The closeness of a little sleep monster
London - To anyone else he looked just like a normal man in his early 30s going about his business. But I could tell something was not quite right. Too pale.
Shadowy under the eyes. A friendly smile with a giddy, manic edge. This man was a new dad - all the signs of an exhausted, slightly shocked human were there for fellow sufferers to recognise.
A sure case of ‘sleep deprifusion’ (the heady combination of sleep deprivation and confusion) if I ever I saw one.
I was at an evening ‘do’ for work when I spotted him. I sidled up close and whispered: ‘How old?’ ‘Ten weeks and 18 months,’ he said wearily, ‘I should go home really.’
I explained that I knew how he felt and I could see he wanted me to tell him that they all start sleeping through at the age of two and that he only had a few more months in the eye of the sleepless storm. But parenting is illogical, there are no failsafe rules.
How can there be when you’re dealing with something that refuses to eat peas but will happily scoff a crayon? None of it makes sense.
You just need to get used to being so tired you put the phone in the fridge, wear your clothes inside out and sometimes wave hello at inanimate objects. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all guide because everything is random.
This is due to the unpredictable nature of the particular set of genes you have combined to form a small needy being unlike any other on the planet.
Only the fourth of my children slept through the night from an early age, and I suspect that is because we were too tired out by the other three to hear her.
My son, now eight, was still waking twice a night by the time he started school. Number two slept through from six weeks - but only because her appalling colic which started around 6pm every evening wore her out.
When her colic passed she realised that six hours of shut-eye was a mug’s game and settled into a two-hourly wake-up routine.
‘You’re going to need to drink more coffee,’ I mumbled to my fellow fatiguer, ‘and train the older one to watch TV so you can at least doze on the sofa at 5am while she catches up on Octonauts.’
Sleep deprivation feels like having your head permanently under water: like lying down in the ‘lowness of the deepness’ as Mabel, nearly four, calls the shallow end of the swimming pool.
Science tells us five hours of sleep is the minimum required, but in the 12 years I have been a mom, an unbroken five hours is as rare as an uninterrupted loo-break. However, yesterday as Mabel heavily tiptoed across the landing and noisily slipped into bed with me at 4.10am I realised that my sleep deprived days were numbered. That the last baby was probably on the verge of sleeping through.
It’s possible that soon I will never again witness the pinky London sunrise set to the Peppa Pig theme tune.
And do you know what? I felt sad, as if the faint scent of empty nest syndrome was growing stronger (being over-tired makes you over-dramatic).
I realised I would miss our special alone times, the soft warm weight of her body against mine on the sofa in the silence of the house.
‘Are you grumpy or happy, Mommy?’ she will often ask as I sip the first cup of tea of the day and we share the dunking of a Rich Tea biscuit or two.
These moments in the middle of the night or the early morning really are little treasure boxes of precious emotions and memories.
I am almost beginning to regret all my moaning about the times I have been awake when most of the world has been asleep.
You’re never alone, though, in those moments - a million lights are going on and off in the darkness as an army of moms and dads draw their little sleep monsters close.
That’s the only crumb of comfort I could offer the exhausted man with ‘new dadsomnia’ as he wandered off home to his new family.
* Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.