We strive to be a solid parental unit. It’s about teamwork. Empathy. Give and take. Dove tailing. All sorts of clichés that you can get in helpful books. But we’re not the marines, so it’s not really “one for all”. Quite often it’s a tricky calculation of one-upmanship. 4am is one of those times.
I’m awake. Quite wide awake. It’s still dark so it isn’t get up time. The house feels quiet. Why am I awake? I crane my neck to peer over Shell and squint my eyes in an attempt to give the digital clock some sharp focus, so that I can discern the time. ‘Why the fuck do we have a clock with such an annoyingly small time display. Whose idea was that?’ I think. It wasn’t my idea. It’s 4am. I rest my head on the pillow and nestle in to enjoy a couple more hours. Then I hear the splutter from next door.
‘Oh fuck. Please don’t.’ There are more splutters. Then a slight moan. Then silence. More silence. I strain my ears to listen for silence. ‘Please be going back to sleep. Please.’ I strain so hard I can hear the high pitch ring of tinnitus above the low hum of a silent house. My body is tense. I’m doing everything I can not to move. As if somehow any movement by me will disturb the baby in the room next door. The noises cease. I don’t move for a period of time. I refuse to let myself relax back in to sleep. I couldn’t take the crushing blow that is going from thinking all is calm and sleep awaits to prodding my toes around in some sort of sleep deprived Hokey-Cokey, trying to find my slippers in the dark. I don’t want to tempt fate. It’s difficult to judge time in the night but I finally feel able to relax my shoulders back into the bed. I can let myself float off.
Then a small whimper. “Oh fuck.” She isn’t going back to sleep. She might. I clutch tightly to that thought. ‘Come on girl. You can do it. It’s still night.’ When does late become early? She’s not listening to my thoughts. The whimpers slowly grow in frequency and volume. ‘Don’t wake up the boy.’ I couldn’t cope with that. I rest on my elbows for a minute. It’s a statement of intent. A few of the moans are that kind of “soothing” moan. I stay rested. It goes quite again. Yet still I lie there, ears strained, muscles clenched, eyes tightly shut, trying not to shatter the night, hoping that I can send vibes that get her back to sleep.
If I have to get out of bed I’ve got a whole load of other problems to contend with. I remain perched. In the silence I look over at the steady breathing duvet next to me, ‘How are you asleep?’ I think. ‘It always seems to be who wakes up these days. It’s not fair.’ I quickly conclude that somehow my wife is getting the better end of the deal. There is no way that I am getting enough sleep. She isn’t getting enough sleep but I’m pretty sure that I’m not even getting the sleep that I’m entitled to. I lie back down and roll onto my side. I start counting. If I get to thirty that means I can start the “getting back to sleep process.” I don’t make it to ten. It turns out this interlude was preparation for the all out assault. She is straight into full pelt crying mode and her screams are ripping the night apart. But before I react I hear a sigh next to me, a “for fuck’s sake.” And my wife is up. “You’re fucking snoring.” She says. It doesn’t mean she knows I’m awake. Turns out she was awake all along. She’s dealing with it. Get in. That is a result.
A flicker of guilt wells up inside me. ‘Shit. She has to work in the morning. I’m the home maker now. I should have sacrificed myself. But I did it yesterday, so it’s her turn. Tomorrow night she’s away with work so I’ll have to do the whole thing. I did tea. I cooked. She did the bath. Who has the right to feel aggrieved? It’s inevitable that one of us does. But shit, I’m at the football this weekend. That’s a whole day. I’ll be ropey on the Sunday. Should I have got one in the bag?’ It’s amazing how many calculations my otherwise lobotomised brain can make in this moment. But she would have been awake anyway so there is no point us both being awake, I decide. I can tell by her body language, as she throws her dressing gown on and silently stomps off, she’s annoyed with me. She must reckon I should have taken the hit for the team. Oh well. I’ll claim I was asleep all along. I pull the duvet up to my chin and return to sleep. It says 4:10am on the digital clock.
It’s 5.50am. A shout echoes through the house. “Mummy I want my milk. Mummy I WANT MY MILK.” “Your turn”, my wife says. He’s definitely not going back to sleep. ‘She knew this would happen.’ She wasn’t taking one for the team, she was outsmarting me. She curls up in the warm bed. The time starts with a 5. That’s no time to start your day. ‘It’s so unfair.’ I think.