I just woke up after 7 hours sleep. I mean, I just woke up naturally after having not stirred the entire night. I woke up at 0751 exactly and had to check that a) I was still alive, b) my daughter was still alive and c) that I had not in fact gotten up during the night for any one thing. Me: alive, toddler: alive, night meanderings: none. With all that checked out, I sit here typing these words with a coffee beside me, in a silent, semi-dark, world-just-waking-up setting. World-waking-up all except the one who is miraculously continuing her one long sleep session. I cannot tell you how not hearing her sweet little voice or the patter of her approaching feet fills my every moment with extreme bliss. You might think me cold but sleep blighted by cutting molars, constipation and whatever nightmares 2 year olds have, has been the theme of the last 2 weeks and well, most of her short life so I think I deserve to revel in my good sleep experience.
The unfortunate fact is that I love to sleep and could sleep for 14 hours straight no problem especially if I have a catheter attached but believe me even without one, I have the amazing ability to sleepwalk to the loo and come back to bed to resume my nocturnal task; only since becoming a mother, this task has changed dramatically. It is not about sailing away into sweet slumber anymore. It is about hearing the cry of the toddler in the next room and going to groggily collect her. About bringing her whining body into bed with me (yes, I know puritans will balk) and either rubbing her back or whipping out my boob (yes, I know I need to wean her and that is part of the night-time problem) thus aiding her back to sleep in as short as time as possible so that I can follow. On a good night this sequence is only played out once; on a bad night it can be played out sometimes around 3 or 4 times and on a rare night, like last night, it can play played out not at all! So that even after what I consider to be half of my ideal hours of sleep, I am awake bright as a button having already prepared our breakfast and about to make a fire for a hot shower, but currently relaxing as I drink my coffee, listen to the birds chirping and tap the keys of this computer. I am also basking in the other thing that is so rare to me now a days: time on my own.
Time without a little toddler, who at the moment if I do anything necessary such as make dinner, wash dishes, get dressed, go to the toilet etc. runs over to me and asks me to: “Pick me up down!” Of course I need to stop what I am doing and pick her up for a cuddle. I need to realise that this is a stage she is going through and that I need to show her that although she is detaching from her Mummy in one way, she always has her Mummy if she needs her to “Pick me up down”. I know it is also a stage when she gets into what I am trying to do and wants to help (with disastrous consequences); like last night when I was trying to organise a bunch of wool (worse than a kitten), or when she climbed up on a chair to watch me make dinner and decided that she wanted to hold the knife with me as I cut potatoes (wholly ineffective and very potentially dangerous). She is learning and growing and needs my teaching and attention no matter if I need her constant demand for my services or not. So as I sit here in uninterrupted (such a beautiful word) bliss, I am thankful for the time I have to myself. Thankful. There is that word. Thankful. Because you cannot muse on this topic without a reader or two or two dozen brandishing it about in their psyche. What is she complaining about? She has a child, she should be thankful.
I read an article yesterday on the Daily Mail Online where the author, a mother of two young kids, 6 and 2 years old, tells of how she never gets enough sleep because if not one child is waking up at night the other one is. Pulled between the two, she is, in the morning, a sleep deprived wreak. Reading her words, I was like a Southern Baptist listening to an especially vigorous and evoking church sermon, all “Ummmhmmm” and “Hallelujahs” and “Praise the Lords”. I could totally relate to the woman and sympathise that she had two sleep-interrupting sources whereas I had only one. Admittedly, I did think she could benefit from some tough love, mostly when she described her 6 year old waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning and essentially declaring that it was morning time and sleep time was over. Mine never tries that because I just ignore her, roll over and go back to sleep, I mean pretend to sleep…yeah. Nonetheless, I generally thought she was describing what many parents go through in the early stages of their children’s’ lives. When I read the comments section however, I was not surprised to read the words of readers because they are the same old words that always get rolled out by folk whenever there is an article by a mother regarding their sleep deprivation, sore nipples, post-natal depression, post-natal-non-existent social life, post-natal-non-existent sex life and more complaints fashioned out of new modern parenthood. The commentators fall into four categories: 1) The experienced parents who are utterly disdainful of the author-parent’s experience. Think Monty Python, ‘we lived in a shoe box sort of stuff’ or the unsolicited ‘you are a crappy parent and that’s why you have this problem’ advice, sort of stuff. 2) The commiserating parents, much like me, who can understand the author-parent’s very real, searing pain. 3) The happily childless, smug non-parents who laugh at the self-inflicted pain of the author-parent and confirm their intelligent decision made to forgo having children. 4) The non-parents, who are non-parents not by choice but by biology, luck, fate or whatever other force in the universe that keeps a person who wants a child without one. These non-parents are the ones who usually, not in the most measured manner, remind the author-parent to be thankful that she has children because not everyone in the world can. These non-parents completely disregard the author-parent’s reported negative feeling and experience as ungrateful and lacking perspective. You should be thankful you have a child and be thankful for every moment you experience with them: good or bad.
