This post was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, January 2012 and written some time before. Since then, we've had some insane cycles of broken sleep but this week, for the first time, George SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT. Raise high the roof beams, Carpenters. Happy days are here.
The chunky, delicious thighs of this new baby of mine are a dead giveaway that she loves to feed. After some months, I’m pretty used to being open all hours for breastfeeding. Yet somehow, sleep deprivation is not the shock it was with my first two kids and my third trip into the world of night-feeds has been remarkably painless. Of course, this could be because five years into parenthood I have forgotten what a full night’s sleep is like, and lowered expectations are very good for happiness. With three children under five, night-time around this joint can be like Grand Central Station. Urine smells included.
When Pudding was on the way, husbandit Keith and I decided that it was time to put four-year-old Peanut and two-year-old T-Bone into a shared room. T-Bone had just learned how to climb out of his cot, and uncaged, he began appearing in our bed every night where he liked to sit in the most uncomfortable place he could find, like the top of my head. He had always come to chat, but his conversation was not sparkling. Rather, he would whisper hotly ‘I love you Mummy. You are my best friend. You are BUM!’ before he was dumped unceremoniously back into his cot. With the faintest crack of dawn, T-Bone would return, patting us on the face with clammy hands and insisting ‘Open you eyes, Daddy! Open you eyes!’ Keith and I, well-practiced at playing dead, would feign sleep until the small intruder gave up and headed next door to poke at his sister. She would finally crack and shout ‘Get out of my room, T-Bone!’
Keith and I would snicker at the come-uppance of it all. Peanut, at four, is not above pulling night-time shenanigans of her own. She called me out of bed once at 3am to tell me ‘Mama, I really like Daddy the best, ’and went through an awful stage where over and over, she would summon us to her room to remove hairs from her mouth. Last week she even shocked us out of sleep with a full-throated ‘Cock a doodle-doo!' at six a.m.
For the first few days of sharing, T-Bone was drunk on freedom. He would get up in the middle of the night, turn on the lights and start sorting Peanuts coin collection. Amazingly, she would snore on through, as he did through her wet beds and bizarre midnight demands. (I want to watch Mary Poppins! Make me a cheese sandwich! My forehead is cold!)
To our joy, though, it didn’t take long before the children loved their shared space. Tucked in at night, they listen to stories about fairies and pirates on their CD player as they (on a good night, touch wood) drift off to sleep. They’ve turned their little room into a private comedy club. 'Poo-poo Christmas,’ Peanut may offer to T-Bone. ‘My poo is bum!' he might respond, and soon they are, understandably, in shaking fits of laughter. In the morning, they lie in their little beds chatting about dogs and rainbows and cake, or sneak up the hall together to switch on illicit cartoons, and to us, it is not only the lovely sound of sibling friendship, but the gift of parental sleep-in. The sweetest feeling in the world: hard-won, well-earned sleep. (In between the three-hourly breastfeeds, of course.)