Being a parent in the early years is a little like being at sea. There are times when the waters are calm, and the sun is beaming blissfully overhead – this is typically when your kids are sleeping well, eating, are happy and healthy. Then there are times when a storm is raging; choppy waters engulf your boat, tossing you from side to side, you can’t see land, you don’t know what day of the week it is or when it will end. This could be when you haven’t had more than a block of two hours’ sleep in weeks. When you literally haven’t had a moment’s peace (morning, noon or night) to yourself just to gather your thoughts or simply just to be still and rest your brain and body. In these circumstances, the only option we have is to enter survival mode. To throw on a life jacket, hold on tight and ride out the storm, safe in the knowledge that there will eventually be a break in the clouds and the sun will warm your face once more.
But when you’re in the eye of a storm, it’s easy to forget that. Maybe it’s when your little one is yet again screaming for you (and only you) in the small hours and your exhausted mind and body is screaming out to simply be allowed to rest. When you’re wondering how you’re going to function as an actual human tomorrow when you must be professional, capable and creative in your day job.
“If there’s any truth to the claim that being tired is similar to being drunk, then I’m currently a raging (but mostly functioning) alcoholic…”
This has been my life for the past two weeks. What terrible affliction has befallen our household to disrupt our lives so severely, I hear you ask? Well it’s…a common cold. Yep, my twin boys caught my cold and our lives have been thrown into disarray ever since. Sounds unnecessarily dramatic, doesn’t it? But what if I told you I haven’t had more than an hour and a half’s sleep at a time in about two weeks? What if I told you that, on top of that, 4am has now become an acceptable time for my youngest little boy to wake up for the day? What if I told you I was so groggy when I turned up for work that I broke my coat*, dropped my laptop and tipped coffee all over myself in the first twenty minutes? (*The broken coat incident is probably worthy of a little further explanation, just for context. The zip on my coat had become very firmly stuck and my colleagues helpfully tried to get me out of said coat – a pretty snug padded jacket – but the zip was going nowhere. At one point, my boss was trying to pull the zip down when I told him – rather loudly in a subdued, early morning office – to ‘just pull it off!’ As a small crowd gathered to watch the crazy zip lady, I realised it was going nowhere and made the wise decision to save myself further indignity by retiring, alone, to the ladies’ toilet, where after unsuccessfully trying to wriggle out of it, ripped my coat open Hulk-stylee to release myself from the puffer prison.) The look I’m going for on any given day in the office is along the lines of ‘professional, multi-tasker’ mum. Safe to say this wasn’t achieved, more like ‘frazzled nut job’ mum. If there’s any truth to the claim that being tired is similar to being drunk, then I’m currently a raging (but mostly functioning) alcoholic.
“when you’re in the eye of a storm, even the toughest times give way to the most beautiful and unexpected moments…”
Sleep deprivation is a special kind of torture, and I’m no stranger to it. My youngest boy still wakes up every night at least once or twice, and he’s nearly three. Taking all three kids into account, that’s nearly seven years of lost sleep. I figure it’s a natural part of having kids and it won’t last forever, so I muddle through and I’ve generally adjusted to functioning on less sleep than I need. It’s those nights when they’re up six times, won’t settle and you can’t rest for longer than an hour or so that hit you like a sledgehammer. During these testing times, all you see are the long hours that lay ahead simply trying to survive each day and night. But one thing pulls us through; as impossible and utterly exhausting as those hours are, they pale in comparison to how sweet and satisfying those moments of sunshine are. And when you’re in the eye of a storm, even the toughest times give way to the most beautiful and unexpected moments. Like when your poorly child – who has set up camp on your lap meaning you can’t – eat/drink/reply to that text/got to the toilet/tidy the house – nuzzles into your chest for comfort and tells you softly that you’re his best friend. When the Calpol kicks in for long enough for your little ones to cuddle up together to giggle and read a nature book when they don’t know anyone is watching. Like realising, after your youngest has had another screaming fit because they don’t want anyone but you, that you’re the only thing in the world right now that can make them feel better. Although often utterly overwhelming in the moment, it’s a pretty special thing, to be the single only remedy to your child’s pain or discomfort. Because, when you have kids, even the toughest times give way to moments of pure joy. And that’s what gets us through this, day after day, cold after cold; it’s those sweet moments that make those testing, impossible days and nights bearable.
Because, whether you’re close to tears after your 15th hour straight of constant demands from your little people and nearing physical exhaustion, or whether you’re enduring the indignity of becoming the lady who got stuck in her coat due to simply trying to do everything at 100 miles per hour, the important thing to remember is we’re doing our best in impossible circumstances. And also that following every storm is a period of calm – and boy am I going to savour every moment when our calm arrives.