Should I go for the chop? (again)?

While searching for photos of me breastfeeding, I  just stumbled across this photo taken last summer.

This comes at a moment when my growing-out hair is so painfully ugly and ridiculous that I have taken to wearing a scarf on my head. Which technically means I am wearing a “headscarf”. The other evening while out seeing a show a friend remarked I look like Lara from Doctor Zhivago. Julie Christie that is. I just googled “Lara Doctor Zhivago” but all the photos of her show her wearing a chapka. So I dunno what my friend was on about. I wish I DID look like Julie Christie. Alas, all we have in common is some blondness, blue eyes and a clear vertical frown line between our eyebrows.

I in fact look more like Kurt Cobain on a bad day. A day following 550 consecutive sleep-interrupted-by-baby nights, which is what I have just tallied up. But without the fun and glamour and rock’n’rollishness of playing concerts, taking drugs and partying non-stop. Oh well. Never mind. She’ll sleep one day. Look at Tommy – he started sleeping through the night when he was 22 months old and now he is a World Champion Sleeper.

But in my exhausted state I am seriously side-tracking. Dribbling even. All this is just to say, should I give up growing my hair out and go for the chop? Or should I see this thing out? With the aid of my headscarf of course. I’m going to Paris in two days time goddammit – I can’t go wearing a headscarf! Or can I? Maybe I will start a new super chic-hippy trend. Hmmm. It’s worth a try. And if I don’t pull it off I can always hitch up with some Ukrainian musicians in the metro and help them busk. Maybe my Kurt look will even come in useful…

WOOAAARRRGH! GIVE ME MY HEADSCAAAAARRRF!

Baby Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

When I go to bed I always tiptoe into each of the children’s bedrooms to tuck them in, kiss them and look at them.

Léonie looked so beautiful the other night that I slipped downstairs, got our camera, snuck back into her bedroom and took a photo of her in the dark. Of course, it was very dark so a stupid red-then-green light came on and the camera went BEEEEEP! (Tommy keeps fiddling about with it and changing the settings so the noises are back on) and Léonie stirred, opened her eyes and I froze, cursing myself for being so bloody stupid and expecting to then spend the next twenty minutes getting her back to sleep … but phewee, she just closed her eyes and turned over. Here is the hard-earned photo. It looks like a painting. I won’t be doing it again though.

In training

It has just taken me thirty-five minutes to move from “holding nearly-sleeping baby in arms” position, through “bending in half over cot stroking tiny forehead whispering sssshhhh and wondering whether my back and knees are going to hold out another 20 seconds whilst stifling back a cough” position, moving into “slow motion ballet towards door cursing squeaky toy accidentally trod on” to the final movement: “slipping out of door as fast as is humanly possible so as not to let the landing light flash into baby’s bedroom and shutting door noiselessly with a huge sense of relief and scrunched up eyes”. I live an epic adventure each and every night. I am now the world’s expert in totally silent movement. I could be a cat burglar. I could slip through those criss-crossed laser beams and steal the priceless Chinese mask with my eyes shut. This could be the answer to our financial problems and might well be the epiphany I am waiting for with regards to what skills and wisdom I am learning by being a stay-at-home mummy. The thought crosses my mind about thirty times a day : “One day you will look back and think, ah – yes – if I hadn’t spent all those years wiping the wall clean of broccoli, folding my umpteenth load of laundry, following a little baby  girl up the stairs yet again so she can practise climbing, going to see the farm animals EVERY BLOODY DAY, then I wouldn’t be where I am today: working for Radio 4/alongside Hugh Laurie/jetsetting across the world with a successful dance company/richer than my wildest dreams thanks to selling that priceless Chinese mask.”

And now I must go and stretch my back, massage my hurty knees and cough loudly.

Well, at least Léonie is happy. And can now do very good pig and horse noises.

Sleep less to survive.

Well, it’s all gone horribly wrong. My little baby girl, who was such a champion sleeper, has turned into the terror of my nights. She wakes up every 2 hours and ONLY a feed will get her back off to sleep again. This means I sleep in fits of one and a half hours. She is coming up to 8 months, so according to the experts (my sisters) she is too young to try out sleep training, which is actually a relief as I can’t stand the crying-it-out technique or anything vaguely resembling it. However, if this goes on for another 2 months, apparently I will eventually break down and end up letting her cry for hours at a time as I kip down in the cellar with industrial size earplugs squished into my ears and a bucket on my head. In any case, it’s the summer, which means we’ve had streams of friends coming through and more are coming right up until next week when we go on holiday. Having people to stay and visiting other people’s homes is definitely not the right moment to try and shift a baby’s sleep patterns. This means I’m going to have to hold on until September when we’re home just the four of us and can give Léonie a nice, structured routine to her days, and thus hopefully to her nights too. But September is five weeks away. I don’t know if I can survive until then on such little sleep. In a panic I phoned up Sister One.

