“I really love YOU, Pipsqueak!”

I’m celebrating: it looks as though The Boy is finally acknowledging his little sister as a possible comrade as opposed to just a nuisance and a competitor. It only took 8 months! And this change in outlook is making my life so much easier.

When I was young (and that there is a loaded phrase as the big 40 looms ever closer!) I had an idyllic picture of my perfect family unit and lifestyle: soul mate husband, two children (older boy, younger girl), all blissfully happy in our seaside home, fulfilled in our stress-free jobs and with no money worries. If this was written as a check list, I’d be doing pretty well ticking them off. The seaside home (with a huge family kitchen where we would spend most of our time) remains a pipe dream. But our jobs are fulfilling (albeit stressful a lot of the time) and with my hubby and children I have hit the jackpot!

The Boy
The Boy, 2012
Pipsqueak
Pipsqueak, 2014

In my daydreams, brother and sister would get along together really well and growing up would become close, with big brother looking out for little sister as per the stereotype.

The Boy has always had a very caring side to his character. For example, he adores his cat and loves to look after him, stroking him, playing with him and putting his dinner out. He was interested in my bump during my pregnancy and enjoyed reading the books preparing him for the big change. He would proudly tell anyone who showed interest that he was going to be a big brother and that in Mummy’s tummy was his baby sister.

My own mum tells me that when my brother was born when I was 2½, I immediately adored him and wanted to ‘help’ or cuddle him all the time. When this wasn’t possible, I would feed my baby doll milk as mum fed him and so on. So I assumed that, particularly if encouraged to do so, The Boy would act in a similar way, thus proving that gender-based stereotypical behaviour is largely a product of society’s expectations. I also anticipated that he would constantly want to hug and kiss her, just as he does with us.

Neither of these things happened.

I do have adorable footage of The Boy on our doorstep grinning from ear to ear when he was dropped back home by Grandma as soon as we returned from hospital. “My baby sister!” he replied excitedly when I asked who was in the living room. He even bent down to kiss her. I wish now that I’d had my ‘proper’ camera in hand as it was over so fast, and such shows of affection were going to be few and far between in the ensuing months!

The Kiss
The Kiss
Welcome home Pipsqueak!
Welcome home Pipsqueak!

Up until the last few weeks, The Boy’s usual form has been to ignore Pipsqueak most of the time and chatter away non-stop to ensure that our attention remains on him. When attention is on Pipsqueak, he has NOT been happy, making life as a mum of two particularly ‘challenging’. Instead of terms of endearment, phrases most often uttered by The Boy in the first few months included:

“GO AWAY, Pipsqueak!”
This being the stock response whenever I brought her into what he perceived to be his personal space!

“No, no, no! Pipsqueak CAN’T come in my bedloom [bedroom].”
Which was always particularly helpful when trying to read him the obligatory bedtime stories, hubby was caught in traffic and Pipsqueak was screaming for milk (this happened often).

“Pipsqueak can’t sleep on MY bed!”
…As I put her down temporarily in order to give him his ‘stand up hug and light out’ before sleep. (Repeat twice daily as this also occurred at nap time).

“Stop crying Pipsqueak. Stop CRYING Pipsqueak. STOP CRYING PIPSQUEAK AAAARGH!!!”
My sentiments exactly, particularly when her hysterical screaming happened to (often) take place in the confinements of the car; but of course not a particularly helpful demand – certainly not one likely to achieve the desired response from a distraught newborn.

“DON’T do that, Pipsqueak!”
Just as The Boy likes to tell us what we can and can’t do (hence the name of my blog), poor Pipsqueak has been dictated to since she first arrived home. Sometimes all it takes is for her to simply look at him!

“That’s MY toy!”
In more recent months, as Pipsqueak has been reaching for things and actively playing more, this has been an all-too-familiar cry. Bless her, I certainly don’t dare to put any of The Boy’s current toys within her reach; it’s bad enough trying to get him to share during play dates with his best buddies. But we have ‘recycled’ his baby toys which I thought he might have forgotten (since they’ve been up in the loft for at least a year). Of course he hasn’t forgotten them. To be fair though, even Pipsqueak’s new toys are snatched away and claimed as his, especially if it looks like she’s really enjoying playing with them.

