“You were sleeping through by his age!”
My mother’s words, uttered at regular intervals since my son turned three months old, are reaching a fever pitch.
My son is almost three. He is still not “sleeping through.”
OK, that is a slight lie. He has slept through, at least once, but to do so on a regular, or even more than once-in-a-blue-moon basis has as yet eluded him. Most bedtimes, I’m sorry to say, remain fairly similar to the one that took place this evening, and which unfolded as follows:
We spend all afternoon in the park. It is, I hope, a tiring afternoon. I am tired-not to mention a little nauseous-just looking at him as he spends what feels like an eternity spinning round the roundabout, and forms an adorable friendship with another child which consists of chasing each other around waving small cars and shouting “NEE-NAR, NEE-NAR!” We return home, and his conduct on the bus (peeling off shoes and socks, repeatedly switching seats, lying on the seat in the foetal position) reassures me that he is getting tired and cranky. I have surely succeeded in my mission. Bedtime will be a doddle.
7.30 comes and goes. We watch Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo (surely better at pottering around getting on and off trains in bright blazers than he ever was at being a politician), we call Granny on the phone, we read books. Then we attempt the dreaded “bedtime routine.”
Piglet is already putting up a degree of resistance. He wants another story-but not in bed, downstairs. He wants more books. He wants to take them all upstairs and have them read to him in succession. He doesn’t want to put his pyjamas on. He wants milky-pops. He doesn’t want milky-pops. He wants to take an entire fleet of characters from the Disney Cars movie franchise to bed with him. No, he wants to slowly dismantle the multi-coloured alphabet jigsaw mat in his bedroom and take the various polystyrene bits to bed with him. He wants another story.
Stories are read, cars are taken to bed, playmat polystyrene bits are used as hilarious sticks to beat Mummy with, both literally and figuratively. He is winning, and he knows it. All Mummy can think about is the half a glass of wine left lying tantalisingly downstairs, mocking me with the promise of a post-bedtime nightcap, like I imagine all the other parents must be having. Like my neighbours who were sitting outside enjoying a quiet cup of tea witnessing my shame while Piglet followed me outside to put the bins out at 9.30pm. I have now successfully looked like an inept parent in front of the neighbours, just as I did this morning when an old lady walking her dog threw me a sharp look as I pleaded with Piglet to cross the road in an appropriate manner, and he gleefully charged ahead, hiding behind some nearby parked cars in a way that was not at all terrifying and didn’t look at all like the sort of accident waiting to happen more often spotted in an opening scene from Casualty.
The house is still a tip. the dishes need to be cleared away, the bins need to go out for tomorrow morning. I can’t model the good behaviour I wish to see by falling asleep myself (I have done, many times), or I will surely wake up in a pit of disorganisation and despair.
I try everything. The soft approach (dispensing milky-pops and hoping for the best), the hard approach (leaving him in the bedroom with what I consider to be a devoted but definite kiss goodnight and a firm instruction to close his eyes and drift off to the land of nod before returning him repeatedly to the bedroom when he gets up and walks out). Is this how it was supposed to be done in The No-Cry Sleep Solution, The Gina Ford and Supernanny Book of Scheduled Parenting and The Cry-it-Out Method of Parenting Assertively? And should I be following the advice of books and websites anyway? Surely I should instead be responding to my son’s cues and gentle parenting him into blissful submission, however that is supposed to be done (answers on a postcard please). If I was any sort of mother, my child and I would be so in tune that I would know intuitively the precise moment he reached the magical point of optimum tiredness where he was tired enough for a single yawn, but not yet past the point of no return where all thought of bedtime had been dispensed with and instead it had proven far more interesting to run rings around Mummy trying to bite her whilst screaming the kind of high-decibel screams that would have the neighbours calling 999 and the local dogs running from the hills.
Eventually I end up in a crumpled heap in the kitchen, drinking the remains of the wine while Piglet bunny hops around me. I am defeated.
Please don’t ask me if he’s sleeping through yet.