Aside

the wise guide inside

Two glasses of proper champagne and only bits of sleep last night and I’m attempting a settle; he’s 9 months old and the sleeping struggle is tangible. Chopin’s Nocturne No.2 in E-Flat Major has overthrown my monkey mind…I’m simply swaying in rhythm to it. Through the alcohol induced mist, the music is piercing a little tiny hole into the turbulent year I’ve endured with a second little boy in my arms, during both sleeping and waking hours.

He thrashes about. Overtired and uncomfortable and palpably searching for some remedy that will send him into the ether, the realm of sleep so desperately needed but that which continuously slips through first his and then my fingers, accompanied by a sense of longing dreamt about, and wonder too, at what could alter the plot of this story.

And then there in that space, I am not. I’m strolling through the local marketplace. I’m right in the very midst of my sleep deprivation, a time where the mind can’t be trusted to act accordingly, when through the dreamcatchers swaying daintily in the breeze I see it. A passageway I had not yet encountered, although many times I had passed this way. The ceiling seemed to narrow as I stepped cautiously inwards; the wall not graffitied colours but shimmering rock, flecks of some things glinting and other things gold and hard to make out…was this an illusion?

It was there at the smallest cave-like part of the passage that I came to a blackened pot, sitting neatly on a small fire somehow propped up and unlikely to tumble. An intoxicating smell was inviting my senses forward; it was coming from a dark blue liquid thick with humbly sparkling silver. I could swear the word “sleep” appeared in the curls of steam wafting from the pot, but was I even really there? The cauldron sat confidently, and so too did its owner. There was nobody with me, and then there was, and I blinked a few extra times as a force sat me down and I was there, wasn’t I? She stirred the contents with a large golden ladle as I watched, mesmerised and wanting nothing more then to feel it, to bathe in it and just to have it engulf me entirely. 

I heard no voice, only the whisper of a question unanswered. 

Why did you walk this way?

I had a thousand words and none at all, my mind fractured with memories of moments and sounds of un-stillness. The magical substance lured my eyes and the desire to immerse myself was growing stronger. I wanted so badly to take some of this magical potion home with me. Something was telling me that once I had it, everything would be okay. The months of sleep deprivation would be over, I would be sitting pretty; routine established and structure ruling over my life. In a sudden moment but with what seemed like a million minutes before it, this notion was gone. The pot was empty, the contents non existent.

I blinked twice then three times, and my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the nursery. Then, the fog that had engulfed me for so long dissipated alongside 9 months of heartache. In that moment both my body and my mind had a realisation that would change the way I was currently existing. As if I was coming up for air made of clarity, I understood. 

I had been trying too hard.

I had been trying to fit a mould pressed upon me by thousands of words either read or uttered, in my quest to fulfil a role of perfection. My baby would not be the one to sleep on demand, at a specified time. He would not follow the same routine every single day. He would not be “a good baby.” He would need my help; the touch of his mother and the sway of her step; her beating heart close by, to settle him into a reverie filled slumber. And, so what.

In an instant I was ready to learn this new jig. For too long I had allowed the pressures of this modern day to try and construct my life. The saying “square peg in a round hole” never sounded more true; and I was the hand jamming that poor peg over and over and over again, not noticing that it was the wrong shape the entire time.

I have always been a sensitive mother. I have endless patience for my children, and like most of us, I want the very best for them. But in my mission to provide the blocks that support a smart and contented child, I had let slide the intuition that was so crucial to my own happiness. I had stopped listening to my gut in exchange for “advice,” and in doing so had completely blindsided myself.

Motherhood has become something different in the current era. From being a role that many women once intuitively fit into, to one that is now overwhelmed with information, mothers feel the weight of expectation coming at them from all sources. And the information is often contradictory, shaded by the preface that “something that works for one child may not work for another,” and “every child is different.” 

The counsel advises, but only experience truly teaches, they say. However, by the time that “experience” has taught us anything at all, it’s too bloody late to use it. And then, if we decide to go for round three, the lessons we learnt the second time no longer apply. Oh, that’s what it means by “every child is different.”

Having children continues to be the most awesome experience in my life thus far. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, it doesn’t mean I love every moment and it certainly doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing. I don’t. I’m getting to know MY boys and what works for them, and I’ve finally realised who I should really be listening to…it sure as hell ain’t the internet.

So what if your baby falls asleep at the breast. I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be 25 and looking for nipples to suck himself to sleep…(or is he?) 

So what if you rock and cuddle your baby to sleep…one day he will fall asleep in stillness, in his own bed, probably in his own house.

So what if your baby sleeps in short stints…this may be the only time in your life that you are excused from chores because of time restraints.

