daughter already has more hair and appears to have less need to vomit than her big sister did at that early age (not a t-shirt was safe, no matter how you tried to cover your shoulder – and don’t get me started about the carpets) – but seems equally curious. And as her sister forces us to move the breakables, swallowables and easily-activated electronics higher and higher up in each room, so we are reminded that all of the daft little habits we had to develop for each of those first stages will have to be woken up and put back into service once more.
All this, just as our boy is hitting the ‘aw, my parents are so embarrassing’ stage.
And strange though it may seem, despite the rocking and the swaying and bouncing and the singing daft songs and putting on the silly voices, and wiping away the vomit, or cleaning up the food mess again, or dealing with the crying that threatens to drive you out of your mind, or running in abject fright after the seemingly self-destructive little stunt-toddler, I’m happy to be a fool for my kids. Because forget being an adrenaline junkie, or a rock-star, or a film-star – being a dad is the biggest buzz. It is the coolest thing in the the world (even more than being a mum – sorry mums, but you have your own perks), and acting the eejit is part of that cool, ‘cos you just don’t care what the world thinks as long as your kids are all right. And not giving a shit is the best cool of all.
There are times when I have doubts about how good a job I’m doing, about whether I’m getting it right, or if there’s something I’m doing that’s going to turn my kids into assholes later in life. There’s no way of knowing, really. That’s just part of being a parent, and even though any parent will tell you the same, it’s hard to accept that it’s just impossible to be sure you’re doing a good job with this, the most important of jobs.
But there are some obvious things I think I’ve avoided. There is one bizarre habit I definitely haven’t developed, and there’s one piece of advice I can offer in the absolute certainty that it will greatly improve your child’s well-being, and it’s this: Don’t let your toddler smoke cigarettes.
And with that little pearl of wisdom, I’ll wind up this post. Talk to you soon.