“You have no choice” she replied. “You have to change your mindset. You have to stop obsessing about your lack of sleep, you have to stop counting the hours of kip you actually get, and decide that you DON’T ACTUALLY NEED THAT MUCH SLEEP TO SURVIVE. Tell yourself that 5 hours of interrupted, broken, dashed and smashed sleep is just fine. Believe it. Bung some earphones on and listen to Radio 4 while you’re up all night. You’ll be okay. You’ll make it though. Just don’t do any long car drives, operate machinery or high-speed blenders over the next few weeks … erm, months. May the Force be with you.”

So I decided to go looking for some scientific research on the matter that might help me persuade myself that sleeping so little won’t harm me one little smidgen. One of the great things about internet is that you can always find a scientific study to back up a theory, no matter how ludicrous it might be. I even found that sleeping between five and six-and-a-half hours a night can actually help you to live longer. That is, if you’re a middle-aged or elderly woman. Maybe I am middle-aged though … is 38 middle-aged? I have no idea. Whatever, I was pleased to read the findings of Doc Kripke (who, with that name, could also be a crisp):

“Daniel Kripke, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, said: “The surprise was that when sleep was measured objectively, the best survival was observed among women who slept five to 6.5 hours.” ”

Hoorah. So I’m now off to bed to sleep exactly that amount of time and thus increase my chances of survival.

Baby sleep, baby scorpion.

After ten days of bunged up nose, cough, night-waking baby and thus sleepless nights, L’Homme realised I was close to extinction and banished me to the sofa downstairs. He announced he would be dealing with Léonie that night and that she was going to have to learn how to go back to sleep on her own without a mouthful of nipple and a tummy refilled with breastmilk. Good luck, I thought as I snuggled up on the sofa, my head propped up at 90° so I could breath, the room wafting in eucalyptus oil fumes. I shoved a couple of earplugs in my ears and shut the door. I slept for an hour and a half, waking up to a vision of L’Homme standing over me, cradling an excited baby. It wasn’t a vision. It was a real life flesh and blood, knickers-in-a-twist man. “Je ne comprends pas!” he said. He’d spent an hour singing to Léonie and rolling her back onto her back, to no avail. She stubbornly rolls back onto her tummy and starts doing push-ups. Real push-ups. Her hands and toes are the only thing touching the mattress and she stays there for about seven seconds before coming down for a rest and pushing back up again. She does this all day and all night. She is clearly in training for a triathlon. Either that or some hardcore crawling. Muscling up her limbs and testing out the all fours position has become an obsession. Only occasionally does she put her knees down like a real crawling baby and I think, ah, that must be a break from those terrible push-ups, but a few seconds later and she’ll be back on her toes and hands. She just can’t stop. A little live-wire. When I told my sister about this she laughed and said, “Just like her mum.”

Anyway, L’Homme couldn’t get her back to sleep so I gave her a feed which she was so happy about that she drifted back off to sleep. I carried her upstairs and put her back in her cot. “Mais si on continue comme ça, elle va toujours vouloir téter pour dormir” L’Homme said, pissed off with himself for having woken me up already. “Yeah, I know” I replied, “but I’m too exhausted to do anything else”. I went back down to my sofa and fell asleep snuffling through my blocked nose.

The next I knew is was 03h15 and I could hear Léonie crying. Loudly. I tiptoed upstairs but L’Homme’s voice stopped me before I could open the door to our room. He was in what will be Léonie’s room – lying on a mattress, furious with Léonie, with himself and with the entire world. She had woken up at 2 a.m. and he had spent yet another hour cooing and singing to her. She couldn’t care less; she wanted Mummy and milk and she wasn’t going to accept anything less. “Well?” I said, “Shall I go and feed her?” “NON!” said L’Homme. He was determined that his Master Plan should at least see the night out. I forced myself to go back downstairs to my sofa, despite my entire body craving to pick Léonie up, cuddle and feed her back to sleep. Lying in the living room, I nearly drowned in milk as my breasts tried desperately to awaken me to the fact I should be soothing my baby. But not only was I wiped out with fatigue and a poorly spinning head, I also feared the Wrath of L’Homme standing guard at Léonie’s door. In the end I dozed off, uncomfortably.

