I stared out the window as the sublime blue-grey of a summer’s dawn broke. The dawn chorus slowly erupted, to distract somewhat from the interminable chorus of ‘banana, banana’ from an annoying character that featured in the cartoon which was playing on my phone. In these past weeks, our two-year-old has apparently given up sleeping almost completely. She is apparently never tired, night or day, and gets by happily on a couple of hours nap here and there.
On this particular night, she woke at 1am for the day. Initially, my wife dealt with the situation. From the contented depths of my slumber, I was vaguely aware of a child screaming sporadically and demanding things. My poor wife, already exhausted and with work early in the morning, handed her over to me at 2am. I blearily stumbled into the little one’s room and was greeted cheerfully by a two-year-old saying: “Hi daddy, I want breakfast, I want downstairs.”
I quietly explained that it was the middle of the night and that everyone was asleep. Lying together in the darkness, we went through the list of everyone who was asleep: granddad, the birds, her brother, her sisters and the trees. After we had listed everything in the world that was asleep, she quite correctly observed: “I not asleep, I awake.” She went on to further observe, also with complete accuracy: “Daddy not asleep, daddy awake.”
My wife and I moved through the morning, like deeply sedated zombies, working on autopilot”
Further nursery rhymes failed to produce results and her demands for breakfast increased in their vigour, so around 3am, I cracked and brought her downstairs to see if some food might settle her.
Trying not to wake the dog, I gave her some bread as she played merrily with blocks, and began building towers. I stared at the wall, the clock and my phone, as she cheerfully went about her business, repeatedly inviting me to admire her handiwork. “Daddy, look,” she said pointing to each new creation, “that’s amazing.”
As time wore on, the fatigue became painfully intense and, as she showed no signs of sleepiness by 4am, a glass of medicinal whiskey was required.
The ordinary rules about screen time went out the window, just as first light came in it. I streamed her favourite cartoons on my phone and cuddled her, hoping this might settle her a little. The cartoons went on and on, interminably irritating, until around 5am when an amazing thing happened – she yawned. A while later, I took her up to my wife, who at least by now had slept some few hours. I handed her over and, after a little milk, she drifted off…until 7.30am that is, when she cheerfully woke and got up again, ready to start a new day.
My wife and I moved through the morning, like deeply sedated zombies, working on autopilot, somehow getting the kids ready for summer camp, and ourselves ready for work, wondering just how much more of this we can take.
None of our four kids have slept, and this year we are staring blearily at an unwelcome anniversary: 11 years of almost continual sleep deprivation. It’s a small price to pay for the joy those 11 years have brought, but it’s no fun at all and it wears you down in body and mind. Perhaps someday, mysteriously, our smaller children will eventually become like the rest of the creatures of the world, all of which require sleep.
We can only live and hope.