I could go on. Just remember, whether you’re a parent yourself or an advice-giver – that pegs come in all shapes and sizes – and even you are a different shape to your littlest and most precious peg. Everything will be okay, and even if it isn’t now, it will be eventually. Don’t stifle the voice within, trust it. You have got this.

Aside

A mother’s lifeline.

I’m standing at the breakfast bench typing this and my eyes are flicking to my one o’clock every few seconds. The baby monitor is in the corner there and I see a sleeping face in black and white amidst the tschhhhhhh sound of white noise. The little face is no longer sobbing; it’s been a while and he’s in a deep sleep now. Seeing that calm, peaceful face is what reminds me that having children is not entirely what I expected, but at the moment I need more reminders of the good side among the rest of the chaos, to make everything seem okay.

The last six months has been madness. When you have a dependant infant that regularly wakes at one and two and three hour intervals, the repercussions of sleep deprivation make themselves known to your everyday existence. At a time that could be seen as “prime-of-my-life,” I have found myself sinking further and further into the well of a deep existential crisis, where time moves very slowly and there is no horizon. The clouds and the ocean meet and blend; an ominous storm seeking to stifle me – challenging me to break the shackles that bind the limbs of my mind. I feel that each day, I am simply surviving.

I struggle to think like my well slept self. It takes my mind precious seconds to locate files, to categorise and to create. I start sentences with intention and with minor distraction find myself lost, unable to remember the target of my diatribe. There are times when it doesn’t return until much later on, once the lights are off and the friends have gone home to their full night’s rest, uncountable in number.

Each night before bed, I manifest a reality that tonight will be the one that everybody sleeps uninterrupted and we all reunite at seven AM. And then at eleven thirty I groan inwardly, disappointed yet not surprised that nothing has changed. In the minutes that tick by between two and five am and wake up after wake up, I wonder if this will ever truly end. The sour pessimism that coats my mind is difficult to control with un-slept, unregulated emotions.

The cries of my baby used to tear me quickly from the sheets, but now my heart does little more than drag my body upward and forward; the call of duty of a mother unyielding. The skills acquired from five months of sleep destruction are refined, even amongst the fatigue that plagues my brain. Changing a baby entirely in the dark from nappy up to sleep suit is easy. Throw a swaddle across a bed with one hand whilst safely holding a sleeping baby in the other arm? No help required. Wrap him swiftly and gently, and replace in cot…done. My body remembers exactly where to step, even in the pitch black of a room desperately encouraging consistent sleep. The stairs are not obstacles, only the wind trapped in my baby’s tummy is the true enemy.

For some this might seem dramatic, but I’m sure there are others that know the place I frequent in the corners of my mind. Seemingly relentless, no end in sight, can’t give up, can’t have a break. Must simply go on. I am waiting for someone to rescue me, to tell me the secrets and answers, to whisper the advice that will be my salvation. As each day dawns, however, a second little boy climbing into my bed and kissing my hands and face reminds me to stand boldly up. The sun has risen, we are alive and I have two incredible children to care for. Despite how gruelling this is now, one day it will all be a distant memory, when my boys will no longer be babies. They won’t sleep in my bedroom, they won’t rely on my body to comfort, to feed and to nourish them. And then my longing will be for another realm I’m sure, though I’ll feel relief that I made it out the other side of this one. It seems that after all, like always and for ever, it is this love between mother and child that is the true lifeline.

dreams, deaths and disloyalties

It’s a strange feeling, waking with fragments of vivid dreams having tarnished the supposed clean slate of a new day. What is the purpose of dreaming? Why, sometimes, do our minds delve beyond what is real world and into this cosmic abyss, which can sometimes be eclipsed by what seems like proper horror?

Think of a bad dream you’ve had. How bad was it? Did somebody close to you die? Did you kill someone? I know that these sorts of dreams exist. Personally I’ve never murdered anyone in my dreams, but family members and pets have died horrific deaths, my husband has turned into an appalling infidel with a non-existent heart and some other downright awful things have happened. What drives our minds to these places of darkness?

Most people are familiar with that weighted feeling of regaining consciousness in the deep of the night, having grown so unsettled by a dream that sleep is no longer possible. It’s as if we need rebooting – awaken, breathe deeply, acknowledge that it was all a dream and everything is truly as it should be. Then often, the remaining hours of what should be pure rest are blemished; bodies toss and turn in a restless chasm of ambiguity and confusion until finally, another day dawns. You sit up, gazing quizzically at nothing in particular, pensive about the origin of such creations, your mind boggled as you begin a new day. Today, the slate will not begin as clean.

