The school of sleep science

We were so smug. The precious one slept through from about 5 weeks. Obviously this was due to our fantastic parenting. After nine months of sleep deprivation with the second coming, we aren’t smug anymore.

With the precious one, when he had a slight blip at around 4 months we did “controlled crying” – aka leave him to despair himself back to sleep. After three nights of lying listening to the wailing of a lonely baby the night became quiet again as he decided sleep was a better option. When friends told me about their sleep horrors I’d smile and say things like “how awful” while thinking that in part it was their own fault. I still kind of think that even though I am now one of those people that spends more time moaning about lack of sleep then I do sleeping.

Like most things in life, you aren’t in the pit of despair on day 1. You slide there slowly after night after night after night of disturbed sleep. It grinds you down to the point where your brain functions as rationally as a UKIP supporter when some foreign sounding people move in next door. Our descent became a free fall once Christmas threw everything up in the air. Throw in the never ending cold and before I knew it I was getting poked in the eye between the hours of 2 and 4 by a very awake and smiling baby. Every night.

You try things. My God you try a new thing every other day. You’d happily buy any snake oil that guarantees a good night’s rest. And some of them work. The dream feed, an extra bottle at 2am. Take them into the spare room. Put them in the buggy. But here’s the thing. They are merely methodone solutions, as each fix compounds the others to create a whole new set of problems to solve. “We’ll fix that later. We just need some sleep.” Is the usual conclusion to the tired and grumpy discussion the morning after the eventful night before.  Before you realise it your “get them back to sleep routine” takes hours to run through and weeks to unravel. She loves her 2am bottle. She loves her 2am bottle followed by cuddles. She loves her 2am bottle followed by cuddles in her room and then cuddles in the spare bed. And so on. Followed by a few hours of play. This is way more fun for her than lying alone in the dark. So her tears become for those things, rather than an existential rage against the night.

We had our justifications for plodding on through this. She was poorly, she was teething, we felt sorry for her. Most absurdly, we felt we were too tired from not sleeping properly to have a few nights of not sleeping. That pretty much sums up the frazzled mess we were in. So we resisted controlled crying, or as it’s been rebranded in a fit of PC gone mad, controlled self soothing. What the f*** is that? I can’t say to the neighbour, “Sorry her crying kept you awake for three hours in the night but she was controlled self soothing.”  We even became “those people.” You know, the people who say “we’d love to come and do that fun thing but it’ll disturb the kids routine.” I vowed never to be those people.  You become so tired your mind is on the blink. And at playgroup everyone is armed with their own hellish stories. “Oh you’re nine months of it sound terrible. I haven’t had a decent sleep in seven years.” followed by a ‘you’ve had it easy’ glare. “Cheers. Thanks. I feel much better. Yeah strong coffee please. Two sugars. And a family sized Dairy Milk.”

Finally, once everything had failed we were ready to go hardcore. We were ready to leave her to it. Some people are against controlled self soothing because of the stress it puts on the little person. Bless. Well the precious one can’t even remember that we used to live in Cameronshire, so I’m sure a couple of lonely tear filled nights won’t hamper the second coming in the long term. And so we’re doing it. We have our strategy in place – ie we both agree not to wilt under the intense teary pressure. One of us steps forward to be the “soother.” Which is really the person who pops in to her room every now and again to say “it’s alright, go back to sleep.” Before departing back to bed to listen to louder than before crying, while staring at the clock as it ticks on towards morning. No one feels overly soothed.

After two weeks she’s not totally cracked it yet, so now we spend our nights awake listening to her cry from a distance. Much better. Although now we feel we have a purpose, an aim in life. Before it was just the way it was. And on the odd night where by some fluke she sleeps through, it seems her natural wake up time is 5am – so that’s just terrific. On a good day I’ve had 6 hours sleep and am only facing fourteen hours to fill before the next bed time.

In control

Toddlers, eh. Bloody hell. So I read half a book on how to improve behaviour and our general relations. This is my review of the situation.

It’s an ordinary Thursday. The grey mizzle continues to cover Leeds and I’m still worn out from yesterday. Nothing special happened, just a series of running battles mainly focused on Peppa Pig. Today playgroup starts at 10 and so we need to mobilise quickly. He loves Playgroup as he can run around with other children and eat his own body weight in toast. “I do feed him.” I say unconvincingly as he tucks in to his fourth slice. I love Playgroup because he runs around with other children while I drink tea and watch the second coming chew her way through a stack of dirty toys and random bits of thread that she finds on the floor. We all need the release.

