Child 2 is in my bed. My Facebook friends will know this isn’t unusual; she has never been the kind of child who likes her own bed much. Before she was born, I heard people say things like that and heartily disapproved. You should be tougher, I would think with the evangelical zeal of a non parent who goes to bed, gets eight hours sleep a night, and wakes up again because they simply aren’t tired any more. Of course if you LET your child sleep in your bed, they’ll sleep there. Give any small child the choice of sleeping in their own bed or sleeping all cuddled up to Mummy, and what do you think will happen? This is particularly true of child 2, who’s been a mummy’s girl since the day she was born, and has no truck with any of the tired and tested return to bed techniques. I’ve tried them all. Putting her back in her own bed a hundred times at 3am nearly broke us both. Bribery: there was nothing in the world she wanted as much as Mummy. Believe me, I would have given her anything, Blackmail: she persisted even after the removal of every single soft toy she owned. (I probably should have thought this through more) And so we continued, child 2 and I, in exactly the kind of parenting vicious circle that the pre-parent me would have judged roundly. and even the current, exhausted, slightly stressed, working mother me felt rather uncomfortable with. I’m not the earth mother type after all. I did Gina Ford! Not only that, I loved Gina Ford!
About a month ago, I simply gave up. I lost the will to be especially bothered about finding the child in the bed when I went upstairs, or the way she would creep back in a few hours later, as if I had never moved her, her foot finding mine in the darkness as if to gently remind me of her presence, but not to disturb. I grew to like the sound of her small breaths in the night air, and the way she would reach out a hand, still sound asleep, and rest it on my arm. When I wake now in the night and see her little face on the pillow, I think how only yesterday she was a tiny baby, and so in a moment she will be grown and gone.
It isn’t tiredness that has brought me to this place, romanticised though I have made it. Oh no, tiredness I can cope with. I had a baby who didn’t sleep for the first eight months unless she was in a chair that swung back and forth or a car seat, and a twelve month old who liked to get up at five am, just when I had finished the fifth feed of the night; I can do tiredness. It’s guilt. Guilt of the strongest, most unassailable kind.
All mothers feel guilt. Working mothers, stay at home mothers, single mothers, married mothers, mothers of newborns and mothers of thirty year olds. I can’t claim to be anything special or new in this regard. But for me, the guilt I feel over the pull of my job has been the most crushing. This isn’t because I don’t like my job; it’s because I do. I love my job. Its the best job in the world. It’s just one that requires an awful lot from me to do it well. So every time someone utters any kind of platitudes about how they’re only little once, or these are the best times of my life and I shouldn’t miss any of it, I feel a shiver of horror. Because I am missing it. I don’t take my children to school. I don’t pick them up. I don’t go and watch their assemblies. I never see their teachers. I haven’t picked child 2 up from Zumba once yet, even though it’s her favourite thing in the world. I’ve yet to make it to one of those open morning things where your child gets to show you their peg and their drawings on the wall and the book corner. (Do they still even have book corners?) When I get home, we never have time to play, because I have to do child 1’s exercises or reading or handwriting, while poor little child 2
sits by offering to do exercises that she doesn’t need and trying to read books that she can’t read just so i spend time with her and not her brother.
And that’s why she sleeps in my bed, and why I let her. Because in the night I can lie awake and listen to her breathe and, away from the guilt, revel in everything about her.