Sleep: Before and After Children

Today's survival method

Today’s survival method

I had one of those nights last night. Actually, who am I kidding? This is what it’s like most nights.

In amidst the weird dreams and the random wakings of a small child I tried to remember as much of it as possible so I could write it down.

It went something like this.

9pm: Both children finally asleep.

10pm: Can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Time for bed.

10.15pm: Read for ten minutes but the words keep merging into bizarre sentences. Lights out.

12am: Husband comes to bed. Trips over something and smashes into the radiator. I’m awake now. But actually that’s okay because I was dreaming I was in the middle of the Syrian conflict. Damn you HONY for humanising it so I can imagine all the stories of the poor people trapped by war.

12.30am: Finally get back to sleep, although husband’s snoring sounds like a frenzied horse. Think about putting the ear plugs in, but my ears are sore from wearing them so much.

3am: Son gets up for a wee, leaves the bathroom light on and comes in to say he can’t sleep. Send him back to bed, but the bathroom light is shining like a searchlight onto my face.

3.15am: Find the energy to get up: son is out cold. Turn out the bathroom light, but the damage is done. I’m wide awake.

3.30am: My brain starts writing this blog post. It has a ‘blogging’ voice that takes over and all I can do is listen. I want it to shut up. Try the meditation breathing techniques I learned from this video, which I discovered through Helen Yendall’s blog post, but it’s not working.

3.45am: Husband’s snoring sounds like an asthmatic bear. It’s ruining my concentration on my own breathing. Meditation isn’t working anyway. The blogging voice won’t be quiet. I’d get up and write some notes but my body seems to be full of cement.

5am: Think I must have slept because son wakes me from a strange dream about being in a supermarket. He doesn’t ask this time, just crawls into bed. I’m too tired to send him away and, after my odd dream, a cuddle is nice.

6am: Son has been stroking my arms and hands for an hour. I feel like ants in running spikes are crawling all over my skin. I keep telling him to stop but I don’t have the energy to send him back to bed.

6.15am: Finally roll over so son can’t reach any bare skin. He finds my feet, which is the worst feeling in the world. I curl up in a ball and eventually he says, “can I have the iPad, Mummy?” Send him away to watch programmes.

6.45am: Daughter comes in to say she needs a poo.

6.50am: Wipe daughter’s bottom. Go back to bed.

7.15am: Son asks if he can go downstairs. I mutter something unintelligible and he goes away.

8am: Son yells that he’s finished. I go and wipe his bottom. Try going back to bed, but it’s too late, I’m up. The in-laws are coming for lunch and I have to tidy the house and make crumble. I feel like I’ve had twenty minutes sleep and half a bottle of vodka. The night seemed a hundred hours long.

I remember what it was like before children. It went something like this:

10pm: TV show is boring, go upstairs to read.

12am: Tear myself away from the book because I have work in the morning and need to sleep.

7am: Alarm goes off. Is it morning already?

Kairos Time Not Carpe Diem

Friends at the scooter park

Friends at the scooter park

Back when parenting was impossibly hard (like yesterday! Haha) I read an article about not subscribing to the need to Carpe Diem when it comes to raising small children. So often as a new parent (or not even a new parent) people who have done their parenting, whose kids have left home, who look back with nostalgia, say unhelpful things like “treasure every minute, it goes so fast.”

Of course that’s true and, as I watch my babies grow older and less cute, I see the truth in that. But with every “adorable age” comes a bucket load of trouble and it’s tough to see the diamonds at the coal face. Being told to love every minute just subscribes to the Perfect Parenting myth and puts unnecessary pressure on an already difficult task. As Glennon Melton writes in her post Don’t Carpe Diem:

It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life – while I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.

Braving her own Mt Everest

Braving her own Mt Everest

She compares raising children to climbing Mount Everest: “Brave, adventurous souls try it because they’ve heard there’s magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments … Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.”

In my favourite bit of the articles she then says, “if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers — “ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU’LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN’T!” TRUST US!! IT’LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!” — those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.”

Instead of treasuring every painful moment, every tantrum and time out, Glennon Melton introduces the concept of Kairos time, God’s time: Moments of perfection to treasure amidst the chaos, as opposed to Chronos time, “the hard, slow passing time we parents often live in.”

Kairos time is moment when you really see the children, love them with an immensity that is overwhelming. Even if the specific moments aren’t remembered after the event, just getting to the end of a day and knowing it had one or two moments of Kairos time in it is enough. It’s a beautiful article and it’s worth reading and rereading.

Kids carpe diem

Kids carpe diem

And this afternoon I had one of those moments. Sitting on a bench, watching the children scoot round the park as the late afternoon sun trickled through the trees and sparkled off the puddles, I had a moment of peace. Of being proud of my beautiful babies, of myself.

Of course, being me, I ruined It by suggesting that my daughter let her brother have a turn in front. Thus ensued half an hour of sulking and tears, and Mummy getting cross. My son went and made some big girl friends who helped him where his sister had before.

But I fought hard to keep my Kairos moment and not let the sulking spoil it. Because these moments are rare. In the article, Melton compares parenting to writing a novel – we enjoy having parented, much as a famous author once admitted to enjoying having written. That’s true for me usually too. But some days the words flow effortlessly and shine and sparkle, and some days the children do the same. Those are moments worth hanging on to.