It is with trepidation that I approach getting him dressed. “Shall we go to playgroup?” I ask. He runs  away shouting. I take this is an affirmative. “Socks on then it’s cold outside.” He runs away. “But I only want to take you to playgroup. You want to go don’t you?” “Yes.” “Then put socks on.” “No.” “Then we can’t go.” “I want to go.” “Then put socks on.” “Can I watch Peppa Pig?” “No” Repeat until I throw the socks across the room and have to go and sit in a different room with my head in my hands.

He celebrates his victory by taunting me with plastic toys. “Shall we get ready?” I say with a trembling voice. If I don’t get out soon then we’ll have missed the window and we’ll be trapped inside. He will be bouncing off the walls like the “look at that guy” at a rave and I’ll have to entertain him. I need to keep Peppa Pig in reserve. “Fine then we won’t go. It’s you who is missing out” He gives me a look that says, ‘I think you want to go more than me.’ Finally I get him in the car without shoes or coat. “It’s cold daddy.” “I know, that’s why I was…Never mind.” He’s gutted when playgroup ends after twenty minutes. “I want more.” “I know that’s why I tried to…Never mind.”

As a parent you are told that you are supposed to be in control. I’m not. I fell into seeing my role as a Sergeant Major who barks instructions but also gives cuddles. Your troops are supposed to conform to your will. Arbitrary as it may be. I’d draw  lines in the sand. “Do that again and you won’t get to go to Wacky Warehouse/you won’t get a yoghurt/you’ll go to bed with no story.” Then he looks at me in a way that says “OK I’m up for a challenge. Let’s see on that.” And bang, he throws the toy at his sister’s head and smiles. ‘Shit. I don’t really care. He can’t throw anyway, it wasn’t even close.’ Damn. Do I follow through with the punishment and all the shenanigans that it will entail? It’s better for me that he watches tele. It was only a metaphorical line in the sand after all. But I have to see it through “Right. No tele.” Curled up ball of tears. “I know you want tele but I told you not to throw Fireman Sam at your sister.” We’ve got an hour and a half until bed and I’ve just cancelled the main item on our itinerary. It’s tough to say who is more gutted.

So, I needed to find a new approach that meant I was doing more than just counting down the days until I returned to work. We were so desperate we turned to a book. I’m summarising, but essentially the book pointed out that conventional parenting is a bit rubbish. Sure the super nanny approach gets results fast but you create conformist automatons who are dead behind the eyes and say “yes” to your every whim, but it won’t work out well in the end. And as so many current adults are dicks then it’s hard to disagree with the evidence. This book encourages us to let it be. Does it matter? How does this situation look through his eyes? Let’s all chill. We don’t need a naughty step. Is he really being naughty? I’d say 95% of the time what people call naughtiness in a toddler is merely them trying to exert some control in a world where they get little choice.

Now, rather than ordering and getting frustrated we have a discussion. “I know you don’t want to wear socks and a coat but it’s snowing. Remember yesterday when we went out without socks and a coat you were really cold.” And the woman from nursery looked at me like she might call social services, I don’t add. It works well and we’re all a lot happier. If slightly colder. Now, rather than angrily wedging him in his car seat while telling him “It doesn’t hurt” we sit in the car for ten minutes while he pretends to drive.  “We can’t go. It’s against the law. The policeman will tell daddy off.” Then ten minutes later I wedge him in his car seat. “I know you’re bored of the supermarket, I am too. It’s OK to feel sad but you’re lying in the middle of the aisle and that lady can’t get through.”  That kind of thing. After all he doesn’t decide what we get to do. Often he doesn’t even know where we’re going. He can’t remember that I’ve told him ten times. He doesn’t choose his dinner, unless it’s dry pasta, and he doesn’t choose when we eat. No wonder he gets so stressed when he doesn’t even get to pick his spoon.

So in the world of aspiring super nanny’s I’ve gone soft. My word isn’t always law. The first conclusion you may draw is that we’ve decided to be more relaxed, see the world through his eyes and agree not to get angry. Unless pushed hard.  The second is that we let him do what he wants. Either way, we’re all happier. There is something to be said for that.

The book is called Toddler Calm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Guide to potty training: Time to give a…..