Improvements Ahoy
The good news is that now, between continuing declarations such as the above, there are some truly lovely ‘moments’ between them.

“I love YOU, Pipsqueak.”

I am still waiting for the elusive photograph of The Boy actually holding or cuddling Pipsqueak (you know, like the ones most folk seem to post on social media within days of the birth of a new sibling; or like the picture-perfect poses of Prince George and Princess Charlotte released to the press a couple of weeks ago). But he now likes to teach Pipsqueak how to use certain toys; enjoys sharing bath time with her and playing peekaboo over the side after she gets out; likes her eating with us; sings to her when she’s overtired; tries to make her laugh when she gets cross; kisses her goodnight most nights and even (the holy grail) lets her sit on his bed for stories occasionally.

And I now have this lovely collection of sibling photos to look at when times are tough!  They were a long time coming but definitely worth the wait.

“This is how you play dominoes…”
“You just press the button like this, Pipsqueak.”
“Look at the baby owl from inside its Mummy’s tummy!”
“I’ll show you, Pipsqueak.”
Teaching toothbrushing
A bit of bedtime bonding
Siblings!
Siblings!

Long may the good times continue!

Advertisements

“No no no, not OUTSIDE.”

My moment of calm.

We made it. We are at Sherwood Forest Centre Parcs, on the first leg of our two week family holiday.

image

image

The supposed 3.5 hour journey up here yesterday was ‘eventful’: Myself and The Boy suffering from motion sickness in our new car in the slow-moving traffic; Pipsqueak struggling to nap as the sun managed to work its way around the edges of the sunshade and directly into her eyes; a wee-wee accident from the boy that soaked through his jeans and the seat mat into his carseat; then a standstill traffic jam just as we were needing to stop for lunch.

But get here we did. And so far, so good.

Pipsqueak went down easily for her morning nap (it’s a miracle!) and I am currently sitting outside on our woodland patio in the actual sunshine. The trees are swaying in the breeze, the leaves rustling and the birds tweeting happily. From time to time, our resident ducks waddle up to say hello, a squirrel hurries busily past or an enormous rabbit pops out from the briars, wriggling its nose and chewing on something tasty.

image

image

For the first time in a long time, I am feeling relaxed and serenely happy.

I know it’ll only last for five minutes, but that’s okay. And yes, the peaceful sounds of the woodlands are punctuated by the cries of a distant baby and the yells of a toddler walking by. But it is not my baby and it is not my toddler.

My toddler didn’t want to go outside.

Yes, you read that right!  We are surrounded by a beautiful forest, it is not raining, there are animals all around, crunchy leaves to kick, pinecones to collect, minibeasts to spot, logs to climb upon and mossy hills to run down. And The Boy wants to sit in his “new bedloom” (bedroom) and watch Milkshake on TV.

Nothing would persuade him to come and explore with Mummy, so when the protest screams threatened to wake Pipsqueak, we gave up. Because we know from experience that he’ll change his mind later (the TV and the double bed in his room are too much of a novelty to abandon quite yet). And because this is a holiday and my mantra for it is ‘no worries’.

And I am enjoying my moment of calm.

Note

As I finished typing this, The Boy emerged through the sliding doors. We went for my desired woodland wander. He collected pinecone “treasure” and we discovered a wildlife lookout on the edge of a lake where we watched squirrels and birdlife and The Boy entertained himself opening and closing the door of his “secret den”.

image

image

image

image

image

Pipsqueak is still sleeping! Life is good.

The Black Hole of Sleep Deprivation

When I started this blog just a couple of months ago, I vowed to keep it light-hearted and ‘on-subject’, focussing on my boy’s fascinating chatter in an effort to provide a bit of escapism from the very subject of this post.  But I’m feeling the need to vent, so here goes…

I’m in the midst of another bad run of nights with Pipsqueak who is now almost 7 months. To be honest, the ‘good runs’ have been few and far between. There have been two. Both blocks of about a week long where she has only woken twice for food, has settled straight back to sleep and so have I.

