Sleep, sweet sleep
It’s the difference between life and living.
There are many differentiators between me and my children.
They are digital natives while I will always be a digital tourist – I only have a vague map and know half the lingo. My youngest was born swiping.
They talk with an American accent because that’s seemingly the only country that makes children’s TV programmes. I grew up thinking the BBC Test card was interesting.
My kids think smoking is the most disgusting thing anyone can do. I grew up in a smoke-smeared world where the only place that people on a plane DIDN’T smoke was the toilet.
But the biggest difference between my children and me is our attitudes to sleep.
My children resist sleep like a broccoli bake.
I seek sleep like a calorie-free chocolate cake.
For them, life is too full of excitement to miss a moment. For me, life is too full of chores to leave any moments free.
They fight for those last fraught seconds, when my patience is thin and my exhaustion thick and in those moments when our attitudes collide, it feels like an insurmountable war.
I fight for those last fraught hours of an evening when my head is spinning and I just want some me time, and in those moments when our attitudes collide, I feel embattled and attacked.
They’ll do anything to stay up late, and I’ll do anything to get to bed early. They spring up out of bed as soon as they wake, I try to cling to my sheets as long as possible.
They chase life and I chase sleep and we chase each other round the house and round the beds, night after night.
I stare at the night-dark, trying to banish all light, the slightest glimmer enough to distract me.
They stare at the night-light, trying to banish the dark, the slightest glimmer enough to comfort them.
My eldest comes down all evening, sitting beside me on the sofa, on that bridge between childhood and adulthood, wanting to join my evening. I try to keep my sigh inaudible.
My middle one, potters around her room unable to hear my rising tones of frustration as I ask her to get into bed over and over again.
And my youngest just screams. Every night. For an hour. Just because she doesn’t want to be alone. And at that time of day, being alone is the only thing I want to be. We battle and bruise, I shout and soothe and despite the bedtime reading, the stories, the cuddles and the songs, it is never enough for her. She always wants more. They all, always, want more. And I give them as much as I can, but it is never enough. And I guess that is human. We love being loved and we always want more. And I’m aware there will come a day when it turns on its head and they strive out on their own and I will chase their love and it will never be enough. I wonder is there a time when for a brief moment of perfection, we all get exactly what we need?
Until then, the nighttime routine takes most of my evening, as each of them needs their love and time and then fight their need to sleep and fight my need to get them to sleep.
So it is always late when I clamber into bed, all the chores done, all the piles of washing folded and allocated to each room, my work emails sent, the dishes put away. Often I get to my bedroom and have to lift my eldest from my bed and carry her upstairs to her own bed, a place these days she likes to wake up in but not go to sleep in.
Then I pull up my duvet around me and sigh a deep sigh of relief. This moment is finally mine. And then a cry from another room, the patter of little (and not so little feet). No, this moment is not mine either. It is still theirs. Every moment is theirs. This year, in the year that’s in it, when the girls have faced the worst thing that can happen to them, the disintegration of their family as they knew it, those feet have worn out thin paths to my door.
There has barely been a night in the last 9 months when one, some or all of them have not sought comfort in the loneliness of the dark and I have not felt able to turn them away. It is not that I have not loved having their warm fidgety bodies beside me, each of us chasing the shadows of the past away. I love waking up hearing their sleepy snores on my cheek, and opening my eyes to see their sleepy skin stretched over closed eyes beside me. But at 2am it is like having my teeth pulled out. A fidget and a fart, and a kick and a flick of their arm across my face. I am restless and weary and once I am woken, often the worries of the day invade my night and I know sleep won’t return. And if it does then the morning arrives before the sun, when my youngest kicks (if she’s beside me), talks to me (if she’s beside me) or comes in and pokes me (if I managed to get her back to her own bed during the night). At 6am.
My youngest has promised me she won’t scream tonight. When I asked if she might also stay in her bed all night she looked a bit dubious. But said she would try.
The other day – after a morning where I woke up with two in the bed after carrying a third back during the night – I made a decision. I asked my ex husband to come and take the girls to school the following morning. I worked like crazy to get my deadlines met. And the next morning, after another relentless night of musical beds, I got them ready for school. But this time, when the front door shut and his car reversed them out of the drive, I took my tea, my dog, my cat and my book and went back to the place I miss the most. I slept for three hours and then read. Until it was time to collect them from school again. It felt so outrageously self-indulgent I didn’t even feel bad.
Sleep, sweet sleep. I’ll take you when I can.