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London - Mabel, aged 18 months, has stopped sleeping. She doesn’t “choose it’”as my six-year-old observed wisely. Instead the baby who once went through the night from 7pm to 7am without a peep now chooses to get up two or three times in the early hours.
She noisily demands that her people release her from the constraints of her boring cot.
And when we don’t (because we’re not new to this parenting malarkey, Mabel), all hell breaks loose.
Soft toys are launched like missiles with extraordinary accuracy. Teeth marks are made deep into the wooden cot bed, there’s growling, and when the noise has died down she brings out the big guns: projectile vomiting.
We are weak in the face of her stubborn Baby Number Four confidence. She looks at us as if we are fools: “What, you didn’t get my memo about this change of plan?
“Dear Subjects, as you know I’m a Princess, I mean toddler, with an energetic to-do list and as such I believe nocturnal naps are the way forward. If you snooze, you lose.”
Obviously, we’ve tried controlled crying but her siblings are sick of telling me to control myself at 2am as they listen to me sobbing with exhaustion on the stairs.
The toddler isn’t called “the Mabelenator” at the local library for nothing.
Just so you know, my other children never slept as babies. We had almost a decade of unpredictable, broken nights before Mabel came along and delighted us with her 12-hour “baby does bedtime” routine.
We were so ecstatic we almost had billboards made: “Our baby sleeps through the night. Hallelujah!” (We would have added “we don’t know why, though” in small print).
We’ve been tired for ever. I’m used to the days when you’re so woozy with sleep deprivation it feels like you’re swaying on a boat, when you hit such a low at 3pm you consume your third lunch for more energy, when you can’t watch TV adverts for beds or bedding without desperate longing.
I’ve been so physically tired for so long it’s been years since I’ve been qualified to operate heavy machinery. But we had a golden year with Mabel (and the others were big enough not to wake us when they woke).
Now the reset button has been pressed and we’re back to the days when, in the chaos of tea time, I forget my surname and mutter: “Didn’t I feed you yesterday?”.
A friend whose first child has just turned one asked me this weekend if there was a sleep secret.
“You must know,” she pleaded, her eyes red-rimmed and her jumper on backwards.
I know this one thing I tell her: you have to give up hope of sleep. Wave it goodbye, put it in a bottle and send it to sea never to be seen again.
It’s a dream, a fantasy that only comes true for people without children. Believe you won’t get any and when you occasionally do it’s so life-changing you’ll feel like an Olympian.
Like much of what you do as a parent, it’s about having low expectations of the end result.
And the other thing I know is: you don’t die. Which is less helpful.
In the daily experiment that is Work Versus Motherhood, Mabel’s latest challenge for us has occurred just as we are about to head into one of the busiest times of any parent’s year.
Today I am a shell of my former self. A washed-out, weary woman lacking the strength to tackle the impending season of rampant and violent consumerism.
At the first of the school carol concerts I nearly dropped off in the heat of the packed assembly hall.
Fortunately, I had Mabel on my lap yelling: “Hello Girls. Sing Now!”, every time the choir stood up.
I was so sleepy on the way home I believe the six-year-year old was in a safer state to drive us home.
And at bath time I contemplated putting them to bed fully dressed to give me a ten-minute lie-in the next day.
Obviously, Mabel will start sleeping through again, they go through phases and I know this isn’t our forever life.
But bear with me while I binge on caffeine and confuse the tags on everyone’s Christmas presents. - Daily Mail
* Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.