Sleep. It’s basically all parents think, talk and fantasise about. When Ebony was a newborn, I couldn’t actually believe how tired it was possible to get. I thought I’d experienced sleep deprivation before, but I was wrong. The sleep debt of a new parent is unlike anything else.
But then, at some point, things get easier. Your baby starts to sleep for longer stretches, and your body learns that sleep is never going to happen and adjusts to existing on tea and ginger nuts, and you start to feel human again.
In those early months, you look at your crying newborn and feel compassion. You want to stop the crying, to ease their pain, to get some sleep. But mostly, you want them to feel better.
The sleep regressions of toddlerhood are different. This is not a tiny newborn who lies curled up in a ball, fists clenched, face red with tears. This is a toddler. Toddlers are pretty much people, but smaller. They have likes, and dislikes, and personalities. They look and seem like people in control, except of course they’re not. They do not yet understand all of their emotions, and they still very much need our help to guide them through situations. But it’s easy to forget that three hours into a very stressful bedtime.
Ebony had been sleeping fine recently. Until someone asked me how she was sleeping, and I replied fine. And then the God of Motherhood looked down on me in disgust and screeched, “How dare thee gloat of your sleepful child, I shall make thee suffer a thousand sleepless nights as punishment.” and then my good sleeper, turned into a knob.
Perhaps it is the heat, or the fact that she has been ill recently, or maybe it really is the God of Motherhood taking a dislike to me. Whatever the reason, it all went wrong. On Friday night, while my mountainous pile of work awaited me at the dining table, Ebony told me she was tired. It was 8:30pm which is around the time she usually wants to go to bed. I took her upstairs and we settled down. She fell asleep, and I was lying next to her waiting to quietly exit the room, when all of a sudden she jolted awake. She grunted at me to indicate that she needed the potty, so I picked her up saying, “Ok, we’ll use the potty and then we can come back to bed and go to sleep.”
Apparently that was my best joke yet.
I sat her on the potty, she did a massive wee and then climbed onto her rocking horse. Then emptied her toy box. Then chose some stories to read. Then her bunny needed the potty. She was having a whale of a time.
An hour later, she told me she was tired again. So we said goodnight to bunny, and headed back to bed where she promptly fell asleep. Then woke up immediately and told me she needed the potty. As I bit back tears and tried not to shout “NO, WHY ARE YOU BEING A KNOB?” at my 18 month old, I picked her up and carried her back to the potty. She didn’t even have a fracking wee this time. Just got straight up and demanded “Peepo!”
I called in backup to prevent me from throwing Peepo out the window. Backup arrived and promptly read Peepo three times. I then said, “Shall we go to bed?”
Another great joke. Ha-larious.
No, we will not go to bed EVER, she replied with just a look. She played “Hat!”, a great game where she sits random objects on my head while pretending they are hats. She played with her jigsaw, passing me all the pieces and then collecting them from me again. She went on the rocking horse. She played with bunny. She gave cuddles.
At 11pm, we headed back to bed to read “Peepo” again, because who doesn’t want to read that book five times in one evening? After reading the story, the husband headed back downstairs to let Ebony fall asleep. She turned to watch him leave. As the door shut behind him, her head very slowly rotated round to face me. Her wide eyes locked onto mine. She rubbed her chubby hands together. She licked her lips before exclaiming, “Peepo?”
I know, on a logical level, that she is a toddler, and not completely evil or hateful. But, two and a half hours into a failed bedtime, it is easy to forget this. And that is why toddler sleep problems feel so much worse than the newborn days, even though you actually get much more sleep. It’s because, once your child can summon you by name, it’s hard not to take it personally. I spent another 30 minutes trying to get her to sleep, before giving up and heading downstairs.
She eventually decided she was ready to return to bed at half past midnight. This is a personal best.
What I need for nights like this, is a cave. A soundproofed cave. A dark, lonely cave filled with cool air and echoey walls, where I can go during difficult bedtimes and scream at the top of my lungs. Scream until my throat hurts, and my lungs can’t take it anymore and my head pounds. Scream until all the frustration has gone, so that I can walk calmly out of the gloomy cave. Back across the landing, into the bedroom, and then smile at Ebony, pick her up, and play with her until she is really tired and ready for bed.
But, I don’t have a cave.