I feel like parents definitely need a designated couple of hours each day for napping. Most days when I’m not working and O is at playgroup, I very hopefully leave the bed unmade when I get up and tell myself I’ll have a nap while F is having his post-lunch snooze. But then the guilt creeps in and Ironing Mountain starts whispering to me from the kitchen while the floors scream in protest over not having been cleaned for two days and I know that mama is not having a nap today.
Adult nap time feels like it should be just something that you do when you become a parent. I’m not talking about going to bed with your significant other and making annoyed noises at him for an hour while he pesters you for nookie, which is what the phrase “adult nap time” seems to unintentionally imply. Like it’s some kind of euphemism for something else. No. I’m talking about climbing back into bed at 10am (or, frankly, any time of the day you get chance) when your small person or people are sleeping/at playgroup, nursery or school, ignoring the house as it hollers for the attention of a duster and Mr Sheen and falling blissfully unconscious for an hour or two. That’s the stuff that dreams are made of.
I remember when I first had O everyone took great delight in telling me that I should sleep when he slept, but the thing about newborns is that they’re pretty constant when they’re awake. They need feeding or changing or soothing pretty much all the time. And as they get a little older and start to take an interest in things, they need you to help them stay interested in a toy or a picture book because that’s your job. That’s what you do. So when they’re sleeping, sometimes it’s nice to do something for yourself, like reading a book or having a bath or spending a few minutes actually putting on make-up lest you should forget how. I read a lot of books while O was tiny and I was recovering from the discomfort of child birth. It was my escape from the total head fuckery of suddenly being wholly responsible for a tiny human and not being quite sure how I was going to manage that for the next 18 years without going crazy from worry. But what I didn’t do was sleep.
You make a lot of sacrifices when you decide to become a parent. As a mother, you’ve already sacrificed your once taut abdomen, probably your breasts for a good few months of feeding your baby and the ability to sneeze without crossing your legs and hoping for the best. Sleep is just another one of those sacrifices. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a guilt-free nap every day, a Bernard’s Watch* like two hours of blissful slumber while the world around you stopped completely and actually allowed you to tend to your ever-increasing sleep deprivation.
The thing I hear more than anything else when I talk to other parents about having children is how fucking tired we all are. At O’s playgroup I have regular chats with one of the dads about sleep deprivation. A few weeks ago I was just passing him on my way out from drop-off while he was talking to one of the play workers. “You know all about being tired too, don’t you?” He said, somewhat desperately, as I stopped beside him to let another mum in with her daughter. “Eurgh, God. YES,” I replied, feeling an immediate connection to and deep sympathy for this other sleep-deprived human. It’s a kind of parental joke, isn’t it? “How are you?” “Ugh. I’m so TIRED. The baby was wide awake at half three and I haven’t slept since.” “Oh, I know. I put my pants on with my eyes closed this morning. I was THAT TIRED. They’re probably inside out. In fact, I’m not even sure that they’re my pants, to be honest with you.” But being tired really isn’t all that funny. It’s actually a scientific fact – apparently – that you will die from lack of sleep before you die from starvation, which probably goes some way to explaining why all parents at some point feel so thoroughly exhausted and utterly drained that they genuinely come to believe they might be dying of some mysterious illness. That’s not just me, is it?
In the parenting world, we can disagree with each other about a lot of things. Schedules, feeding, co-sleeping… But tiredness is a unifying thing. Because we are all blundering around in a state of almost constant weariness. There are parents out there who will wax lyrical about Cherishing Every Moment. Cleaning up a porridge-plastered toddler? Joyous. Fishing shit out of the bath with bare hands? Wondrous. Cracked, sore, BLEEDING nipples? Fabulous. But if you ask them, “But are you TIRED?” they sort of shrug and say (with a smile that looks more like a grimace), “It’s just part of being a parent, isn’t it?” Because nobody likes being tired. Nobody feels like exhaustion is joyous, wondrous or fabulous. Being tired is fucking awful. Being tired while looking after children who never seem to be tired until they’re so far beyond tired that they melt down because you put them in the wrong pyjamas at bed time is nothing short of horrific. It’s like being asleep at the wheel of a tank; bad things will happen in moments of extreme sleep-deprivation because children have an amazing ability to destroy EVERYTHING when not adequately supervised.
I feel like we talk about being tired a lot. It sort of underpins every conversation we have with other parents. But we talk about it like it’s okay and we’re okay with it, because we know that it really is just part of being a parent. I used to think I knew what tiredness was. Sometimes I would go to work after not sleeping very well, sit at my desk (because I had a desk then) and think that I was tired. I was tired. But I wasn’t TIRED. Now I can’t really imagine not being tired. I can’t imagine waking up and bouncing out of bed and thinking how awake and alert I feel.
I think it’s probably okay to wish that I could just not be tired. I can desperately daydream about having more sleep and feeling less mind-numbingly exhausted and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my children; it just means that I acknowledge how detrimental they are to my sleep and accept that I still have a lot of being tired ahead of me. Because hearing “MUUUUMMMMYYYYY!” at 6am after a particularly restless night is truly a horrible, terrible alarm clock. And, unlike an alarm clock, my children have no snooze button and no grasp of the fact that some mornings were made for staying in bed.
I think it’s time for coffee.
*Bernard’s Watch was a TV show I watched as a child about a kid called Bernard who had a magic watch that could stop time. His parents weren’t supposed to know about it, but I bet they secretly stole it sometimes and used it to have a nice, long nap.
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