December 14, 2011 12:00 PM

AFTER DAUGHTER MADELINE LEIGH was born last December, Jay DeMarcus realized hitting the road to tour with Rascal Flatts was going to be a lot more difficult. “She’s so young, and I didn’t want to lose my connection with her,” he says. But it made coming home that much sweeter. “Walking through the door and seeing her smile at me and reach her arms out for me, it’s a feeling like no other on the planet,” he says. “It almost makes the days and nights and miles away from her worth it.”

Though he admits he first was shocked by “how much poop comes out of something that small!” DeMarcus and his wife, Allison, a correspondent on CMT, marvel at each accomplishment. “It’s so much fun to have this first year of firsts as she discovers new things,” Allison says. Like, for example, the fact that daddies love to tickle. “I can grab her under the arms and tickle, and she goes crazy,” Jay says.

Jay, meanwhile, has discovered a new use for his musical talents. “If she’s fussy or tired, he’ll play the acoustic guitar, and she loves to listen and try to reach out and touch it,” Allison says. Adds Jay: “Everything has a new light shed on it because she’s in the world.”

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