I awoke with light streaming through the shutters. It was 8 a.m. The house was silent. I felt rough. I had been bitten all over. I scratched my way into the kitchen and blew ten tons of green stuff out of my nose. I felt marginally better. And then I started coughing and felt a lot worse. I did some menial task-work around the house and drank water until I could feel it sloshing about inside. Tommy woke at half past eight, I heard his footsteps as he raced over to the fan in his room and switched it off. I intercepted him in the hallway before he could go into our room and wake Léonie and L’Homme, and we quietly ate breakfast cereals together outside on the terrace (“Mummy, me wait for my bunny clock coming on, me so nice.”) Half an hour later and the other half of the family emerged – L’Homme looking like he’d spent a night on the floor of a dungeon, and Léonie perky and smiley as ever. We thought this was a triumph – we had started the Ferber method of sleep training and our baby seemed perfectly fine about it the next morning. Hoorah! Another night or two to go and all would be resolved – our baby would sleep throught the night and we too! Life would be full of joy and blossom and dancing bunnies with frosting on the top.

Erm, that was a few nights ago. Since then I have turned my back on the crying-it-out school of thought and will never try it again. It may work for other babies – for ours IT DOESN’T. All it has done is turn me into a guilty, nervous wreck, L’Homme into an exhausted husk of a daddy, and Léonie into a baby now terrified of her cot and wanting to spend all day in my arms. Oh, and all night. It may be that this is the wrong time to try anything where sleep and nights are concerned; it’s still BLOODY HOT – the bedrooms hit 28°C at the worst and despite our fans (the whirring, air-stirring ones, not the teeming mass queuing at the front door for autographs) on non-stop, you wake up in a sweat, your mouth parched, your head dizzy. Léonie might well be waking up thirsty, crying for Mummy’s all-hours refreshment bar. Or it might well be the recent phenomenon of twelve-poos-a-day she’s going through (I am not exaggerating – I counted them yesterday), which go on throughout the night hours. Or it might be the scorpion I found in her bed the night before last. Yes, a scorpion. A baby one, but a scorpion nonetheless. That’s the south of France in the summer for you. I hope it banishes your idyllic visions of lavender and stone wall villages and markets lush with fruit and old French people in peasant headscarves and berets … we have those too, but we also have an uglier side : scorching drought, tourists in slow, wide camper vans and scorpions.

I now pick Léonie up as soon as she cries out in the night, give her a feed and a cuddle and let her fall asleep in my arms. This is probably the road to Many Future Sleep Problems but for the moment I don’t care.

Cold and Flea

Despite it being raging hot and sunny here, I have managed to get a filthy cold. A sort of laryngitis with a blocked up nose and an annoying cough which keeps me awake all night. Add this to the fact that Léonie is making no effort whatsoever to get back to sleep on her own when she has her night awakenings and that her sleep patterns are getting less and less sociable, and the result is a permanent headache, bleary eyes and a face that has aged ten years in ten days. Mine – not hers. Oh no, Léonie’s face is still as gorgeous and golden as ever. She gets more beautiful by the day while I slump into grey haggardness, fantasising about sleeping more than 40 minutes at a time.

I also seem to be housing some sort of parasite. My own private flea, just for me, that bites my arms – just my arms – in the night, leaving them covered in little red itchy bumps. I scratch all day. I’m scratching as I write. I will soon be banished to the stockroom along with our dog.

Thanks to the laryngitis I have very little, or no, voice, depending on the time of the day and how much I’ve said. This leaves me with pretty much zero authority when it comes to small children. Tommy walked all over me the first couple of days, but when he realised I was poorly and upset (“you sad Mummy?) he calmed down and has been a lovely little boy ever since. Whenever I cough he fills his toothbrush cup to the brim with tap water and brings it to me. “Mummy, you need drink water.” He is right, so I do drink his toothpaste flavoured water. I think it is helping.

