There are moments spent with a small baby in the middle of the night that are magic. Quietly feeding, enfolded in a peaceful bubble of love, I have felt as though my little one and I are the only two people awake in a sleeping world. I am needed. I am nurturing. I am woman (hear me whisper).
There have been other midnight moments, of course: times when my eyes have felt seeded with glass shards, when my stomach is sour with lack of sleep and try as I might, I cannot pull my emotional socks up. You’re on the night-shift a lot when you live with small children. Thankfully, the days of floor-walking for hours, patting, singing and begging a recalcitrant baby to sleep are behind us for the moment. We’ve moved into the magical years of the toddler-wake-up – a different kettle of fish altogether. Keith and I are still up two or three times a night, but for much more random reasons.
Eighteen-month-old Teddy goes to bed like a joy, but three-year-old Ivy finds the door-closing, final moment hard to accept. She will desperately fire questions to keep a parent at the doorknob, and she’s not afraid of the big guns. “But do you really love me, Dad?” she will whimper. “Does Mummy?” She’ll often try and subvert the authority system. “Yes, I think I better stay up for ten more minutes,” she’ll decide. And in the final moments, her tactics are to randomly fire conversational gambits of any kind. “Mum, one more thing, just please, do you…do you…do you like to do your own thing?”
In the early hours, there is frequently a sudden wail from her bedroom. “Oh no!” she cries, puncturing the night-silence, and we’re up, stumbling three steps towards her bedroom before our eyes open. “I’m sitting on my hair and I can’t get up!” she says, though she’s simply wrapped herself in her mosquito net like a fly in a web. Another favourite ploy is “I’ve got a hair in my mouth!” We must sit for long minutes, poking blindly in until she agrees that the hair is gone. Sudden heartbreaking wails from Ivy’s room have preceded the following early-morning showpieces: My Forehead Is Cold, Why have My Socks Gone All Funny?, Take Me to Soft Play and I Haffa Watch Mary Poppins Now!
Small, pre-verbal Teddy has less complex needs. His pacifier and his purple bear Barbie must be replaced, and he will happily lie down and go back to sleep. But on a rough night, he behaves like the memory-damaged fish in Finding Nemo. Five minutes after the last time, he will throw his pacifier and Barbie to the floor again, and then cry bitterly until someone appears to replace them. He’s Groundhog Day in a stripy sleeping bag, summoning Mum and Dad from bed, over and over, like haggard, middle-aged jack-in-the-boxes.
But truly, once you’ve been through the soul-crunching psychosis of sleep deprivation that is life with a colicky newborn, the toddler wake-up is a walk in the park – a surreal, unexpected, wonderful park. Each summons is a reminder that your existence is of primary importance to your little people, except perhaps for the nights like last Thursday when Ivy called me in at 3 a.m. “Mummy!” she cried, until I appeared, rumpled and breathless, at her door. “What is it, darling?” I asked. “I really like Daddy the best,” she said, then rolled over and went back to sleep.