There has always been something getting in the way of this holy grail of ‘normal’ wake-ups. For the first few weeks it was reflux-associated unsettledness in the small hours. From the 1 or 2am feed onwards she just couldn’t relax enough to go back to sleep, except when upright on me. I coped with this by going to bed early and, once she accepted a bottle, hubby did the first feed with expressed milk, giving me a lovely 4 hour stretch of sleep. Those were the good old days!

Then (just as the self-preserving sleep-inducing postpartum hormones wore off) the Wonder Weeks and growth spurts came thick and fast. Alongside these, daytime napping became problematic and impacted on night-time sleep.

Next, the sudden refusal to feed to sleep and inability to self-settle or easily be rocked or cuddled to sleep. Tears all round.

Then the development of a location-specific daytime feeding aversion (only feeding in dim silence in the nursery, never out and about and not even downstairs on the sofa), leading to reverse-cycling and more frequent waking on the days when we have actually gone out and had a life.

And finally, more recently, having cracked the self-settling, the poor girl’s physical development is playing havoc with her sleep and she is spending hours at night practising her rolling and spinning manoeuvres and doing stomach-strengthening leg raises involving noisy crash-downs against the cot bars.

Each of these can be dismissed as ‘just a phase’ (except for the feeding aversion, it seems), but boy are these phases relentless.

Who me?  Causing sleep problems?
Who me? Causing sleep problems?

People see me and comment on how well I am looking. ‘How’s she sleeping?’ they ask, perhaps expecting a breezy ‘Oh good, thanks, she’s sleeping through now.’ I smile a wry smile in return and reply ‘Hmm not so great, I’m still up a lot in the night,’ then change the subject swiftly before I crack.

Because, behind the fixed smile and mask of makeup, I am always on the verge of cracking. And by that I mean falling into the black hole whereby I break down and sob in despair because I feel so rotten and am finding it such an effort to function and it is just not fair.

Unless you have been here, ‘being sleep deprived’ is hard to understand. And of course there are varying levels of deprivation. Two relatively short wake-ups might sound like heaven to me right now, but is some new mothers’ idea of hell. And their struggle is real too. And they might feel truly exhausted.

I am the first to admit that I can cope fairly well on less sleep than many. I’ve had to, as I was a seasoned insomniac well before I had children. I am the type of person who just pushes on through.

My vocation as a primary school teacher has been the root cause of much of my insomnia (I find it very difficult to switch off) yet I have been known to teach fantastic lessons on less than 5 hours sleep.

I am not looking for violins or applause here. But I do want others who are in the same boat as me to know that they are not alone. And I want to raise awareness to others of what it is like to live with severe sleep deprivation. So here’s a bit of an insight:

My eye sockets ache.

My headache is constant. Drinking water doesn’t ease it. The painkillers are reached for more often than I am comfortable with.

I feel nauseous.  Sometimes this leads me to eating a lot of the wrong types of food (chocolate, biscuits, endless slices of toast..anything for a quick pick-me-up).  Other times, like now, I have to force myself to eat anything.

My bones ache. As though I have the ‘flu.

I have a mouth full of ulcers.

I feel dizzy.

I feel weak.

I have hot flushes.

My vision is often affected.  Stationary objects appear to flicker and move, as though I am drunk.

I am clumsy, have a lot of accidents and injure myself daily (usually stubbing my toes, bashing into furniture edges, banging my head on open cupboards or under the stairs, scalding and burning myself). At work, I was renowned for being accident prone. 90% of it was down to insomnia.

My tolerance levels are down. This is something that I work really hard to minimise as it’s not a good headspace to be in with a toddler and baby. I practice deep breathing and make myself count before reacting. Sometimes I leave the room to calm myself. But I do find myself muttering my favourite sweary phrase (FFS) too many times a day. And I do snap at my poor long-suffering hubby at least once a night.

I cry a fair amount. Usually of an evening (poor hubby) as I clock off from mummy duties for a precious couple of hours. Sometimes during the day, I have to leave the children and pop upstairs for a wee and a weep, just to get it out of my system.