Ah, I’ve just discovered my left thigh has also been bitten and is itching like mad. My private flea has clearly grown tired of finding fresh bits of arm to bite and has migrated down to new pastures. I am off to douse my entire body in cidre vinegar in the hope that will put him off. It will also put everyone else off too. Coupled with my raw garlic binge (apparently it kills off colds) no-one will be coming anywhere near me today.

Early bird

“Mummy?” A small figure in Spiderman pyjamas is standing by my bed. I fumble for my alarm clock and push the light button.

“Honey, it’s six o’clock  in the morning, it’s too early, it’s still dark outside.”

“But Mummy, me have an ear infection.”

I sit up and pull him onto my lap. “Oh sweetie, which ear? Is it hurting?”

“No, Mummy.”

“Let me have a look…”

“No Mummy, my ears is okay now.”

“I thought you said you had an ear infection.”

“It’s better now Mummy.”

“Great. Then go back to bed darling. Go back to sleep, it’s still nightime.”

“But Mummy, it’s rainin’, listen… me not can go to sleep.” It is indeed raining and we can hear drops pitter-pattering on the skylight.

“Honey, it’s too early. Come on I’ll take you back to your bedroom.”

“But Mummy, Michael Jackson doctor give him too much medicine.”

“I know sweetie. We’ll talk about that later. Back to bed.” We walk back down the corridor and into his bedroom. I end up getting into bed with him. This is a mistake.

“Mummy, Daddy buy a bottle for making the bees dead.”

“Yes, it’s for the wasps that keep flying in the windows, we think they’re trying to make their home in our house, and we don’t want them to. If they do start to make their home here we’ll have to use the spray can on them.”

“For making them dead?”

“Yes.”

“This is not nice Mummy.”

“What’s not nice?”

“We must not making the bees dead. Claude is making the pigs dead and now there is just one pig and we is eating the saucisses.”

“Sausages.”

“Yes Mummy, sausages. But is not nice making the pigs dead. Is better to buy sausages at the shops.”

I lie there wondering whether this is a good time to explain the benefits of free-range livestock farming as opposed to intensive animal production and industrial slaughterhouses, and decide it is not. I get up and tuck him in.

“Tommy, try to get back to sleep. It’s not time to get up yet.”

“Mummy, my nose is blocked up.”

“Right, then let’s blow it.” I find the box of tissues on the floor and hold one up to his nose. He blows hard.

“Okay, now try to get back to sleep darling.”

“Mummy, me is poorly?”

“I don’t know. Your nose is a bit runny but otherwise you seem fine. Maybe it’s just a little cold.”

“You is giving me medicine? Is not nice giving me too much medicine. Michael Jackson doctor give him too much medicine and now he is being dead. Mummy, like the bees. Daddy giving the bees too much medicine?”

“Don’t worry about the bees, we won’t spray them. And you’re fine – if I need to give you medicine I won’t give you too much.”

“And Claude’s pigs?”

“Well, it’s too late for them, they’re already gone.”

“No Mummy, there is just one. He is my friend.”

“Yes, we’ll take him some dry bread later. Now get back to sleep, banana.” I kiss his forehead and walk to the door.

“Mummy?”

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Me like sausages.”

“I know. Night night, honey.”

“Mummy?”

“Yes?”

“No night night. Is not nightime. Is morning now.”

I look at the window and see the light peeping in. It is indeed morning. My four month old baby has yet again slept right through the night and my nearly four year old boy has, yet again, scuppered my dream of eight hours of undisturbed sleep.

“Come on then, let’s get you some breakfast.” A warm bundle runs across the room and jumps into my arms. I carry him down the stairs to the kitchen.

“Mummy, Michael Jackson like porridge? Maybe he eating too much porridge and he getting poorly?”

“Maybe.”

Did his doctor give him too much medicine? Did he eat too much porridge? Did he like sausages? So many questions to be answered ...

wiped

We have three little guests for the week. Two nine year old girls and one little five year old. Put them together with our 13 month old little chap who’s teething, a Dadadada who had a motorbike accident two days ago and a tooth infection with antibiotics to go, and a Mamamama (me) who slept just five hours last night because of those little baby teeth, plus a day of scorching sun and little girly cheeks with sunburn demanding cream and affection and a splinter in a finger and three overflowing nappies and you have a fine recipe for complete exhaustion by the end of the day. So this is it from me. Aside from recording the fact that Tommy not only has started to walk steps when we ask him to, but today he started taking the intiative of letting go and walking across the kitchen/bedroom/bathroom on his own, arms in the air like a little monkey.