It started well, as so many nights do. You’d been busy all day playing with your sister, making and doing. You went outside. You read stories. You spoke to your brother on the phone… You fell asleep eating a good dinner at 6:30pm, a time which could plausibly be bedtime.
8:00pm: You whimper upstairs, startled by talking in the hallway. We hold our breath hoping you’ll drift off again but when the second, louder cry comes I scamper up the stairs chanting calming affirmations in my best singsong voice. You listen and relax, give me a kiss and lie down again. Your breathing slows and I creep downstairs.
“If she wakes again, it’s your turn”, I joke. We smile at each other. Maybe this is the night? Maybe tonight she’ll sleep. We turn on the television and I crochet, grateful for the moment of peace.
9:30pm: Again, a sound from upstairs. We pause the television and listen, waiting for the inevitable. “Muuuuuummmmmy!”, she cries. We look at each other and he keeps his side of the deal, climbing the stairs and making all the right soothing noises, but it doesn’t work. You asked for mummy, and it is mummy you need. I put down my crochet and join him at the top of the stairs.
You run into your brother’s empty room and lie on the bed, upset and confused. I don’t mind which bed you sleep in right now, which pleases you. You curl up in bed and try to go back to sleep, You ask me the questions that break my heart, “When I go to sleep, I ask myself why doesn’t mummy be with me…?”. I explain that mummy has to work when you are asleep so she can play with you in the daytime. You accept this, and your eyelids start to droop.
9:45pm: A sound somewhere outside. “I need the toilet, Mummy”. You are doing so well with toilet training that I can’t ignore it. I get you up and into the bathroom and I can see you waking up. The questions start to pour out. I grunt and nod, trying not to get drawn in.
10:00pm: You go back to your own bed and snuggle up. Maybe it was just your bladder making you restless as you seem happier now. As your gentle snores start, I once again tiptoe downstairs.
We settle on the sofa chatting. Trying to make the most of a few hours together, we forget our promise to be in bed by midnight.
1:30am: We realise the time and get ready for bed, locking doors and switching off lights. We wait to go up together in the hope you won’t wake. We’ve perfected the art of the silent stairgate open but still you stir as we reach the top of the stairs. I pause by the gate, finger to my lips in warning and we seem to be OK. You are quiet and we climb into bed, careful of every movement.
1:45am: The call again. “Mummy! Muuummmy, where are you?” I rouse myself and throw on a dressing gown, settling next to your bed. You tell me how you want to sleep in your own bed tonight and I dare to hope this will be easy. But even as you lie on your pillow I can see your brain whirring, your eyes shiny with unanswered questions. The chatter starts. “Shhh, baby. Ask me in the morning….” As I stroke your hair you fall silent but your eyes don’t close. I can see you trying to go to sleep, and I can see you’re not sleepy. Can toddlers have insomnia? Is this normal?
2:45am: You’re nearly asleep but you’ve kicked your covers off and you must be cold. I grab for the blanket next to me, not realising you’ve wrapped it around your toys to make a “present”. They crash to the ground and your eyes open.
3:00am Your eyes finally close again and I try to move my feet, which are heavy with pins and needles. I stretch them out, too scared to move them in their clumsy state and wake you. If we can just get one night where you stay in your bed it will be worth it, I tell myself. As I crawl towards the door your voice cries out, “Mummy! Where are you gone?” I lie. I tell you I’m getting blankets and continue towards the door. But I’m a coward. I can’t go any further over the creaky floorboards for fear we’ll have to start again. So I hover by the door and wait in the no mans land between our room and yours.
3:30am You are finally asleep and I fall into bed exhausted, praying he doesn’t roll over and wake you. My mind is buzzing and I struggle to relax.
3:40am You are awake. It was all for nothing. I am too tired to do this again. I tell you to come into Mummy and Daddy’s room. I cuddle you up to me and you fall asleep snuggled up on my chest.
6:30am It’s morning. Your baby voice is frustrated. “Oh no!”, you sigh. “I wanted to sleep in my own bed!” I can’t be cross with you. “Never mind, love. You’re trying very hard. You’ll manage it soon”, I slur sleepily.
7:00am I still can’t open my eyes. He takes you downstairs and gets you breakfast while I drag myself into the day. I can hear your happy chatter and despite everything, I smile.
I’m not asking for advice, just sympathy – if you don’t have the right words, feel free to send cake What amazes me, as I write this in my sleep deprived state is that some of you with newborns are probably getting less sleep than me. You have my greatest respect x