I can’t think straight. Thoughts whirl around in my head and I often can’t ‘catch’, them in order to process them.

Decision-making is difficult. Whether to stay in or go to toddler group; whether to return to work when intended or stay on maternity leave for longer; what to pack for our holiday.

I doubt myself constantly. Is Pipsqueak over-tired or just over-excited? Am I being a good friend or do I moan too much? Is The Boy’s behaviour challenging sometimes because of the way I am interacting with him? All normal questions for parents, but I am usually pretty self-confident and I know the lack of sleep is undermining this.

I talk gibberish. I stumble over words, repeat myself unintentionally, contradict myself.

I loose things constantly. The fridge is the first place to look now.

My mind plays tricks on me. Especially at night when I think half the time I imagine The Boy calling out to me or Pipsqueak crying.

I have horrid, realistic dreams. The night before last, when Mr Don’t Say was up and down all night with food poisoning, I had a snatch of 20 minutes sleep and I dreamt that both the children were vomiting fountains and they weren’t close enough for me to hold a bowl under each of them and I ended up slipping in a sea of it. I woke with a jolt. Last night, when Pipsqueak’s cot antics were particularly extreme, I dreamt that she had pulled herself up to sitting and managed flip herself out of the cot onto the wooden floor. I heard the thud and walked in to find her motionless, face down. It was so realistic.

I can’t lead the life I want to. As the time suffering from sleep deprivation increases and the associated insomnia worsens, I am more inclined to take the easy option and stay in and play rather than have play dates or go out. And I am by nature a sociable person who likes to be busy.  Some days it is simply not safe to drive. I desperately want to start exercising again but there is no way I can physically do more than short walks from A to B. I want to cook (hubby has been an absolute saviour on that front), get involved in early evening gardening during the summer, and go out on nights out with the girls. But I am too exhausted.

"What are we doing TODAY, Mummy?"
“What are we doing TODAY, Mummy?”

And, most depressing of all:

I can’t sleep.

Yes you read that right. Even if I didn’t have a toddler to look after, I wouldn’t be able to take that well-meaning advice of sleeping when the baby sleeps. I did in the first couple of weeks when hubby was home and the sleep deprivation was within the bounds of normal. And it really helped.

When I do sacrifice the couple of early evening child-free hours (when I can enjoy some uninterrupted adult conversation, vegetative TV viewing or the opportunity to get some studying or blogging done) and have an early night, I lie awake.

Between night feeds, I toss and turn and wish for the much-needed sleep to consume me. If I’m lucky I drift off for half an hour or so, only to be woken by the sound of the cat coming through the cat flap downstairs or Pipsqueak coughing or hubby snoring or the shift-working neighbour’s car starting or another neighbour’s child crying out from night terrors or the birds singing (one of my favourite sounds but now with such a depressing association). Frustratingly, have always been a light sleeper too.

As those birds start singing and it starts getting lighter just before 5am I shed silent tears in the knowledge that my night is done and I can once again count on one hand (and all too often just two or three fingers) the total amount of sleep accumulated.  It sounds so melodramatic and I don’t want it to read that way.  It’s just what happens.

As dire and difficult as it is pulling energy from somewhere every day to cope being a mum and a wife and a friend, I know that I am lucky compared to many. I am hopeful that, as Pipsqeak matures and with recent changes in my life hopefully meaning that work stress-related insomnia will be reduced, there should be an end in sight for me. Others (those suffering from chronic pain for example) are not so fortunate. And they are so strong and they deserve so much respect for coping.

So next time you ask someone who is struggling with insomnia or other sleep-related issues how they are, just take their reply with a pinch of salt. They will probably play down the reality of it. But they do deserve a high-five for just getting through another day.

End note
Excuse the soppiness, but I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to my mum, who is so kind and selfless.  She has continued to look after The Boy two days a week throughout my maternity leave and in doing so has saved my sanity, literally. Mum, you are amazing and I don’t know what I’d do without you.  Also my hubby who has been keeping my spirits up and doing all the stuff I’m too exhausted to do.  And my friends – thank you for being great listeners and for your offers of help.  You are all lovely. xxx