It is 8.47am. Someone on our street is hitting something very hard with something very heavy. Erica is asleep, on my lap, downstairs. I would close the windows but its about 50million degrees and I don’t want to compound the headache I already have from last night’s shenanigans (not the good kind). She was up at 11, at 3 and then at 5 until about half an hour ago. She will wake up soon, before she’s slept for long enough, and I will be stuck entertaining a very grumpy baby when we’ve run out of coffee beans.
Every parent of a small (and smallish) child knows the dread and despair and impotent rage of people in your neighbourhood making noise when you’ve just got the small person to sleep. The bin men, the cheery whistling postie, the Amazon delivery guy who thinks you might be deaf, and in the back garden, and listening to thrash metal so might miss a normal volume knock, the exuberant DIYers, the house party next door, the beeping reversing lorries. In our case, when Ethan was small, the fish and chip van that arrived in our cul de sac around 7.30pm playing La Cucuracha and made mild-mannered Mark want to slash tires.
I have been wary of talking about sleep. Mainly because we have been incredibly lucky in comparison to others I know. I have friends who’s babies are up every hour to feed through the night, friends who’s darling little ones give them no respite and seem to have taken lessons from some sort of maternity ward-based black-ops group. Erica gave us a tough run-in…would only sleep on me or on the sofa…would scream unless Nick bounced up and down on the yoga ball (holding her, obviously, not just with her watching for entertainment value!)…would not even consider the crib as a sensible place to sleep. But when we decided to swaddle her as a last resort (Ethan had hated it) we turned a corner and she slept through regularly from around 11pm to 6 or 7am. I couldn’t believe my luck, but kept reminding myself that it was probably just a phase.
And now we have hit the 4 month sleep regression and I don’t like being proved right as much as I usually do! The lovely 2-3 hour morning nap has disappeared, replaced with 40 minute cat naps through the day; and there has been a return of the 2 hours plus of screaming before she will go to sleep at night. Weirdly, given my usual amnesia, I remember this stage with Ethan. I remember feeling deaf for about 3 months and identifying with the pacing polar bear at Bristol Zoo, as I wore a path in the bedroom carpet with that weird bouncy parent walk that we do. But, to an extent, it didn’t matter if there was screaming, we could focus all our attention on dealing with it and him. Now, there is the small matter of a tired 8 year old in the next room who isn’t settled by his sister wailing, or by the white noise we’re trying. And who has the worst timing in the world – always choosing to burst into the bedroom with a duvet problem when she is just closing her eyes….
Two children…terrible idea….
It is Half Term this week, so we don’t have the conflict of our usual scheduled online lessons to worry about when I’m upstairs trying to get Erica to nap. But I do often feel like a terrible parent when I’m up in the darkened bedroom for what feels like hours and Ethan is having to occupy himself and get his own snacks like some kind of latchkey kid (Obviously I exaggerate…like I said…we’ve run out of coffee beans – everything is very melodramatic this morning).
Sleep is such a stress point for parents. We all think that our child should be sleeping better or longer or in a different place than they are. We assume everyone else is doing so much better than us. And (for me at least) it feels like a personal failure when you can’t get your child to sleep or settle them when they’re upset.
When I met Nick and he joined our little family I was very aware that he was coming into a tricky situation. Aside from the whole widow thing (as if that wasn’t enough), he was learning this parenting thing on the job . Now, I know I don’t have all the answers – far from it – but I did have a few parenting rules that I shared with him near the beginning. And, bearing in mind all I’ve written above, it may be time to remind myself of the first one:
- Never take anything personally (In this case the baby is not crying/looking sad/being sick because she hates you)
In case you’re interested, the other two are:
- Never threaten anything that you’re not willing to follow through on (if you tell them that they must behave or you’ll have to leave the party, you better be prepared to leave the party! Even if you’re actually having a good time and don’t want to head home. In these kind of situations it is always more sensible to choose different consequences…This is obviously less of an issue with Erica currently!)
- Everything is a phase (each stage of childhood has it’s own challenges, and when you get to the next one, you’ll probably miss the one’s before!)
So, this too will pass, Erica doesn’t hate me, Ethan will survive having to reach for his own crisps, and Nick will come home later with coffee beans… Maybe I should cross-stitch that on a pillow somewhere…