Dear Dave

Friday 22 August 2008

Being awake enough to dream

Dear Dave,

Is Daisy still not sleeping? It's been months now and she's nearly one - haven't you tried Dr Krondheimer's Draconian Baby-Wrangling Routine? If only you organised your entire life to the second and made every day the same, she'd know it was time to nod off at exactly 9:03 every evening. Alternatively, if that doesn't work, there's always Professor Bundley's Baby Knows Best Approach, where you let Daisy find her natural rhythm. If she wants to eat, then you feed her, even if you're taking a shower. If she wants to doze, then you let her, even if she's face down in baked beans. Before you know it, she'll settle into a nice, comfortable routine of her own...


If I knew the secret of making children sleep, I'd be very rich and I'd probably look five years younger. I could make a few suggestions but, since every child is different, no technique is foolproof. With hindsight, I know how I could have handled Fraser and Marie differently and saved on a few months of sleepless nights. That would still have meant YEARS of poor sleep, though...

Good luck getting through the next little while - I know what it's like. Have you tried...? Actually, no, I'm not even going to bother. You probably have. Hang in there. Try any advice you're given if you think it will work for you but don't worry if it doesn't. And definitely don't feel guilty. Any parent who claims to have got through the early years with plenty of sleep isn't super; they're just very lucky.

It's also possible that sleep deprivation has fried their memory or made them slightly mad.

I've already forgotten the details of what the lack of sleep was like. I have various fuzzy memories of sitting up late at night with one child or another but they're beginning to merge together. What it was like attempting to function through the day while barely conscious is lost to me. All I recall is that it was simply a case of keeping on going.

That said, I did have a flash-back the other night, thanks to a very disturbing dream. I got to bed late and I was keen to get to sleep quickly to ensure I managed six hours kip before I had to be up to deal with the kids. Being stressed about not getting to sleep is never very conducive to getting to sleep, however.

I tossed and turned for half an hour. Then, as I drifted off, I entered a place between waking and sleeping which was half thought and half dream. Unfortunately, although I didn't particularly follow the dream (because I only had half of it), the main gist was that it was absolutely imperative that I stay awake. This put the dozing part of my brain directly at war with the part that was still semi-conscious. I was desperate to be both asleep and awake at the same time. It was unpleasant. Escape only came when the dream conscripted my bladder and I woke up to go to the toilet.

I'm not hoping for that dream again in a hurry but, as I went back to bed, I was still strangely thankful for having had it. One of the oddest effects of the baby-induced lack of sleep I suffered was that, as far as I was aware, I stopped dreaming. Having my sleep broken up meant it never seemed to get into a proper cycle. My body didn't have time for complete rest so it opted for deep sleep to get my physical strength back, sacrificing the kind of light sleep which brings relaxation and that processes information. I must have come quite close to going crazy.

Occasionally my brain wasn't able to cope any more and attempted to catch up all in one go. I'd spend the entire night in a restless world of aliens, secret agents and leprechauns called Phil. When I stumbled out of bed the next morning, my limbs were leaden and I couldn't speak. Like a decaffeinated zombie, I could only manage a low moan of 'Cofffffeeeeeeee...' My mind would feel miraculously lighter, though.

Dreaming also stopped in a broader sense. Life was a matter of getting through each day. The weekend was about as far as the future ever stretched. I knew where I was going (bedtime) and what was required of me (staying awake), but that was the extent of existence.

These days, I'm mostly recovered. We're all getting proper sleep and I'm getting time to myself. I'm looking forward to Marie settling back into nursery in the morning and I can even see far enough ahead to think about what will happen this time next year when she starts school. I still can't grasp the idea well enough to make any proper plans but, you know, I can dream a little...

For now, I'm merely glad the kids have finally returned to school. Hurrah! But that extra day really took it out of me. Look what Marie insisted on doing as a fun activity to while away our unforeseen time together:

A large sheet of paper covered in painted footprints.

It's good to dream but first I'm going to have a bit of a lie down. I suggest you do the same if you get the chance.

Yours in a woman's world,


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