It’s 5am, and he’s still twirling my hair. I ask him to stop. He looks indignant. Wide innocent eyes, hurt that I don’t like my hair being twirled at 5am. He huffs and he puffs, then throws himself across my back. Because that’s so much more comfortable than the hair thing. There are two things going through my mind as I drift in and out of this disturbed sleep: the theme tune to Orange is the New Black, and “baby-faced sleep assassin.” Over and over. Until finally, sometime after six, I recognise the slow, deep breaths of sleep, and manage to creep out of his bed.
I dare to glance back at the master of my sleepless fate. His eyes are closed, his chest rises and falls almost imperceptibly. His innocent baby-face belies his age (three and a half! time to sleep!) and his night-time antics. All is forgiven. Until the next time.
This little boy has form you see. For the first two and half years, he didn’t sleep much at night at all. Looking back, I don’t know how we got through it – I don’t know how any parent does. You just do. But since then, he’s been sleeping pretty well. Most of the time.
Then every couple of weeks, he takes a pot shot at me. Just as he’s lulled me into a false sense of security, he jumps out and catches me off guard. Arriving into our room at 4am, convinced it’s morning. Utterly incapable of believing anything else. And so I go to his bed with him – sleep will be delayed either way, but at least there’s a chance of escape back to my own room when he finally does nod off. If.
If ever there was proof that “they’re all different” this guy is it. My two girls were typical babies – awake on and off for the first year or so, but after that, pretty reliable on the sleeping front. Their little brother – natured and nurtured by the same set of parents – is a very different beast (not an actual beast, of course. Well, mostly not.)
At bedtime, the girls may be up and down for a second kiss/ a third glass of water/ a forgotten book/ a report of a fight, but they understand that bedtime is bedtime, and that eventually, they’ll lie down and let sleep take over.
The boy on the other hand can go either way. Some nights, when it suits him to do so, he just goes to bed. Other nights, he doesn’t. He explains why, which is nice. “But I not tired, I going down to watch TV with you now,” he says, in a very matter-of-fact tone that suggests we’d be mad to question his plan. And so begins the debate – the irrational argument with an irrational boy who only does bedtime on his terms.
If the girls are asleep on top of their duvets, it’s easy to get them tucked up underneath, even if they wake up a little. A quick reassuring kiss is all they need to go straight back to sleep.
if the boy is on top of his duvet, I put another blanket over him – there’s no way I’m poking the bear.
If one of the girls falls asleep in my arms, it’s easy to disentangle and slip away.
If the boy is asleep in my arms, the escape is a carefully planned operation that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mission Impossible outtake. The arm removal is a millisecond by millisecond process, best done without breathing. The floor is a stomach-knotting minefield of creaks. The door that makes no noise during the day is a foghorn at night. The landing light a glaring oversight.
If the girls are up during the night – asking for help fixing a duvet or lost on the way to the bathroom – a quick reassuring interaction is all it takes, and back they go, asleep within seconds, if ever really awake at all.
If the boy is up at night, we’re screwed. I hear the patter of his steps and my heart sinks. There’s no talking to him, no rational argument is entertained (“But look, it’s dark outside – of course it’s nighttime!” “It just be a dark morning mum.”)
There’s only one thing for it. Into his room for the hair twirling and back-slapping and body slamming. And the eventual great escape. And the backwards glance. And all is forgiven. Until the next time.