“Daddy I don’t need a poo.” “I never said you did.” He then runs off to hide in the corner to return moments later with a distinct whiff. It’s time for the potty. For the precious one I reckon I’ve changed between 1,940 and 2,910 nappies. That’s roughly enough nappies to fill a hole the size of Salford. Thanks to me not using reusable nappies his bowels are playing their part in destroying the planet. But now he is learning a new skill and I am his Yoda.

We’ve tried potty training twice before but in our efforts to empower him with “choice” he has chosen to return to the comfort of nappies. Now, as he wriggles and squirms and melts down when a new nappy is applied, it was time to force the situation and make his decision for him. So, for the past week I’ve been armed with Dettol, wipes and a reassuring voice that says “don’t worry that you just had a wee on the floor. We’ll get it right next time.” This is the motto for what I’ve decided are the six stages of the potty.

Stage 1 – Excitement

We raced out to the shops. We bought a range of “big boy pants.” “Look you’ve got Mickey on your willy.” We said. Unsure if that was acceptable in the Yew Tree age. We were excited. Changing nappies that contain the worst smelling smeared Angel Delight is not fun first thing in the morning. So we’re chuffed to be leaving that behind. We talked in high pitched and enthusiastic voices, hoping this would warm him to his new plastic toilet. Then we packed him off to nursery for his first day in the brave new weeing world.  We might as well let them have first bash. We are paying them after all

Nursery: “So how did you get on over the weekend.”

Us: “Err. Not bad yeah. Good luck doing wee-wees”

Once home it largely went like this:

“Wow look at you in your Mickey pants. Do you want to do a wee-wee on the potty like a big boy?”

“No.”

“Don’t worry I’ll clean it up.”

Stage 2 – Denial

Once all our enthusiasm starts to wane, few pairs of pants have become damp, there are dark patches on the floor, and he realises what it all entails, we quickly move on to denial. For him, this means wanting return to the comfort of his nappies. For me, it means the first thoughts that this is going to be a long soggy slog. Day 2 was a home day and my strategy revolved around constantly asking him:

“Do you need a wee?”

“No”

“Do you need a wee?”

“No”

“Do you need a wee?”

“No. I want  nappy.”

“You can’t have a nappy. Do you need a wee?”

“No.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll clean it up. We’ll do a wee-wee on the potty next time.”

Stage 3 – Hit and miss

Once you’ve established in both of your minds that there is no going back, a small period of hit and miss ensues. This is the longest stage of my six stages. It is filled with highs and lows. You’re getting deep into the bowels of the game and you’ve had successes – the first time was special and something we all remember but I’ve also got scars to our furniture and to myself. Wee dripping through the buggy and onto the shopping being a slight low point.

He gets a wee in the potty and he’s a genius. He gets one on the floor and we’re never going to get there. I need to chill out. He’s not really bothered. On day 3 he was back in nursery and amazingly he returns home in the same outfit. There are hugs and kisses and high fives. My boy is a natural, not like that thick kid in his potty book. We should have done this sooner. These are the sorts of pathetic over the top competitive dad things that I think. We get in the house, still high on toiletry success…

“Do you need a wee?”

“No.”

“Don’t worry. Let’s change your clothes and I’ll wipe that up. It has made the wood go black. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

This stage can also be characterised by feeling a little like a broken record as I ask every few minutes if he’d like to have a seat on the potty and produce. This also leads to the first pangs of irritation. At first I expect floods of urine on the floor but now, when I’ve asked if he needs a wee, get a firm “no” and it’s followed by a wee on the floor seconds later, I start to wonder if there is intent. I have to remind myself that he’s learning a new skill, he doesn’t always know he needs a wee so I have to grit my teeth and keep to the calm, positive and cajoling “We’ll do a wee-wee on the potty next time.”

Stage 4 – Speeding up the process

The final part of stage 3 is what led me into stage 4. I decided to kickstart things with some positive reinforcement, or bribery as it’s more commonly known. This, as I find out in the later stages could also be known as the “rod for my own back school of parenting.” But it did get results. Here is a summation.

“Do you need a wee?”

“No”

Repeat above 20 times. He now hasn’t done one for 3 hours. This is, from experience, towards the outer limits of his bladder capacity. Exasperation grows. Chocolate works in every other walk of life, so I try it:

“I’ll give you a sweetie if you sit on the potty”

“OK.”

He happily trots there and takes his seat. Massive grin on his face.

“Amazing. I’m so proud of you.”

