Monday, 7 October 2013

Foreign countries

So. I haven't been around here much lately. I haven't been around anywhere much lately, to be honest. Let's not mince about - it's been pretty grim. Hellish, at times, even. At least if hell is a frantically teething baby who refuses to sleep, then erupts into inconsolable wailing if he gets too tired. Because why didn't you make me sleep earlier, woman? Whhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyy??? Now I can't even breathe because of you. I haaaaaaattttteee yooooou. Etc etc. Repeat. And die.

Yes, yes, I know. It's not the apocalypse. It's not death, disease, or famine. It's just a lack of sleep. From the outside, I'm quite aware that I look like a miserable, self-obsessed, moany, lazy, boring boring boring cow. But from the inside, tiredness like this is just torture. It just keeps chipping away at you, day after day. After a couple of nights, all you can think about is sleep. How little you've had, how tired you are, how and when you're going to get some. You start fantasizing about the future, when your children have grown up and left home, and you're free to just sleep all day long, and do nothing else. It takes away your sense of humour, your sense of perspective, your personality. And your writing ability, if this post so far is anything to go by. I started feeling resentful of anyone else who got to sleep more than me, which was basically the rest of the world, as far as I was concerned.

And, my lord, it makes you boring. All I can talk about is sleep, and how tired I am. I'm sure everyone who has had the misfortune of encountering me in the last couple of months has been ready to bite down on the cyanide pill after two minutes in my dismal presence. I know how awful I am to be around, but I just can't help it. When I'm this tired, and there's no prospect of getting more sleep any time soon, everything feels grey. It's like I have a bag tied over my head, which makes witty conversation rather difficult. Basically, it just makes me so very, very sad. And everything makes it worse. Knowing I'm being boring makes me sad. Seeing what a disgusting state the house is in makes me sad. Seeing what a disgusting state I'm in. I start to think that nobody really likes me, that I don't really have any friends, that I'm useless, ugly, a bad mother.

Unsurprisingly, I've started to wonder whether I actually have postnatal depression, rather than just being terminally knackered. I mean, it's not normal to feel like this. All mums are tired, but they don't go around weeping because the living room floor needs vaccing, and they don't have the energy to do it. But then I get a couple of hours sleep in a row, and feel all sunshine and light and yay! Let's do some washing and dance around the house with Flumpy, singing show tunes and farting glitter. And I don't think PND works like that.

But it gets wearing, scraping a couple of hours sleep a night, then being shouted and screamed at all day by someone you don't understand, who doesn't understand you. You think they hate you. You start to think you might hate them. Then you hate yourself for even thinking that. And you know that most of the shouting and screaming is because this other person is tired and needs to sleep, but just try explaining that in baby language. Because one thing tired babies are incapable of doing is going to sleep (one of many serious design flaws in my opinion. Along with teeth that have to slowly and torturously make their way through delicate gums. Give them teeth at birth, for godsake. I'll take savaged nipples over months of pain ravaged baby any time). You simply cannot force the little buggers to go to sleep, much as you may be tempted into a little light smothering into mild unconsciousness. (Joke! JOKE! Please don't call Childline, anyone. Motherline, possibly, should such a thing have come into existence).

I've said before (over and over again, to boringness and back, I'm sure, but bear with me, I'm tired, and originality was one of the first things to go to the wall after the revolution) that having a small baby is like being in a foreign country where you don't speak the language.

Lumpy, at three and a quarter, is a bit like America. He does some odd things I don't really understand (like maple syrup with bacon. Whaaaaat? That's America, not him, by the way, though he probably would, given the chance), but we ultimately speak the same language. Flumpy is an undiscovered Peruvian rainforest tribe. I'm trying to make friendly contact and offer some shiny beads, but he mainly wants to stab me through the head with his spear. And who can blame him?

But we're getting there. Slowly, I'm learning the key phrases. Realizing that beads, however shiny, are a bit patronizing.

And I love him, despite the spear. Good lord, I do. The other day, at nearly midnight, I'd just fed him. At 8pm he'd screamed so much, refusing the bottle of expressed milk he normally happily falls asleep slipping down. I thought he had to scream himself asleep, eventually, so exhausting it had to be, being that angry. Like crying it out, I suppose, except cradled desperately, lovingly, in the arms of his grandma, father, then mother, as he was. Eventually he did lapse into unconsciousness, but only after the boob had been liberally applied, the evil bottle cast aside.

But midnight was different. Calm and sleepy, sniffly and sweet. Stirring just enough to justify getting him out of the cot and into my arms, to get this first night feed out of the way in hope of a couple of hours sleep as recompense, rather than a half hour doze broken by outraged screaming. And he was lovely. Heavy with sleep, sucking quietly and rhythmically. Utterly relaxed, surrendered to it all, his arms not flailing and fighting as normal. Afterwards I held him on my shoulder, tiny yet solid, huffing hot little breaths into my hair, cheek to cheek. And I loved him more than anything. More than sleep, more than time, more than freedom and youth and all the things I've cried the loss of over the last couple of months, made crazy by exhaustion and guilt and failure.

You're a foreign country, my darling boy. An exotic tribe. But one day we'll both be fluent.

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