My daughter is downstairs in the bath. I can hear her giggling as my wife plays with her. The laughter floats up like birdsong. Bang, thump, giggle. Now she’s out of the bath and she’s talking, although I can’t quite hear what she’s saying.
My wife got home late from work and was getting ready to give her a bath, when she said “I want daddy to give me a bath, I love him more than you”. I felt uncomfortable; my wife a little heartbroken. This all started a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure if it means the balance has shifted too far, or if it’s a natural reaction to the at-home parent. But it is a difficult problem to solve. How can you advise who to love?
It all goes silent. Suddenly the day of swimming, nursery, TV, shopping, collapses in on top of her and she is a crumpled heap on the floor with her thumb in her mouth and a towel round her, wanting to be cradled and cooed to, like a baby. I can imagine my wife holding her and kissing her damp forehead through the comma curls.
Now they’re next door in her bedroom. There’s laughing again and my wife is joking with her and my daughter says “You’re pulling my leg”, which is a useful phrase to know in our house. My wife tries to persuade her to go downstairs and brush her teeth. More giggling. She gives up and tickles her instead.
Eventually they go back down to the bathroom and she brushes her teeth. Then it’s my turn to read stories. She sniffles a little. Earlier she said to me, sniffling, “Daddy, one of my noses (sic) can’t sniff. Look!” I peered forward thinking she was going to sniff in, but instead she blew out through her nose, covering my face in a fine spray of snot.
Now she is in bed, eyes closed, circled by soft toys like a portrait in oil. She usually asks for more milk at this point, but since she is usually asleep by the time I come back, I no longer come back. Tonight she says. “You don’t normally bring the milk, do you daddy?” I grin guiltily and wonder when she started noticing.