We do a little dance and high five and we all celebrate and admire the wee. I spend a day offering chocolates and suddenly he’s bursting to sit on his potty. Although, eventually I have to let him know that it’s OK if he doesn’t need a wee or poo. “Don’t overstrain it’s fine.” Is solid advise.

Stage 5 – The penny drops

Stage 4 largely stumbles its way into stage 5. He’s getting the hang of it. He knows it’s better to wee in the potty than on himself. For those who haven’t been through this process, you take that for granted, but it does have to be learned. So, now he’s doing wees and poos and getting high praise on each occasion. He likes the praise, he likes to perform. And now I know we’re getting towards cracking it when this happens:

We’re in a cafe.

“Do you need a wee wee? We’ve brought the potty”

“Yes.”

“Amazing. High five. You can have a sweetie.”

In the car

“Can I have a sweetie?”

“No. You’ve had one already and they’re in the boot.”

Two minutes later.

“I need a wee wee.”

“Now?”

“Yes.”

We pull over into an out of town retail park. I get the potty. He sits.

“Daddy’s getting rained on.”

“yes”

“Can I have a sweetie?”

“If you do a wee.”

He stresses and strains

“Don’t hurt yourself.”

A drop comes out. We get back on the road. He has a chocolate.

“I need a wee.”

“OK but you don’t get a sweetie this time. Still need one?”

Silence.

And that’s it. One week of that and now the main accidents come from misdirection. And he has mastered a number of skills. He can use his potty to wee in, he can use it to stop the car, he can use it to get chocolate, to delay bed and now he has realised he can hold court from his potty. It’s amazing to watch him learn.

The second coming: aka Tag along girl

The first one crashes through your current world. Their first everything is the first everything. Being the second one, it’s been done before. The upshot is that we’re more chilled with her. We don’t stare in microscopic detailed at all she does. Our parents have shrines to the precious one’s early weeks on their walls. They could basically make one of those flick books and show him developing in real time. The camera only comes out at special moments these days. That’s the lot of us younger children. Forever to be like Baby in the corner.

Shell has accused me of misrepresenting our daughter so far in this blog. Apparently, she comes across as a crying whinge bag – not Shell’s exact words. In fact, she’s super chilled and smiley. Partly, I think, because she’s chuffed with any attention that she gets. I don’t know how it drifted into her psyche, how she first picked up on the fact that her role is to sit quietly and calmly eating her hand. But the vibes were going out to her from before she was born. The differences in approach to her arrival from his couldn’t be starker. With the precious one the hospital bag was itemised, packed and mulled over and mulled over and repacked. We spent an interminable amount of time in NCT. We read books. We were going to have a French baby. It felt that any second could be “the moment”. For the second coming I threw a bag together after I got “the call” to say that I needed to drive for an hour to the Murco garage on the A46 to pick up my in labour wife. We’d been busy in the build up to her birth. We had a toddler to look after. He is determined to be at the centre. That’s why like second children across the world she is tag along girl.

It’s not just the parents who are more laissez-fare. With the precious one the grand parents – in truth mainly my dad – would have been in the delivery room donning some latex gloves down the away end and hauling him into the world, if given the opportunity. “We’ll be up straight away. It’s only right that we welcome a new family member immediately.” Was the general gist. With the second coming it was more, “we could fit her in maybe Wednesday, Thursday would be better, does that work?” “Sure, whatever you want.” “The precious one will be there won’t he?”  And friends are the same (no offence). We could have decorated our house with cards for the precious one. He had enough stuffed toys to open his own zoo. They arrived in more of a trickle second time. We’re just not novel us second children. .

In case the second coming ever reads this as a stroppy teenager who prefers her dad to her mum (let’s face it who would you rather get caught smoking by), I just want to keep my status and clarify that this doesn’t equate to a general preference for your brother. In fact, as things stand, with his penchant for melt downs v your penchant for smiling quietly, you’re ahead of the game if anything. If the precious one is reading this as a stroppy teenager who prefers his dad to his mum (let’s face it who would you rather smell cheap cider on you) then I hope you’ve upped your game.

And this continues through the new born phase. Sure, ear splintering new born screams demand your attention but with the precious one, even the sound of his breathing could feel deafening during these weeks, as the house waited on his every gurgle. Attention is firmly focused. Now, it’s split, at best. Once signed out from NHS care it’s more “it’ll be reet.” It was last time, after all.

