I sense a presence close by and open my eyes. In the half light, I see E standing above me. I shift my gaze to the clock radio: fuck. 5.10am. No way. I haul myself out of bed and ignoring E’s protestations, I shepherd him back into bed. I refuse to entertain the idea that my day begins now, when it is still dark, there is no traffic on the roads and the time starts with a five.
It is clear that he is a fully paid up member of the wide awake club, so utilising a tactic that worked for M the last time E got up at ridiculous ‘o’ clock, I get into his bed with him. I wedge myself up against the wall and try in vain to cover both of us in robot duvet. I can feel my feet exposed to the air and try to clench my buttocks so they are not quite so in contact with the cold wall. Super.
M and I have always had a rule: E is not allowed to sleep in our bed. All through the sleepless baby nights, we stuck fast to this, mindful that it only takes one incidence to create a habit for a toddler. I learnt this to my cost one evening, trying to help him fall asleep – I held his hand and stroked it, only for it to take three weeks for him to bloody stop asking me to repeat the gesture. But now, as with every parental principle, the ‘no sleep in our bed’ rule it is at the mercy of interpretation. It has become a tad more elastic, shall we say. The rule suddenly comes with caveats. He still does not go to sleep in our bed, nor sleep all night in our bed. But if it is 6am, he can now crawl in, as we are way too tired to do anything more constructive with him. I am anticipating that the 6am rule will be incrementally revised as we get more tired, so that soon he will be allowed in at 5am, then by the time he is four will be dispensing with his bed entirely. But for now, it is time for him to be in his own room.
“Right, it is still night time. I want you to lie still, be very quiet and go back to sleep,” I say sternly, laying down what I think are some very clear guidelines for the whole two-in-a-bed scenario. However, it become quickly apparent that what he actually hears is: ” Right, I want you to lie there and wriggle as much as possible, whilst slowly pushing mummy off this small pillow using only your forehead until the back of my head is squashed against the wall. And talk in a stage whisper so loud that it would be quieter to shout.”
Which is precisely what happens for the next fifty minutes.
It quickly becomes apparent that hell will freeze over (or at least my feet and arse will) before he goes back to sleep, but I am curiously reluctant to give up on this strategy just yet. I am nothing if not behaviourally inflexible at this time of the morning. Sorry, at this time of the sodding night.
“I want to go your side, mummy,” E whines. Oh god, not the whining. Anything but the bloody whining.
“No E, you sleep your side, this is my side.” Technically, I have less of a side, more of a slither, but it’s too early for the pedant in me to make a fuss.
“Mummy, I want to go your side,” he repeats, ratcheting up the whining as he goes. My teeth are already clenched in utter irritation.
“Stop. Whining. Please.” I hiss, which prompts further whining regarding the suddenly highly unsatisfactory side of the bed that he has the misfortune to currently inhabit. There is nothing on this earth designed to make me run out of patience quicker than whining. Although to be fair, having been awake since just gone five, I would hardly call my reserves of patience abundant in the first place.
“Look. I am staying on this side. If you keep whining, I will go back to my bed and leave you here. Alone.”
Ah, deployment of the ineffectual ultimatum so early in proceedings. I must be tired and emotional.
E falls silent, but the silence is not comforting. It has the unmistakable feel of simply being a pause in proceedings. Sure enough, E then starts to clamber onto me to at least join me in the nirvana that is the left side of the bed.
I start to tell him to get off me, but a palm pushed into my cheek as he climbs puts quite an effective end to my request as my face is squashed firmly into the pillow. So then E is lying draped on top of me, whilst I am captive underneath, lying on my side.
“Get off now,” I order.
“I want this side,” he replies.
“How can I move with you on top of me?” I ask out of the side of my mouth that is not stuffed with pillow, wincing as his titanium tipped toe nails scratch through my pyjama trousers and down my thigh. I am trying hard not to swear, but it is a Herculean effort. I attempt to tip him back to his side, not so aggressively that he rolls right out of bed and onto the floor (although I reserve the right to attempt this later) but he clings like a bloody limpet in a storm. I’d cry, but quite frankly, I am too fucking tired.
“I want this side.”
“I want this side.”
I am stuck.
Stuck under my son, jammed up against the wall. And stuck in this pointless, life-draining conversation (actually, conversation is rather too kind a word to describe the mono-syllabic exchange that I am engaged in), too tired to change tack, too irritated and far too bloody minded to not have the last word.
E’s arm dangles down my chest and his fingers find my boob. He gives my nipple a hard squeeze.
“Beep!” he yells.
And there it is. The last word.