Sleepless in the Apple

Excuse my directness, but how often are you doing it and are you getting enough?

I have a long-held belief that there is a conspiracy amongst parents to withhold essential parenting information from those who are yet to procreate. They don’t do it on purpose; they are probably biologically programmed to keep the bad stuff to themselves in case the human race comes to an abrupt end, or maybe they don’t want to bore people with the more tedious aspects of parenthood. But most likely is that they’re just too tired to speak.

One of the best-kept secrets is how little sleep you get as a new parent, but also how little you can actually function on. By ‘function’ I mean just about keep your eyes open long enough to make a pot of coffee (and a second, and a third) to propel you through the day on a wave of caffeine before you slump into bed with the futile hope of a full night’s sleep ahead. The first hour of the day is the worst for us: we sit dribbling into our Cheerios, trying to engage our brains for long enough to remember what year it is and what we’re supposed to be doing while trying our best to focus on, and be civil to, each other. We then lurch from one badly executed task to the next until we have all somehow managed to get dressed and reach a point where we can face the day. And we continue for the next fourteen hours, doing a passable impression of well-rested and switched-on people, while inside we feel like curling up under a duvet and sleeping for days.

Think back to before you had children: in that dim and distant other life that you once led, you might well have embraced the idea of staying up half the night, drinking or clubbing or otherwise engaged. Before you know it, you’re being kept up half the night and wishing you weren’t. Perhaps we should learn from this and combine the old years with the new: rock our babies in one hand, glass of Pinot Grigio and bag of chips in the other (yes, my uni nights out were classy affairs). I won’t presume what your most daring fantasy was back then, but I’ll bet it wasn’t eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Littler Boy is currently subjecting us to impossibly early starts, here and there throwing in a special two-hour appearance somewhere in the middle of the night for good measure. His regime is severe and unrelenting, and he conducts it with the tenacity of a commanding officer. By the morning we feel like we have taken part in the Krypton Factor (without the excitement of the flight simulator); we would score full points for responsiveness, but disgrace ourselves in mental and physical ability, not being able to string a sentence together nor lift spoons to our mouths. We thought we’d cracked it when he started sleeping through the night at fifteen months – yes, fifteen months! Go burn your parenting books that suggest babies can sleep through the night at three months old – but our relief was short-lived. When we fear he will wake Bigger Boy, we diligently carve a rod for our own backs by allowing Littler into our room. He kicks us in the face several times then lies directly on our heads, forcing us down into the lower half of our bed; my husband and I wake up in improbable contortions, vowing never to let him near us again.

If your child is subjecting you to this torture, you will know what I’m talking about; but how come we didn’t notice the drawn, bloodless faces of sleep-deprived parents before we decided to become parents ourselves? Positive thinking has a lot to do with it, both before and after parenthood. Or in other words, denial. We deny child-rearing can be that tough before we spawn any of our own, and then once we have them, we talk ourselves into thinking it’s not that bad and this phase won’t last that long. It’s a great trick to play on ourselves, and impressive that parents manage to keep it going for the best part of two decades.

Still, one day, when we are grandparents, we will relish the idea of starting the day before the rest of civilisation, whistling while we make ourselves a cup of tea, tackling the cryptic crossword and preparing lunch before we have even started breakfast. (Or maybe that was just my grandparents). How ironic that we do with so little sleep during the years when we have unlimited freedom to get as much as we desire. Hang on a second…children don’t sleep much and neither do grandparents. Anyone see a solution here? Granny and Grandad, make the kids’ beds – we’re coming over. I’ll pick them up in 2015.

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