E has never been blessed with the sleep of the righteous. The momentous night when he first slept through until morning, aged ten months, would be etched on my mind forever if I hadn’t been so fucking exhausted that I couldn’t even remember my own name, let alone events and dates. I do recall grinding my teeth in silent rage at other mums who couldn’t wait to tell me that their little darling now had a regular, all night sleeping pattern aged six months. Well, bully for them and their clever, clever offspring, I used to think as I stared at my reflection in the mirror, contemplating the two bags for life that I was cultivating under my eyes.
As he got older we did have a spell of sleeping through most nights – a few months of delicious normality. Either that, or after a year of not sleeping properly, M and I were just so tired that once asleep we could stay that way even if our toes were on fire and our son was screaming blue murder from across the hallway. And then he turned two, and whatever sleep spell that had been cast over him, wore off. The sleep fairy packed her glittery little bag, fluttered her gossamer thin wings and fucked off on an extended sabbatical to the Outer Hebrides. Bitch.
But hey, it was only another six months before E managed to sleep for more than five hours at a time, so it wasn’t as if we lived somewhere that resembled the house of the living dead or anything. And I was hardly grumpy and short-tempered at all. Much advice was taken from other parents in similar predicaments, my personal favourite of which was to grease the bedroom door knob with Nivea to keep the child from leaving it’s place of slumber, a genius piece of moisturiser based improvisation, which even I didn’t have the heart to try but enthusiastically applauded. Many tactics were tried, however. And most failed.
But recently, E has been an okay sleeper. Let’s face it, his report card would not be covered in shiny gold stars, and some nights would provoke the comment of ‘could do better’, but we could cope with him getting up once a night. Until that started to become twice. And sometimes three. And once a couple of weeks ago, it became six. M and I held an emergency sleep summit. When we woke up, prised our foreheads from the kitchen table, and wiped away the embedded toast crumbs, we decided there was nothing else for it. No, not the staples-through-the-pyjamas strategy (although I fought my corner hard on that one) but a good, old fashioned system of bribery. Or as parents refer to it nowadays in order to con themselves into thinking it is behaviourally more beneficial than a bribe: the reward chart.
The equation is simple enough that even a sleep-deprived three year old could get it: sleeping through all night = 1 sticker. 5 stickers = treat. Simple. And get it E does. A little too well, for my liking. The first night we try it, he runs into our bedroom at six o clock the following morning.
“Mummy, I slept all night! Can I have a sticker?” We whoop through our yawns and congratulate him.
On day two, he comes in and wakes us. “I slept all night!” he exclaims proudly. “Can we put a ticker on my chart now?” On day three, he does the same.
Was it that easy? Really? After all those months of trying every parenting trick in the book, and all we had to do was dangle the tantalising prospect of an unspecified treat in front of him? Some piece of plastic tat that he will be inseparable from for about three hours, then step on and have it assigned to the bin? Is this all he has been waiting for? An opportunity to gain materialistically before he was willing to do what he always knew he could do, and not keep getting out of bed? I feel somewhat duped.
There is one downside of this full night’s sleep malarkey. When E comes into our room in the morning, he has more energy than Tigger on acid. This morning, the forty futile minutes that I tried to get him to lie down with me and have a quiet cuddle whilst I napped for a little longer resulted in an accidental fist in my face, three eye pokes (at least one of which was definitely not bloody accidental), a kick in the pelvis, approximately seventeen requests to play a game with him, a number of chin licks, several requests to “smell my hand, mummy”, a pillow grab that resulted in neck ache within five minutes, an excruciating knee on my boob and several rounds of self-induced raucous laughter at the repeated mention of “poo poo”. By the time I got up, I was completely sodding exhausted. No change there, then.