Both girls are decent sleepers, now. I say that, aware that many other parents are reading this, already thinking, “Bitch,” but I promise the sleep is hard-won.
For the first six months of YoungestGirl’s life, she would not sleep night or day for longer than 20 minutes. Imagine it. You have given birth. You are knackered. You are leaking fluid from orifices that until recently you didn’t even consider to be orifices. You settle down into bed. You start to drift. Suddenly you are awakened by an unholy scream. It is your child. It needs ministering to. This takes anywhere between 5 minutes (simple nappy change) and 90 minutes (breastfeeding refusal). Finally it settles and goes to sleep. You are still a bit wound up. But slowly you relax. Ten minutes or so later, you drift off to sleep. And you are awakened by an unholy scream again. Repeat for six months.
During this period, I may, or may not have woken up at 1.38 a.m. once for the ninth 20-minute interval running, and told YoungestGirl to fuck off. I’m not proud. But I don’t regret it either. It made me feel very slightly better in the moment.
After that, when they were old enough, it was sleep-training, and a combination of “cry it out” and gradual withdrawal to get them used to self-settling.
Then we had the toddler tantrums with both girls, the sleep refusal, the nap refusals, the “I need a drink of water/ toilet / urgently need to know why death happens” (NB: It is not recommended to reply, “Death happens when you don’t SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP.”)
After that came the nightmares (see: not telling them about death at bedtime). YoungestGirl – I don’t think – has had nightmares yet, although she did wake up yesterday morning and vociferously accuse me of stealing her lollipop. I asked her if this could be a dream, but she had no idea what I was talking about. So I asked her what colour the lollipop was. She looked at me as though I were an idiot, and replied, scathingly, “Pink, of course.”
When EldestGirl was about YoungestGirl’s age, she once woke up furious that I had stolen her George Pig (we have no George Pig) and was hiding it up my bottom. Well, where else? She wanted to check. I demurred.
EldestGirl had incredibly banal nightmares, which nevertheless left her terrified. They would be things like “the three little pigs” or “aliens” but she wouldn’t be drawn on what was scary about it. After insisting, sometimes three times a night, that she needed us to go into her room and stay with her for a while, she rarely remembered them in the morning.
YoungestGirl nowadays goes to bed fairly nicely (after a fair amount of whinging, just to give us a challenge, obviously) and goes straight to sleep… or does she? When I go to bed, I go up to both girls’ rooms to check on them. Whilst EldestGirl is usually spreadeagled on top of her covers, wearing a sleep mask, YoungestGirl is immediately able to start a full conversation with me.
“Oh. Night night, YoungestGirl.”
“Night night, Mummy. In the morning I have blackberries in my porridge please?”
“And then we go to playground?”
“Right. Night night.”
“Night night, Mummy.”
She reminds me of Mrs Doyle in Father Ted who stays up all night, every night with a cup of tea for the priests in case they get up. I half-suspect YoungestGirl never sleeps at all.
Still, I am looking forward to her teenage years, when she wants to sleep in. I shall of course let her. But I will be going into her room every twenty minutes and screaming. Fair’s fair.