B is fourteen weeks old and our thoughts turn to a routine. Or a new routine, to be precise. He has not put this on the agenda – mainly because his agenda consists solely of three points (drink milk, sleep and shit) but also because he can’t hold a flip chart pen due to his lack of mastery of his opposable thumbs. It is us, the foolish parents, who want a new routine: a new place for B to sleep and a change of night feeds. The latter is mainly due, it has to be said, because we have consulted The Books. Those paperback bibles of lies that make you think that you, too, can have a semblance of a life and have kids. They come in a variety of guises, from fascist parental dictatorships to warm and cuddly and childcentric, but they all have one thing in common. They all make it all sound so fucking easy. Dotted with photographs of delightful looking children representing all major ethnic groups, gurning gleefully at their coiffed and non-sweaty parents, those books all tell us that we have got it wrong. Until the point at which I opened those evil tomes, I was quite pleased that B slept from 7pm until 3am before he woke up hungry – but apparently, that is not right. He should have a 11pm feed then sleep right through until 7am. Foolish me. What was I thinking, getting a full five hours sleep before having to feed him? Now, I should know bloody better. I already have one child that proved that ‘sleeping through’ is about as rare as a tantrum-free two year old and that routines are like a lottery win: we all dream of it, but it always happens to some other lucky buggar.
Perhaps it is the tiredness, or the bewitching allure of a full night’s sleep, but before we know it we are changing B’s routine and waking him to feed at 11pm. The first two nights goes swimmingly. Ah, we think, what a breeze it is, this routine malarkey. B takes his 11pm feed then sleeps until nearly 6am, which round these parts counts as a lie in. It is about the point at which we start congratulating ourselves on our brilliant parenting that it all goes terribly wrong. Take last night, for example. B wakes at 10pm, screaming for milk. We dutifully oblige, just to shut him up. He then wakes at 2am and is only consoled by more milk. I have seemingly just got back to bed when he wakes again. It is 4am, according to the clock, although by this juncture I am so fucking tired I am not sure I could read my own name printed in 72 point type held four inches from my face.
More glugging of milk ensues, before I return B to the cot where he moans, kicks his legs and generally is a miserable sod. A three-feed-a-night scenario is not quite what we had in mind when we changed his routine, it has to be said. Nowhere in those bloody books did it mention that your baby might end up consuming his own not inconsiderable body weight in milk and suddenly develop an aversion to being put in his cot. I wouldn’t mind, but he’s only been in his cot for a week, since we moved him out of our room (for which I say a mighty hurrah). I know his brain is small and under developed, but he surely can’t be bored of his new surroundings already? Putting him in his cot for a sleep is becoming a high tension, knife-edge drama, particularly at 6.30pm, which I usually refer to as wine ‘o’ clock. Will he stretch out his arms and fall straight to sleep or suddenly enter scream mode? I usually hold my breath as I lower him in, gently shushing at the same time and perhaps throwing in a gentle hum. (It is not uncommon to be gasping for breath like a netted halibut after a few minutes of this, as I am using up far more oxygen than I am taking in, just in case any sharp intake of breath might just be the trigger to set him off). I will him to sleep whilst I keep my hand on his head. I am not sure why. Why the sensation of wearing a hat would encourage sleep I don’t know. His eyelids are closing at an interminably slow rate. Closer… closer… then suddenly his whole body jerks and he is wide awake again. Fuck.
So I start the whole bloody process over again. It is getting tricky to shush effectively through gritted teeth, but I do my best. His eyelids start to droop again, slowly.. . slowly… then B farts and jolts himself out of his near-slumber. Fuckity fuck. I try not to look at the clock or think about the glass of wine that awaits me downstairs as his low-level whinging suddenly ramps up into full-scale screaming. This boy does an impressive nought to screamy in under six seconds – he’s the frigging Ferrari of the weeping world. It’s no good, I am going to have to pick him up. Which is tantamount to admitting defeat in my book, and no one likes to be bested by a three and a half month old.
And so there I am, baby in arms, swaying back and forth to try and get him back to sleep. I do this for so long I am not sure if the creaking sound that I can hear is the floorboard beneath my feet or my hips. I may have child-bearing hips from a size perspective, but they are not designed to spend hours at a time moving in a circular motion. One morning I shall awake to find both hip joints have crumbled to dust and I shall have to mount my torso on a lazy susan. Finally, he seems to have fallen asleep, so in increments of five millimetres, I lower him into the cot, ignoring how much this makes my back hurt. It will all be worth it if I can get the little sod to sleep. At the moment his back touches the mattress, his eyes spring open and he immediately starts to cry. I take a deep breath and try not to join him in the wailing. What the fuck is wrong with him? I am clenching my teeth so hard that I fleetingly wonder if it is possible to push your teeth up through your gums and into your sinuses. I guess I am about to find out. After another round of shushing, lullabies, head stroking, stomach patting and poking him in the eye (okay, I didn’t do that last one. But I did think about it) I am out of ideas and patience. I decide to leave for a minute and then come back once I have prised my own fingernails out the palm of my hands. I go downstairs and switch the monitor on. Less than three minutes later, all I can hear is the slow, deep breathing of a baby fast asleep. Ah. It seems that it was me all along that was stopping him from sleeping.
I ponder this for a while as I take a dainty sip of wine (or inhale the entire glass in three mouthfuls, I can’t quite remember). It suddenly seems obvious. After all, if someone was leaning over me whilst I was trying to sleep and they insisted on rubbing my head, patting my stomach and humming some out-of-tune melody, I would scream as well. So. It seems less is more. Less fannying around and more time for wine. Now that’s my kind of parenting.