My wife and I are like ships in the night –weary ships, that need a long spell in dry dock for repairs. We are incessantly commanded on strange, but urgent, midnight missions by capricious miniature admirals: babies, small children and viruses. From the deepest dream, each night I might awaken to find the bedroom door ajar and a distraught seven-year-old standing there with an earache, or a four-year-old who has wet the bed or a nine-year-old with a sore throat. And that is just my department.
My wife has a sole admiral, but a far more demanding one. Hers is a six-month-old baby girl, who is the sweetest thing in the world, but who wakes six times a night for a feed and comfort.
During the day, I am busy with work while my wife is preoccupied with the baby, housework, and preparing for her approaching return to work, which involves filling out all sorts of forms and things.
Evenings are the busiest time of all: the evening meal has to be prepared, tidied up after, homework done, bedtime stories read, schoolyard disputes must be debriefed, school lunches prepared and more housework attended to.
The 24-hour demands of childrearing are remarkable. If we are fortunate, we get to pass a sentence or two to each other in the evening before being interrupted by the baby’s cries on the monitor, summoning my wife; or perhaps one of the older kids can’t sleep, or one or both of us collapses asleep, having been up much of the previous night.
The ensuing blur is nothing new. I vaguely recall having been through all this before. It’s what happens when you have a new baby, other small children and demanding work commitments.
I’m used to carrying on reasonably effectively in the face of such fatigue and busyness. I know it will all steadily, if sporadically, improve and that perhaps next summer a slightly more sane lifestyle will again begin to prevail. The one aspect of the new-baby chaos that bothers me most is not having time with my wife. Arranging who is going to pick who up after football or cubs doesn’t count. I mean some time for conversation. It is the strangest thing to have spent almost every waking moment (and there are many) in another person’s company, yet to find yourself missing them.
We’ve found a solution: Every Monday, when the three older admirals are in school, we put ourselves out of signaling range by putting the littlest admiral in childcare for an hour, while the others are in school. Gloriously cut off from all orders, we then alter course and meet for lunch in a local cafe. This is a precious hour for the two of us. Soup and sandwiches by the fire, without indigestion. Whole minutes of completely uninterrupted conversation. It is an oasis in the week.
Inevitably, though, even then talk turns to the kids and, somehow, by the time we leave we are missing them again. It is strange, how thousands of sleepless nights, lifelong commitment, worry and all the rest of it amounts to the most beautiful and worthwhile experience of your life. But it does.
Each month, the baby’s sleep will get incrementally better. The older kids can settle themselves more and more now, and need us a little less each year. Perhaps by 2029 I will turn in at night, in the legitimate expectation of sleeping undisturbed through the night; contentedly, like I once did. For now, though, a night’s sleep is a distant dream.