Figuring Out Fatherhood: A conversation with my baby daughter
It's five o'clock in the morning, an hour otherwise known as 'limbo time': too early to be awake, too late to go back to sleep. I'm in the lounge, trying to rock a grouchy, sniffly, whingey two- month-old to sleep. And then the strangest thing happens.
"Why won't you just go to sleep, Jemima?" I whine to myself, eyes half-open, barely standing. Jemima stops squirming and looks at me.
"Why should I?" she says. I stop, mid-rock, and look incredibly confused.
"Why are you talking?" I stutter.
"Oh, I've always been able to talk," she replies. "I just choose not to."
As bemused as I am, I sit down and take the opportunity to get a few answers to some oft-asked questions.
"Tell me," I say, holding her under her armpits and bringing her up to eye level. "Why are you not settling down? You've been fed, you've got a clean nappy on, I've burped you...you should be fast asleep by now!"
Jemima shrugs, as much as she can with her shoulders pressing her cheeks together.
"I'm a baby, I don't think logically," she says, through squished lips. "And also, sometimes things in the news upset me. Like those floods, for example. I don't just think about food all the time, you know...unlike some people."
Now it's my turn to squirm.
"Plus," she adds, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "sometimes it's just fun to stress you out. Your voice goes all high-pitched. By the way, when you hold me like this it's really uncomfortable."
I apologise, and lay her gently in the crook of my elbow. She wriggles her backside slightly, bedding down.
"So what else do you want to know?" she asks, clasping her hands together.
I ponder for a moment. "Do you remember me talking to you when you were in the womb?"
"Yes. It was quite soothing. But I didn't like it when you sang. Has anyone told you you're completely tone deaf?"
"There's nothing wrong with my singing," I protest. "What about birth? Do you remember any of that?"
Jemima taps her fingers against her lips, thinking. "Bits and pieces," she says, "but not loads. I remember hearing a bit of commotion and then being squeezed out onto a mattress like toothpaste from a tube. It wasn't particularly pleasant, and to be honest I was nice and warm in the womb.
Did you see the way those midwives were rubbing me with towels? I felt like I was in a car wash.
She pauses for a moment, and then grins. "And I remember you crying."
I blush. "Did not."
"Did too. You didn't think anyone could see you. Don't worry, there's no shame in it."
There's a pause as Jemima tenses her stomach muscles and kicks her legs, followed by a squelching sound.
"Oh, Jemima." My shoulders slump as I lift her up to sniff her backside.
"Do you know how embarrassing it is when you do that?" she says, angrily, through gritted gums.
I ignore her. "Why do you always poo at the most inconvenient times?"
"You tell me when a convenient time is, and I'll do it then."
Good point. I lay her on a changing mat, and retrieve nappies and wet wipes from the kitchen drawer.
"You know I'm going to kick my heels in the dirty nappy when you take it off, don't you?" The tone is matter-of-fact, unapologetic.
I stop, and look at her.
"Do you think I'm doing a good job?" I ask. She smiles, passes wind, and then smiles some more.
"Relax," she says, and nods gently. "You're doing a great job."
Grinning, I begin changing her nappy.
...you know I've only been around for a few weeks and already I've got you wrapped around my little finger, don't you?
Still grinning, I pull a nappy bag from the roll. "Oh yes," I say. "I know."