I’m typing this month’s blog with all my fingers crossed and whilst touching wood, because I need to start with a grand statement: mostly, Alex is a good sleeper. I know that we’re very lucky. And let me qualify that grand statement: he didn’t reliably sleep through the night until he was nearly 2, and even now he wakes briefly most nights because his duvet is on wrong. So when I say that this post is about a rare rough night we had recently, I hope you won’t growl at me too loudly.
A couple of weeks ago, he did something he hasn’t done for quite a while, that special brand of child wakefulness that casts fear into parents’ hearts: he woke up in the night for no apparent reason. This is surely the most annoying sleepless night that there is – rough nights due to growth spurts, cluster feeding, teething, thirst – at least we can do something about those. But the “hello, I’m awake now – quite happy, but still most definitely awake” nights are something else.
On this particular night, he came padding into our bedroom at 2am and stood calmly next to my side of the bed. I knew he was there. I pretended I didn’t. The whispered “Mummy? Mummy!” started. Alex learned quite a while ago the difference between day and night – that is, that while it’s absolutely fine to be awake at any time at all, if it’s night-time, you need to whisper instead of shout.
I gave up and pulled him into bed with us. We’ve co-slept on and off since he was 9 months old, so I was optimistic at this point that he would curl up and drift back off into sleep. HA. First came the toddler wiggle – you know, where they shuffle and shuffle until you’re clinging onto the edges of the mattress and they’re blissfully starfishing in the middle. Alex has a special technique which involves cuddling his adorable wee head up to his dad, allowing him to sleep on, then jabbing his vicious, pointy feet at me repeatedly. He especially likes to worm his feet in between my presumably squashy, cosy thighs (sigh), leaving me unable to relax in case I crush his toes.
About 45 minutes of shuffling later, three things became clear to me: 1, this child was not going back to sleep; 2, neither was I; and 3, husband was able to peacefully snore his way throughout the whole thing. Time to throw myself on the sacrificial bonfire of night-time motherhood, and get up. Alex and I went back into his bedroom, leaving husband to sleep (did I mention that he slept through this whole thing? I’m absolutely fine about that). I went through the rituals we’ve been following since he was tiny: nappy change, milk, cuddles. Still awake. We chose stories and got into his bed, me using my very best quiet, calm reading voice and him joining in in shrieks and ruining all my efforts. We decided that Rabbit, Alex’s faithful companion, was sleepy and tucked her in. Alex refused to take the hint and remained vigilant at her side. I mentally watched the minutes slide by and cried a little inside.
Then we switched the light off and he lay down. I curled myself around him, in the C-shape mothers learn from so early on to keep our tiny bundles safe, and employed the only tactic I had left: I pretended to be asleep. I could feel Alex’s breath, his head up close to mine, studying me carefully in the dark. He patted me on the cheek. Put his fingers in my mouth. Wedged a hand down my top. And still I “slept” on. He sighed, then – gently, so gently – stroked my face with a fingertip, wiggled in closer, and drifted off.
That was when I remembered. I do like sleep – I’d go so far as to say I’m very fond of it. And children yanking you out of it is really annoying. But, when Alex was tiny and needed feeding, I would hold him and feel like we were the only people in the world. That feeling can be a lonely one, but it’s also something worth cherishing. I think I secretly enjoyed the night feeds (as long as he went straight back to bed afterwards…). With work, nursery, swimming and play dates, day times often fly by now. If Alex hadn’t spent 2 hours that night being awake for no reason, I would have missed that moment of pure love when he stroked my face.
Mind you, I probably wouldn’t have had to drink 3 coffees in a row the next morning, either.