I am not saying that I am obsessed with sleep (or the lack of it) but when I woke up yesterday I started planning my early night fifteen hours in advance. M was out for the evening, I had thrown caution to the wind and decided to leave the ironing for another day (again) and so there was nothing standing between me and a 9.30pm appointment with my bed. Oh, the bliss.
And sure enough, come half nine, I was nestled under the duvet enjoying a few pages of my book, welcoming the drowsiness as it ebbed over me. I did a quick mental calculation of how many hours sleep I could be in for if the boys slept until their semi-usual 6.30am time. I stopped counting after I reached eight hours, for fear the excitement may get the adrenaline pumping too fast and keep me from dropping off.
At ten to ten, I put my book down and closed my eyes. It was at this precise point that the monitor sprung to life, and B started to cry. I left it a few minutes, quietly grinding my teeth and waiting to see if he would settle, but it was not to be. Reluctantly, I went into him and having done the usual checks – forehead stroke to make sure he wasn’t hot, a sniff in the direction of his bottom, a feel around the sheet to make sure he wasn’t trying to snooze in a puddle of his own vomit – I patted and stroked him until he finally fell asleep.
That was just a one-off, I told myself as I slid back under the duvet twenty minutes later. He’ll sleep now. Life would not be that unfair to me that he will wake up once more.
And indeed, life wasn’t that unfair. It was utterly, irrevocably evil, throwing a spanner so unwieldy into the works and laughing manically through its halitosis as it wreaked its wicked havoc. Between ten o clock and half past midnight, B woke up crying every quarter of an hour or so. In and out of his room I went, stroking and shushing, shushing and stroking, each time with a little less compassion and a little more barely concealed irritation. There seemed to be absolutely nothing wrong with him, and I was starting to struggle to shush him gently as I was finding it increasingly difficult to part my clenched teeth and pursed lips. Every time I went into his room, I thought about the long, uninterrupted night of sleep I wasn’t having and wanted to sob.
At 12.45am, as I was doing another round of stroking and placating, I heard M come in. I ran to the top of the stairs and practically hurled the parenting baton at him, so desperate was I to get into bed. I knew I was being unfair, given that he had been on a night out and was probably almost as desperate for sleep, but if I didn’t hand over the parenting baton right now, I may well club someone over the head with it until my arm fell off.
Back to bed I went, averting my eyes from the clock. I knew bloody well what the time was, but I wouldn’t give the clock the satisfaction of actually showing me that I had just spent the last three hours in a holding pattern from bed to cot and back again. I turned the monitor down low and sunk into bed, exhausted. I could hear B crying, but I was so tired I was pretty sure it wouldn’t matter, as I would be asleep in seconds. A quarter of a hour later, and I am still staring up at the inky gloom of the bedroom ceiling, listening to B cry. Fuckity fuck.
I throw back the duvet and scatter some choice expletives around the room as I head downstairs. Time for the big guns. I load up with Calpol and a bottle of milk and return to B’s room, before leaving M to it. Calpol and milk imbibed, B starts to cry again. I bury my head in my pillow and hit the emergency swearword button.
It is about 3.30am when we give in, and bring B into bed with us. There is nothing I hate more than sharing my bed with my children. Oh no, hang on, there is one thing. Sharing my bed with children who may or may not be ill, but have decided that sleep is for wimps and if they are not going to get any, nor should mummy and daddy.
I lie there quietly fuming as B slaps my arm, babbles loudly in my ear, pulls my hair and generally runs the risk of being thrown out of the nearest window. Then he cries a bit, as if he had been having too much fun making my life a waking misery, then suddenly remembers he should be in his cot and so makes a point of being upset, just to justify his position.
And let’s talk about his position. Here is a child of one year, who can only just peer over a dining chair. And yet he commands at least three quarters of the bed. At one point, he settled horizontally across the bed, with his head pressing into my chest and his feet wedged on M’s neck. One of us was comfortable, the other two were pondering how much trouble they would be in if they snuck off to the spare room. Eventually, at about 4am, B falls asleep lying right up against me and I can finally close my eyes. At which point I hear the soft padding of four year old footsteps coming toward the bed. Please no. This is just not funny anymore.
M, a little too eagerly for my liking, volunteers to take E to the spare room so that he can get some sleep. And so there we are, at half past four, exhausted after a six hour game of musical beds and a particular favourite of mine, ‘guess what’s wrong with me, I won’t sleep’.
At some point later, as morning is shining its laser beams of light through the crack in the blinds, I wake up (hardly accurate as a statement, as I was barely asleep, given that there was always at least a quarter of my brain telling me ‘don’t roll over, you will turn your son into a pancake’) with B spread-eagled where I usually sleep, leaving me to teeter on the very edge of the mattress with no duvet and a persistent sensation that I am about to topple to the floor. I blink the gritty, slow blink of someone who is lacking in at least six hours extra sleep. I peer over my son’s slumbering body at the wide, comfortable expanse of bed behind him which M had vacated – but dare not move B over for fear of waking him. So I lie my head on the corner inch of my pillow, clench my buttocks and hang on for dear life. Which, in the cold light of the early morning, through the fug of not having slept for more than an hour, seems a bloody perfect metaphor for parenthood.