With paternity leave round 2 I have three days with her and two days with the both of them. Her days are like days off. We stay in, we hang around, we smile at each other and listen to the radio. Her naps happen at the right time, we take long lunches and she giggles at cuddly toys that squeak. We might have a dance. Then he crashes the serenity. “Get spiderman shoes on. Can you hear your sister crying? She needs a sleep. She needs her milk.” He isn’t bothered. I whisk her away to playgroup. We stand on the sidelines ready to step in if any sharing infringements occur. Her eyes dart from side to side trying to comprehend the toddler induced mayhem. She laughs at her brother. We don’t have the undivided time to devote to her needs but she gets something he never got. She gets to learn about the world through the anarchic a toddler. She really loves him.

Recently we were at Whacky Warehouse. His choice. We’d been there for 3 hours. I’ve been trying to leave for 1 hour. It’s tea time. She’s hungry. I’m stretched. He has encamped at the highest and furthest point from the entrance to the wackier parts of the warehouse. I can’t talk him down. There is nothing so undignified as a parent scrambling through the ball pool and the not quite big enough doorways to reach a child. I stand holding her doing my best to sound unbothered “Come on. It’s tea time. Your sister is peckish.” I call in as a disinterested tone as I can muster.The other parents give me that sympathetic half smile. I’ve got no control.  If she is tag along girl then I am tag along boy.

I’m waiting for the green man

I’m the sort of person who likes a minute. I used to enjoy things like staring out the window, twiddling my hair waiting for the kettle. These days, preparing to go to the shops is more arduous then my mid-twenties self found moving house. Time for a shower is a luxury but not luxurious as some plastic thing is tapped against the door and a scratched record style commentary, “What you doing?” is in accompaniment. I can’t even take a wee in peace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not surprised about this, it hasn’t come as a shock, “Toddler and baby are demanding” is not a headline. But it does mean that I seek the refuge of “having a minute” in any place I can find it. At the moment I find this solace on street corners. I’m waiting for the green man. We’re learning to cross roads. We’re not getting very far. “First thing you need to learn is that you’ve always got to wait.” I tell him.

I’m taking them to playgroup. Getting out the door has frazzled me. Getting them dressed can cause despair. It’s tricky with girls. I feel a pressure to get her clothes matching. Not that she notices. “Start by picking the dress.” My wife advised. I stand looking at all the dresses while holding a range of tights, “What would my wife pick?” I ask myself. I don’t know what goes. Anyway, why can’t girls wear Stone Roses jumpers and jeans? Are only boys Stone Roses fans? I don’t care if people think she’s a boy. While I furrow my brow over shades of girly colours, the boy is preparing to enter battle.

He doesn’t need a new nappy, despite the odour ruminating from his current sagging one. He doesn’t need to get dressed, “I’m warm and cosy.” He protests. He doesn’t want shoes, DEFINITELY not those shoes, or those shoes or those shoes, which coat, he wants to walk, he has to go in the buggy, he squirms, he’s not happy. I need to make sure I’ve got nappies, changes of clothes, snacks, a bottle of milk, is it cold out?. “We’ll be late for playgroup.” I warn him. He seems happy with that. Why am I stressed about being late for playgroup? I know if we don’t make it we’re staying in and I have to watch his energy explode in the confines of the house. Finally we get out, just about intact. My head is spinning. And then we get to the lights and we have to slow down. We have to stop. Actually stop. We don’t do that much. There is not even an inkling of a car within the vicinity. The joy of waiting for the green man.

I reach in my pocket and now I’ve got about 26 snotty tissues stuck to my hand. Do noses need a wipe? Turns out there is more snot on their faces than in my tissues. People rush on by and weave between the cars that race through the lights as they flick from amber to red. These people don’t have the time to wait. “LOOK DADDY. He’s crossing.” “That’s fine. He’s an adult. He can.” I’ve been up since 3.30am. My brain is more dead than alive. “When can you cross?” I ask. “When holding hands or when the green man.” He doesn’t mean it, left to his own accord he’d race into the middle of the road. We’ll run through the green man routine for the next 6 months. Could be worse, I could be trying to get them to do something.

She falls gently to sleep and he watches the world go by. I’ve got them strapped in to the buggy. They can’t run away. I can’t hear him argue back. There is nothing to pack or unpack or wipe or change or chase. I don’t need to hurry. I can take my time. I can think about things that aren’t babies. I’m feeling good, feeling fine, until 4am tomorrow, but that’s just some other time. I’m waiting for the green man.

Have a read of this: The 4am moment

The 4am moment

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.

