Ah, the joys of motherhood; these joys are more unpredictable than the joys of sex, which seem to follow more of a patten. My toddler (who will be three in July) has taken to getting undressed at unforeseen intervals throughout the day, a habit – I firmly believe – she learned from her father. I suddenly find her naked one morning while watching cartoons in bed; over the weekend, I find her half dressed in a department store while I had my head turned for 30 seconds (she’s that fast). Today, it was just before dinner. She had mumbled something about ‘bum bum’, which is our code words for nappy change. I was busy in the kitchen and forgot about checking her diaper. Ten minutes later she comes up to me, stark naked, and holding her diaper in her hands. I won’t go into graphic detail about what was inside, but it was solid and rather large.
Cue mild panic. I turn to my five-year-old and quiz her about the incident like a reporter at the scene of a crime. Did you see the diaper fall on the floor? Did you see anything drop out or roll around? Do you remember if the Raging Bull used her hands to pick anything up? Did she touch anything else? She mostly shrugged at me and gave me conflicting answers. Asking the Raging Bull is totally pointless. Instead, I grab her and head straight to the bathroom to wash her hands with the vigor of a surgeon scrubbing up.
On beauty sleep or the lack of it
Less amusing was the sleepless night we all endured two nights ago. For unexplained reasons, the Bull woke up at 3am and refused to go back to sleep. I walked up and down to her tiny room a number of times, to smooth sheets, hand her toys, turn on the light, give her a kiss. Nothing would keep her quiet. Finally, after what felt like a black hole of time, but was really only about an hour, I give up and decide to take her to bed with me. Having read parenting manuals that left me scarred at my first child’s birth, I know this is tantamount to being held a ‘Hostage to Fortune’. I give in now and it will be twice as hard to break her out of the habit if she does it again. I don’t care, though, because desperation has taken over. This is not a time for lofty principles – I’m ready to do a deal with the two-year-old terrorist.
I wake up the Chatterbox, who now sleeps with me. I drag her to my mother’s bedroom, feeling guilty that I have woken her up on a school night. Guilt is a constant companion in my mothering duties. I take the Bull out of the playpen she has been sleeping in for 6 months and take her to my bed, where she whispers to me, ‘Thank you, Mummy.’ I don’t know whether she is old enough to manipulate me, but I’m ready to forgive almost anything.
Just as I think I might get some sleep, I hear what I think is crying. I wonder if it could be some residual noise in my ear or maybe I’m starting to hallucinate. But no, it’s the Chatterbox wailing for me. I get up and walk to my mother’s room, where she is moaning about getting into bed with me. I try not to look at the bedside clock, which I now regard as a mortal enemy. When I finally return to my own bed, the Bull kicks me for another hour; her energy never fails to surprise me.
This late-night/early morning horror story is familiar to most parents. A national sleep project in Australia reports that a new baby typically results in 400 to 750 hours of lost sleep for parents in the first year. Interestingly, it also says that one of the best predictors of insomnia in later life is the development of bad habits from having sleep disturbed by small children. I can relate to this last fact. When the Raging Bull was still an infant, I remember waking up in the middle of the night, long after I had stopped breastfeeding at this hour. Often, there was no reason to wake up, but it’s like my body clock had been programmed. For several weeks I would wake up and not be able to get back to sleep. The more it happened the more I felt like it would happen again. I was stuck in a cycle. I have no idea how I managed to break out of it.
As a mother, you need to be a bit of an optimist. I hope this episode is just a one-off and not a recurring pattern. When the Chatterbox shows me her schoolwork today, she has a small storybook that is meant to teach her about the short ‘a’ sound. ‘Nat takes a nap,’ she reads haltingly. ‘Mummy, that’s like you,’ she announces. ‘You like to take naps.’ I seriously hope this isn’t one of her abiding memories of me.