At night, the brain becomes similar to that of an electric car wash. It removes grime from the day, it polishes a clean surface once the muck is gone. Build up of amyloid plaque is scrubbed back, memories are removed from short term and stored in long term. It seems though, that the mind becomes more susceptible to both genres (good and bad) of thoughts and dreams during this time. Have you ever been in a half-woke sleep state, and suddenly the weight of the world is bearing down on you? Conundrums of the day are amplified and your feet are glued to the patch of grass in front of the speaker. You wear no ear plugs and through your restless sleep, you sense no escape from the discomfort and unrelenting noise in your head.

This morning my son awoke in a state of distress. He removed his little body from bed and advanced to the two corridors and three doors blockading his access to safety. He managed 20 steps before tears could be retained no longer and a little voice perforated the morning quiet. “Mummy,” though much longer and slower and with sorrow in his tone… “I don’t want to go to school.” He sobbed, briefly explaining the source of his upset. I wonder if I really do need to reconsider my child’s one-day-a-week expedition to daycare, with it now being the origin of his nightmares. All our issues are relative, I suppose.

I dare you to anonymously (or not) comment on this post with your most baffling dream to date. Have you ever bludgeoned someone to death with a sledgehammer, feeling and hearing the crush of his skull under your destructive force? My gentle, compassionate husband has. Have you ever woken to see your spouse sleeping peacefully after they’ve just spent 8 hours destroying your life and ripping your soul apart with their promiscuous  treachery, your eyes swollen from crying tears of utter heartache? I have.

 

Aside

GO TO SLEEP, CHILD!

Being a parent is an all-consuming and relentless task. Relentless, of course, because no “good” parent ever really clocks off. Not even a sleeping child means you’re in the safe zone. As I typed up that sentence, I literally heard my son crying and had to go and tend to him; he was standing in the hallway. Asleep, presumably, but still needing my care. And all-consuming because being a “good” parent means that almost every exposed thought and action is in consideration of how it will affect my child.

Something that continually amazes me is the intensely comparative feelings I have when my child sleeps, as opposed to when he will not. Amongst those “phases” (I know, such a buzz word in the parenting world) of a two year old refusing to sleep – I mean, literally telling me “I am NOT sleeping,” I turn from a mother with inexhaustible patience and an interest in alternative parenting, to one who almost wants to smack her child on the bottom, throw him in his room, lock the door and make herself an espresso martini.

If you’re a parent who is lucky enough to have a partner around, at least the load of annoying crap kids do can be shared among the two of you. If not, may some sort of higher power give you strength to carry on. Typically, I don’t see myself as someone who gets super easily annoyed by things; I try to be an empathic person with a compassionate heart. But boy does the “refusal to sleep at bedtime” rubbish get to me. I can feel this sense of fury rising inside me – fed by questions through gritted teeth such as, WHY WON’T HE JUST  SLEEP, (and, what have I done to deserve this.)

When my child refutes sleep at any time, my day is ruined. This sounds melodramatic. But when you spend two or more hours encouraging a person to do something for themselves that is good for their health, and you think you’ve nearly succeeded, only to close the door quietly, breathe a sigh of relief, walk into the kitchen and then HEAR THE DOOR OPEN AGAIN, a frustration I have never before known takes over who I am as a person. I pause whatever it is that I haven’t had time to start doing. A small boy creeps out…and he: a. is hungry, b. is thirsty, c. needs to poo. Or, the door stays closed. I consider being in the safe zone – I have maybe two hours to reset, make dinner or do some work on the computer. Do some yoga. Do something for me. And then I snort to myself…don’t be a fool! I press an ear up against the door and the silence is punctured. What is going on? a. the light is on and a small person is reading books, b. Buzz and Woody are whizzing around the room, c. toys are being unloaded from the wardrobe, or d. he is hiding.

Read ten books, read two books. Stay for a cuddle or shut the door and go. Feed him before bed or let him go hungry. Try at 10am, try at 2pm. Wear him out on an expedition or stay home. Every parent knows about “stages” and “phases” children go through. And every time one occurs that effs up our flow, we hope that is just what it is. A state of being that is temporary, that will pass, and that at some point, our once perfect lives will resurface. Then, we can be the parent who chuckles quietly when a friend is enduring a similar scenario, and share our esteemed advice on handling said situation. After all, we’ve “been there, done that.” Once we’re back into routine, once the “phase” has passed, the world is a wondrous and magical place once more, and having children was the best decision we ever made.

Aside

Are You Tired? Please read this (book).

Coming to full consciousness and plagued by a wretched night’s sleep, a need to do some writing invades me. In fact I started writing this last night, under the very dim light of tiny lamp shaded by a towel, with my phone nowhere in sight and inside an otherwise very dark apartment, at around 9:30pm. Why the details, you may ask…well. I changed the tagline of this blog to “travelling France between day naps,” this being a direct reflection of what we’re doing, and founded on a topic that has peaked my interest over the last 6-9 months…SLEEP. Continue reading