Well, actually, no. I do not think so. Why is it that complaining parent’s get such a bad rap these days? Why is it that my struggles with parenthood are not to be described because I am lucky to have a child in the first place? For those who do not have children let me be clear on this: having a kid can suck. Yes, it can freaking suck on many levels. The main one being that you are on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week for the rest of your life. Again, readers will say: did you not realise that before you had a kid? Are you surprised? How could you not have figured that out? Of course, I figured it out, but I never had a kid before I had a kid, did I? Nothing can prepare you for the relentless responsibility. A few days ago, I was heavily sleep deprived and had a pounding headache. At a certain moment in the day I was also very hungry and needed to eat so in the middle of preparing dinner, when my daughter told me she wanted her diaper changed (don’t even start on my failed attempts at potty training), I quickly changed tack and mobilised for a diaper change. As I took off her diaper I realised that her change request was simply a ruse for my attention so I told her that her diaper was dry and that she didn’t need a new one. Wrong move because that is when the kicking and screaming started. Apparently, a diaper change is a very serious request. It is a non-negotiable, toddler hill picked to die on… Knowing that I was at the end of my tether, I simply got up and returned to the kitchen. It only took a few moments before a bare bummed toddler entered the kitchen and asked me to put her clothes back on. I confirmed with her that she was ready to get dressed again and she assured me that she was, although what she really meant was with a new diaper. Obviously then when I went to put the aforementioned diaper back on her, the kicking and screaming started anew. This time, not to be outdone, but wholly against violence, I yelled at my daughter to stop it at once. When I say I yelled, I am embarrassed to say that I yelled in a loud maniacal voice that caused her to immediately stop her struggling, look at me wide eyed and omit a little whimper. Thirty seconds later I was back making dinner with a subdued, dressed toddler sitting on the couch watching cartoons.
It is moments like these that I feel like the worst parent in the world. I mean, I am an adult. I need to understand that again, this is simply a stage she is going through, trying to assert her independence in her newly discovered world, but then I am trying to keep my sanity in this newly altered child centric world. Usually, I am positive and happy and enjoy my motherhood. I have fun with my daughter and her antics, I can even laugh hysterically when she throws a tantrum and wait patiently in a supportive role until she is finished. However, when I am tired, hungry and feeling under the weather and just want to throw a tantrum myself, I find myself slipping down the crevasse of 1970’s wooden-spoon parenting (yes, Mother I am talking about you). Honestly, when you are feeling out of sorts do you want to crawl into bed and put the covers over your pounding head and go to sleep or do you want to be Madonna’s personal assistant during a world tour? My life constantly feels like the latter; like I am being ordered around by a little diva that will not see reason or understand it. On the good days I can handle it and on the bad days I just want to hand in my notice and clean out my office.
The thing with parenthood is that you can never hand in your notice. It is a full-time permanent position until the day you die. I wonder if most people before they have children, actually understand the gravity of that. Your needs will never come before those of the little buddy’s whom you thought you wanted to share your life with. Therein lies the rub: parenthood is one thing in life that you cannot try out, consider if you are suited to it or if you want it to be part of your life, and then accordingly make a yay or nay decision. People think that having a child will answer all of their prayers and make their imperfect selves perfect and their fractured lives whole, but it is the inverse, because in fact having a child just amplifies all that is wrong in your person and your life. Have a child is not a salve to a wound, in fact it will open the wound further and make it fester. Realise that there is no dress rehearsal here, just opening night for the rest of your life.
I recently read an interview with the actress Joan Collins where she said that people think that they have a child until it is 18 and leaves home, but hers are 43, 48 and 52 and she still worries about them every day; they still need their mother. That is such a true statement. A child needs his mother from the moment he is conceived inside her body to the moment he steps out of it. As much as we caw about our desire to be parents and our despair at being denied that experience, I do not know if women actually can fathom this? If they did perhaps they wouldn’t leave such snarky online comments for complaining sleep deprived author-parents. Having children is a huge responsibility which on a practical level I can handle (this kid has the best butler come body guard in the world) but on a mental and emotional level I sometimes struggle. When I analyse it, it is probably because of something that most parents would “Ummmhmmm”, “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord” to, and that is because you give and give and give all of your being to this little person who seems to throw it back in your face. She is 2 can you imagine when she is 12? When she is 22? If I cannot handle it now then how will I handle it then? I remember with shame all of the horrible things I said to my parents. All of the times as a teenager I took off in my old jalopy and disappeared for hours, making them worry terribly about me. I regret that I didn’t understand that they lived their lives without complaint, so that I could live mine in the best possible way. No matter however, I have gotten my comeuppance in the guise of a sleeping soundly two-year old – sleeping soundly for now…