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Mirror, mirror, two-feet tall

Living

The Dad Diary
Edwin McGreal

You get a sense of the responsibilities you have as parents when you see how impressionable your kids are. Every single thing we do or say is likely to be repeated by our daughter, Frankie.
So if, first thing in the morning when we go down to the sitting room and notice that some sheep have wandered into the garden, Frankie will run over to the window, start banging on it and roaring ‘get away’. And, you know what? The sheep scatter out the gate, thwarted by a two-year-old!
If a football game comes on the TV, Frankie will instantly shout ‘Yes!’ and ‘Come on!’, and she’ll turn and look at me, laughing. Trouble is, I might be inclined sometimes to say more than ‘come on’ when watching a game. When Mayo missed a penalty in their game against Dublin, I might have exclaimed something more colourful. And it took a few days for Frankie to stop saying ‘Shite!’ as a result.
When Éamon came along, we worked hard at making sure Frankie understood the importance of keeping quiet when he was asleep. Us saying ‘Baby sleeping’ would be met by Frankie putting her finger to her mouth and saying ‘Shush’.
More lately, she has started coming up with ‘No shouting’ when Éamon is asleep. Which is good. Except for the fact she shouts ‘No shouting’ at the top of her voice, repeatedly. Not so good.
The parenting manuals say you’re meant to ignore things like this and not draw attention to it, so the child doesn’t think they are getting a reaction and then want to repeat the behaviour for more attention.
Whoever wrote those books has a point, but it’s easier said than done when Éamon is trying to sleep. So we do whatever it takes to get Frankie to ‘shush’ – she is quickly all too aware that she has gotten a reaction, and the vicious cycle continues, time after time.
More agreeable is her reaction when Éamon wakes and might be crying. She’ll run towards his bedroom exclaiming ‘It’s okay’ and ‘Good boy’. When she gets to him she will try to give him a toy to comfort him. It’s lovely, but said toy could be a teddy bear or a tub of Sudocrem or a pair of scissors – whatever she can get her hands on!
Éamon is at a whole different stage of his development. While you have some sense of what Frankie thinks because she can express herself quite well, with Éamon, you’d often wonder what’s going through his little head.
What does he think when Frankie comes running over to him for a trio of affection – a kiss, a hug and a hold of his hand, always in that order. He smiles anyway.
Who are these two big people who his sister calls Mammy and Daddy? And why can’t they understand that I am hungry or tired or have a pain in my little mouth?
Fair enough, Éamon. But it goes both ways. You need to start working out that night time is for sleeping, preferably without interruption. Your sister gets it. We’re sure you’ll grasp it soon enough too.

In his fortnightly column, Edwin McGreal charts the ups and downs of the biggest wake-up call of his life: parenthood.