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Adam Walton: Help,I'm a dad ... get me out of here; AT HOME WITH THE WALTONS.

Byline: Adam Walton

H...h...hello.Have you h... had a g. ..good week?

Don't worry,it's not a typesetter with the DT's, just me stuttering after a week in hell. What happened?Ava happened.She's my daughter. Please read on.

First, though, a proviso: I do still love her. When I force her to read this in 15 year's time,just so she knows what her mother and I went through bringing her up. I want her to know that even when she screamed and did the whole ironing board thing in the middle of busy department stores,I still loved her. So many supposedly negative elements of bringing up a baby can make you proud. You find yourself shouting with glee,``She's just done a big poo! A right whopper! It was leaking out the sides!'', to your wife as you walk out of the parent and baby rooms in Marks and Spencers.

So far -and bar the first six weeks when I couldn't find the instruction manual -I've enjoyed being a parent. Occasionally it's been hard,but so was having to endure my dad's Bob Dylan records when I was too small to reach the volume knob,and I got through that, soI can get through anything. Well, that's what I thought, until space aliens broke into my house and replaced my doting and beautiful daughter with the kind of child that inspired William Peter Blatty to write the Exorcist.

I have just discovered one of the great truths of parenthood: babies are great; then they have the audacity to grow up and spoil everything.

That twinkle you see in a newborn's eye is pent- upmischief. Babies are like a bottle of carbonated naughtiness that gets shaken and shaken for the first twelve months of their lives,and then explodes in the faces of the unwitting parents. If you have ever sat in a restaurant wondering what kind of genetic maelstrom created the screaming, banging,baked bean spouting volcano of a nightmare child that's stomping on the table next to you,let me warn you now that it's yours. All children do this.

I have a Darwinian theory regarding temper tantrums: they occur to test your mettle and suitability as parents. If you think setting the video is hard, or do a brain fart whenever you think about the Sunday Sport's Cryptic Crossword,believe me when I say that dragging a horizontal,crimson red toddler, who is screaming as if she'd just seen all the Fimbles get mown down in a drive-by shooting,alongthe floor in Mothercare on a Sunday morning when the store is crammed full of expectant parents who are all giving you that look that says,``My child will never do that! What terrible parents you must be!'',is more difficult than blindfolded biochemistry,more difficult -even than finding a bit of Jordan with a natural wobble and sag.

It's a Kafka- like existential nightmare. One night, you lay the cooing epitome of cuteness in her cot, kiss her goodnight,and the next morning you wake up to discover that your Lassie puppy has metamorphosed into Cujo.

I blame her burgeoning vocabulary. In the early days, shecouldn't ask for anything.Sure, she could point and gesticulate,but there's something about vocalizing an unmet need that makes it more real and profoundly disappointing. So, whereas a ten month old Ava might have pointed wistfully at an orange,but not been at all disappointed if you hadn't peeled it and given it to her immediately, the stroppy version follows you around the house saying ``orange'' with such alarming regularity you begin to think that a major mobile telecommunications company has bought ad space in her head. I blame the masts In primary school,Superman's yellowing arch nemesis,Nick-O-Teen, told me to ``just say no!'' to cigarettes.

When I was a little older, the cast of Grange Hill told me to ``just say no!'' to heroin.Who, though,climbed into my wife's womb and told Ava to ``just say no!'' to everything It's like she has become a backing singer for 2 Unlimited's imminent tour.''Do you want somedinner?'', ``No!'',``Do you want to play horsey?'', ``No!'',``Erm...do you want to go for a walk?'',``No!'',``Do you want daddy to dress up in women's clothes and walk into Chester rug by club and call them all frustrated homosexual neanderthals?'',``Yes please!.''

But, soI keep being told, this is where the real rewards of parenting are reaped. Honestly.What kind of satisfaction is there to be derived from having a perfect child that dotes on you without once trying to impress its own desires and personality onto the world?If Ava said ``yes'' all the time,although the problem was inverse,it would still be a problem, wouldn't it?

The only stale and mouldering crumb of comfort for my wife and me is that Ava is only 19 months old. This means that every time she throws a wobbler we turn our harassed and gaunt faces to each other,and say -resplendent in the knowledge that she has hit the terrible two's five months early -``Very advanced for her age, isn't she?''
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 6, 2004
Words:866
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