A Dad's View 8: It's all about sleep and poo
Despite sleepless nights and his daughter's psychological warfare, Tom Dunmore concludes that the kids are alright
So here I am, eight weeks into the second round of fatherhood, crouching in the Wendy house and hoping I can type out a couple of sentences for this column on my mobile phone before my three-year-old finds me. Right on cue, Ava lifts the fabric window. 'Daddy!' she says excitedly.
'You're a smelly crab fat face bum-bum!' This is the abuse game, Weapon Number One in Ava's arsenal of psychological terror.
Meanwhile, my wife is dealing with the screaming baby boy. With a second child, parenting becomes a real a team effort. Unfortunately, it feels like our team is losing badly. I love being a daddy, but I'd blanked out the pain of the first months – and this time it's compounded by my needy, sleep-sucking daughter.
In fact, fatherhood second time round has been an unexpected struggle. I can (grumpily) put up with the sleep deprivation – but because I can't afford to lavish my attention on the newborn, I'm struggling to make an emotional connection with him.
At work, I'm not bubbling with first-parent enthusiasm. I try to avoid social contact with the childless because all our shared points of reference have gone: I'm too busy watching Wonderpets to catch Homeland. The only movie I've seen recently is half of The Muppets (Ava walked out; I happily followed her lead). The only subjects I seem to be able to talk about are sleep and – at a push – poo. And so I seek out the company of fellow parents. And small children.
Two days later, I'm attempting to dictate my column into my phone while walking to the market to pick up Sunday dinner. Ava's perched up on my shoulders, intent on distracting me.
'Daddy what are you doing?'
'I'm writing a column.'
Here it comes – the 'Why' game. Weapon Number Two. Ava started it the week we brought Erik home. The tragedy is that I was looking forward to explaining the world to my daughter, but she seems to have a laser-targeted instinct for finding your weakest moment.
'So we can afford to buy lunch,' I bleat, weakly.
'Yay! And an ice cream afterwards?'
'No ice cream today, Ava.'
'Why?' I ignore her, and start talking into my phone again.
Not my finest moment.
On the bus home, we pass a church as the congregation spills onto the street. 'What's that, daddy?'
'It's a church.'
'Why?' I hesitate.
Fellow passengers turn and smirk, keen to watch me attempt to wriggle my way out of this metaphysical quandary.
'That's a big question,' I say.
'Why?' she asks. 'It's our stop!' I say, three stops too early.
'No it's not.'
'I'm going to buy you a cake, remember?' Ava climbs into my arms, happy to have secured another victory.
I get home tired, demoralised and defeated. And then something wonderful happens: Erik looks at me and smiles his first smile. A warm glow envelops me, and remains even as Ava jabs me in the kidneys and says: 'You're a smelly fish pie, daddy!' I give her a hug. As my painter friend David said to me: 'Don't try to swim against the flow. One's a challenge – but two's a family.'