My baby is three days old and I am arguing with the sister in charge of the maternity ward.
“Sorry, Mr John. You cannot come to the baby bath class,” she says. “It’s for mothers only.”
Fathers can bathe their babies, too, I insist.
She replies haughtily: “In our experience, only Caucasian men want to know how to bathe their babies. Asian men prefer to let their wives learn.”
Women, I fume. They are their own worst enemy.
The big shock is realising that it is going to be a long time before we get eight hours’ sleep again.
The baby sleeps a great deal but every three hours, like clockwork, she lets out a single piercing shriek that says: “Feed me within three minutes or you’ll regret it.”
Now I cannot believe I had that argument with the ward sister, because bathing my girl is the easiest thing in the world.
As for burping, changing diapers, feeding, and bottom-wiping: No problem.
My wife changes jobs. After eight years in journalism and a particularly stressful pregnancy, the choice was more 10-hour workdays or making time for the baby.
She returned to teaching at less pay but a shorter work day, weekends off and more holidays a year.
But there is plenty to do at home. The baby does not speak yet, but boy can she communicate with her eyes, delighted gurgles and snorts of irritation.
“Don’t go. Carry me. Feed me. I’m thirsty. Read to me. Take me for a walk. I’ve pooed. Don’t sit down. Don’t stand up. Hug me. Come back.”
Colic is the pits. She screams and howls in obvious discomfort and she is inconsolable until a friend sends us a bottle of Yu Yee medicated oil. It works like magic.
For six hours’ unbroken sleep I will concede that women are the stronger sex.
I do not know where my wife gets the energy to stay up night after night and then get through the daytime with gusto.
“The baby is thriving, that’s all,” she says. Mothers are something else.
After four months: The baby smiles back!
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All right, all right. So fathers come a distant second after mothers on the baby pop charts. I can live with that.
But if I am out of sight too long, this baby tells me very quickly that I am sliding off her chart. She prefers the helper, or a cousin, or anyone who walks in the door.
Happily, it is easy to get back to being Number 2: I whip out my new Friend of the Zoo card and off we go, just the two of us.
Our zoo route takes us to all key animals within an hour: Monkeys, polar bears, elephants, hippos, giraffes, tigers, tapirs and zebras. She loved the pandas so much, we went back four times while they were here.
I guess she let on early that if I wanted to be her best guy, all I had to do was spend time with her.
My reward comes the day she names me: “Dada.”
We go on our first holiday as a family. Five days at Batu Ferringhi, Penang.
The bigger of our bags is filled with diapers, baby clothes, baby food, sterilising kit and bottles, stand-by medicines, toys and Miriam Stoppard’s New Babycare Book.
The baby loves Penang, is thrilled by the beach and the waves, and splashing in the hotel’s swimming pool.
She has such a good time she is knocked out by seven every evening.
For the first time, I find myself ordering room service instead of heading for the hawkers of Gurney Drive.
This is a new experience and a promise of things to come: plays and movies we will miss, cutting back on some of the things we liked doing as a childless couple.
Ten at night on a weekday and the baby has a fever. It gets worse. Suddenly she starts staring blankly and stops responding when we say her name.
We call the doctor. Race to hospital. Worry like crazy. Pray like mad.
She stays in hospital three days, her fever comes down and she bounces back. We need to recuperate.
It is amazing that we know so many people with children under three years old to invite to the birthday party.
Some are neighbours we got to know only because our kids play together at the bottom of the block.
You know that you have crossed a milestone in parenthood when you participate in an entire conversation on potty training, when to start, and how to succeed.
Time zips by. My baby is a lively chatterbox like her mother.
Our home is the Incredible Shrinking Flat. Four rooms used to be plenty but now toys pop up everywhere and baby books knock mine off the shelf.
She eats the lunch I cooked her and declares: “This is the best pasta in the whole world!”
She hears a song on the radio and says: “Dada, let’s dance.”
She has begun to ask: Why? Why? Why?
And she presents a new challenge every time: “Tell me a story, Dada.”
“Which story do you want?”
“Red Riding Hood! Without the Big Bad Wolf, okay?”
Sometimes at night when she is asleep, I worry that my baby is growing up too quickly.
TWO AND A HALF YEARS
Singapore’s “weekend parents” tell The Sunday Times why they leave their babies with a babysitter for five days every week, bringing them home only on weekends.
The main reason: Caring for a baby through the week means too many hassles in a two-career household.
For these couples, weekend parenting is best for their children, from infancy until they turn three and are ready for playschool.
Leave my little girl in someone else’s care, in someone else’s home, five days a week? And five nights? From infancy until she turns three next January?
That would be scratching the three best years of my life.
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This is an excerpt from Good Grief! by Alan John, a former deputy editor of The Straits Times who has two grown-up children. The best-selling book is a collection of some 40 columns he wrote over the last four decades, and some new ones after he retired last year. Buy it here.