The second coming: Week 1 back on the home making roller coaster

It’s simple really. Keep them clean, full, rested, interested and entertained and the hours will tick by into days and flow into months and in no more than a “that went quickly. You were off for how long?” I’ll be able to look back on a home making job well done. I’ll have two well adjusted children and no anecdotes for the pub. And even on a tough day, childcare is done by around 8pm.

As you might have guessed, I’m back on home making duties after a whirlwind of a year that has seen three new jobs between us, a three month stint for me as a part time hard working single dad, two months for Shell as a part time home making single mum, and we’ve skipped on from Cameronshire to God’s own Yorkshire. And on top of that the second coming has joined the family. Our new and exciting addition. For this stint, while I’ve got two of them to deal with, as it approached, I could wrap myself in the comfort blanket of being an experienced home maker.

So, this is week 1 and like starting any new job I’m trying to feel my way into it. There are two main strategic challenges to the role. The first is to work out what I’m supposed to do, the second is to get into the slower rhythms of the home making day. You’ve got to get to grips with the pace of life. Managing little people is like a 5 day test compared to the 20-20 of work. Sure, there is high drama – mostly accompanied by tears – and there is great tension but it’s slower and gentler, although both need endless cups of tea.

In the last couple of weeks of work I was flat out with meetings, away days, telecons, forums, 10pm presentations, 1am website launches and then I shut down my email and triumphantly prodded the off switch on my computer. I was done. After a not very relaxing weekend I found myself on day 1 of paternity leave. By not even 9.30 the Precious one is doing his melt down boy thing, including landing a kick to the balls because I had to change his nappy. The second coming is screaming. I couldn’t work out why. If I get a tricky email first thing on a Monday morning I can go and make a brew, mull it over, ask my colleagues how their weekends where, have a coffee, write a to do list, return to it at leisure. I can’t ignore a kick to the balls and two screaming children. If I can’t get him to put trousers on I can’t get him to nursery. Then I’m really in trouble. At that point, not quite 2 hours in, 6 months feels like a long time.

I’d forgotten how draining it is. It drags your energy from your body because it’s so seemingly irrational, yet there has to be a way to unlock the puzzle. There is an answer to how we get out the front door or get through lunch. I have to find it. For my own sanity. When you’ve only got a day or two you can haphazard your way through knowing that soon enough you’ll return to the sanctuary of the office, I’ve got six months. So when the confrontations are over, when peace has descended, and I’m enjoying a hot cup of tea and 6 music, as I was by 10am, the sense of achievement is way above what it should be for getting someone to sleep and someone else to put trousers on. All is well. For now.

On day 2, my first with both of them, I cheated and retreated to my mum’s. Three hours of tying them in a car seat was preferable to managing them by myself. Day 3 had been sold to me as the easy day. “She’s simple on her own.” The second coming woke up at 3.30am with a nasty cough, she didn’t go back to sleep. Her routine thrown for the day, she doesn’t know what’s going on and isn’t happy with any of the options. I run through my check list of nappy, food, bored, over stimulated, under stimulated or hopefully tired. I like it when it’s tired. But her naps don’t last as she wakes herself with coughs and she doesn’t perk up. The day has gotten away from me. The more I try, the further from where I want to be I get. By 6pm as the tears flowed I was asking a two year old if he had any idea why his 6 month old sister was crying. The worst bit being, I genuinely hoped he’d have some insight.

Day 4 is the second day of dual management. It’s like guerrilla warfare. There was no major set piece battle but we skirmished throughout the day. “Your feet will get wet if you stand in puddles in just socks.” “You knocked the den over yourself.” “You can’t have it until it beeps.” “You shouldn’t have dropped your tea on the floor then.” Insert pretty much everything I say or ask him to do. Sure, my power is arbitrary and random but I am, as far as the authorities are concerned, in charge. He knows that so that’s why he waits in ambush whenever he gets a whiff that I want to make something happen. When we;re not laughing at each other it’s a disaster.

So my week of being induced has been tricky. The main issue seems to be that I don’t know what I’m doing. Women build up to their leave by getting rounder and more waddly. Me, I’m parachuted in like a supply teacher without a lesson plan. The class knows it can take the piss. But it’s only week 1 and as I adjust to the rhythms and they adjust to my disorgainsed non-list based regime we’ll muddle through. Today is day 5 and we’ve all slept better. We’re all happier. We’ll be reet, as we all slowly work out what’s going on.