During the past three-and-a-bit years, I've got to know my son quite well.
I can recognise what mood he's in, what mood he's likely to be in and what things we can do - it usually involves food - to ensure he doesn't turn into Zach the Grump. Most of the time we're successful.
Like all parents, initially we had no idea what our newborns were thinking, feeling or planning to do (unless they had that squished, red, grunty face that can only mean one thing).
But over time you pick up their vibe and learn to read and understand them. It also helps, well for me at least, that he's a boy. I've got a fair idea how his mind is working because I've been a little boy. I feel a bit sorry for his mum. She was a little girl once, so has no idea how his mind works.
But that situation is the one I face with my daughter. Now a 16-month-old who is slowly developing her personality, I'm often baffled by her.
So I thought it was important that I worked out what I actually know about her, in the hope that it might give me an insight into her mind. After 16 months, this much I know about Piper:
I know she can walk because I've seen her do it. Many times now. But she won't walk all the time. Her brother did once he worked out how to do it, bang, he was away. But I watched her this week at preschool, up and about walking around the room quite confidently. And as soon as I walked into the room she was quickly down and crawling towards me.
I know if I lie on the ground she'll walk to me and jump on me like her brother does. We like this so I lie down a lot now.
I know she knows that if she pulls on my trouser legs eventually I'll bend down and pick her up.
I know when I do pick her up, she's always not a fan of me using two hands to hold her in front of my chest. She prefers to sit sideways, on my hip. But I know if we do do the front cuddle thing, she likes nuzzling into my neck for a "squeeze". Those cuddles can last for a few seconds to a couple of minutes if she's really tired. I prefer the longer cuddles.
I know I can feed her porridge in the morning and she'll eat until she's full, with big smiles and grins, but as soon as she's had enough there's nothing you can do to convince her that she should have any more. Then she'll point at her water and insist she gets some. Immediately.
I know if I try to feed her dinner, she'll refuse to eat. She must feed herself now. No other option. You can sneak the odd spoonful in, but she'll soon work out what you're doing and kak it. Best to leave it to her. She'll feed herself for a long time until she's full . . . and then it appears she starts squirrelling food underneath her clothes for later. It's the only explanation why we've found raisins, bits of toast and crepes hidden away, as well as bits of crepes in her bed.
I know she gets excited when told it's bath or teeth time. She'll instantly drop whatever she's playing with or whoever she's antagonising and scurry off to the bathroom. It pays to do her teeth before Zach otherwise she'll stand there pulling on my trousers, demanding her turn.
I know she's learning to express herself through sounds and to some extent words. It's clear her favourite saying is "bum bum", something she's picked up from her brother. Wonderful.
I know she doesn't cry when her brother isn't around. In fact, she's quite a cheerful little girl. But I also know that she misses him because she looks at him with adoring eyes and wants to be doing or playing with whatever he's doing.
But most of all, I know that she loves her dad. Because that look of joy that lights up her eyes when she sees me for the first time in a while can't be faked.
* Mark Hotton is a fulltime journalist/ fulltime dad who really likes his daughter. It wasn't always like that, you see.
- The Southland Times
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