I stare at your face and I listen as your breathing slowly steadies. Your brow is still furrowed but smoothes as I watch you drift into the soft innocence that tells me you are asleep. Finally. I feel guilty. I’m sorry I got so annoyed. I’m sorry I said cross words and thought tense, cruel thoughts. I just wanted you to go the fuck to sleep…please?
You went to bed 2 hours and 15 minutes ago but you did not go to sleep. You thought it was a game to growl at me and drum on the sides of your cot, but all I could think about was how upset your sister, sleeping just across the room, would be if you woke her. You squealed and squeaked and yelled and shouted and every time I hushed you and said “It’s sleepytime” you lay down, smiling. “This time,” I would foolishly think but with a squeak you would remind me that you are the boss and up you would leap ready to start the game all over again.
As usual you are one step ahead and you have surprised me with this refusal to sleep. Waking in the night? Sure. That has always been your thing. I sometimes wonder if nighttime was your time to get the cuddles you long for during the day but miss out on because you share me, and you always have. But you always go to sleep. When all of a sudden you don’t, I have no plan. I have no tactics and I respond, conflicted, by sitting with you, holding your hand, patting your bum, shushing your cries and rubbing your back. I pick you up and hold you close but you dive away from me and want only to play. But it’s sleepytime, I plead, and torment myself with thoughts of the food my rumbling stomach and aching head need right now. I know it’s not your fault and I fight to press down the annoyance that rises in my throat.
I know you have been unsettled the last few days – we’re in a strange place, your daddy isn’t here and I think you’re trying to walk, or are teething, or maybe yesterday you had tummy ache, or you have a cold – you have sneezed several times today – or perhaps you no longer need two naps every day and your babyhood is receding into the distance, its departure both longed for and mourned. I haven’t got a clue and I’m over fumbling for answers and I just. Feel. Tired.
Your sister sighs and turns over in bed and my heart skips a beat. Somewhere in my thoughts there is the knowledge that this is all fine, no big deal, to be expected at some point. We’ve survived before, we’ll survive again, but these thoughts are drowned out by the shouting coming from the fighter in the tired corner over there who just wants to be left alone.
You’ve spent so much time next to, and on top of me lately. At times it has felt like you’re trying to climb back inside me to that safe and certain place, but I just need some room to breathe. I’m sorry I’m not the mother you need right now. I wish I was the mother who can find all the pleasure in her children’s presence but I’m suffocating here. I know that in a few short hours you will rouse me from my bed and I will come, dutifully, to soothe your cries until you fall back into sleep, sweet sleep. Right now though, this is my time. This is when I get to pause, reflect, off load and reboot so that I can at least try to be the mother that you need me to be. I need to breathe. Just go the fuck to sleep…please.
An hour has passed and you’re still rocking and rolling, blowing raspberries and na-na-na-ing. Ma-ma you venture, looking me straight in the eye, and then dive to the side, pressing your face into your mattress, overcome with the knowledge of who I am to you. For a moment I feel an ache in my heart because I know what you want and I don’t have it to give. But with a deep breath I tell myself that it’s only one night, that this too shall pass. I pick you up and I carry you, heavy on my shoulder, to my bed.
You’re delirious. You’re desperate for sleep to pull you deep into its arms but every time your eyelids grow heavy and your breathing slows who knows what jolts you upright. You dive for the light, the pillow, the bedside lamp, babbling and pointing incessantly like someone has hold of your strings and is gripping too tight. Little fingers, sharp nails, find their way into my eyes and nose, weave their way through my hair, then pull. I’m sorry I get cross, but it hurts. You thrust your hand into my mouth and cackle with glee. I just want to cry.
I’m not worried, exactly. I know there is nothing “wrong”. This is just something you need to do to be able to do your next thing, make your next leap. But I’m so tired.
You lurch around the bed, a tiny tormented soul, and I worry you will fall. The darkness pulls at me, edges me towards that sweet state of unconciousness that I so desire, but I can’t leave – you are too young, too innocent to be left in this world alone.
You start to cry so again I pick you up and hold you close. Your face falls down around its centre and you push me away. You lie face down and sob into the bed – you are so tired. Again I pick you up and this time your eyes meet mine and, crying so hard you can’t breathe, you wordlessly plead with me to help you reach sleep. I rock you gently from side to side and your breathing slowly steadies. Your brow is still furrowed but smoothes as I watch you drift into the soft innocence that tells me you are asleep. Finally.
Confused, I stroke my eyes over your face – what was all of that? Please tell me this is not what I am to expect every night, every day? I won’t cope. Then I recall the news today. I pause. And I hope I get the chance to expect this every night, every day, always.