Parenting: Will I Always Be One Beat Behind?

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It was like being in a cool band where she was the lead guitarist and I was the drummer; Freya brought the melody, excitement and showmanship but I provided the beat for her to follow.

I was looking forward to getting back to that over the Christmas holiday – the first proper break she’s had since starting school full time in September (we went away at half term) – but I think we had what can safely be described as some “creative differences”.

While I was playing pop music, Freya strayed into heavily metal. We tried to jam together but we sounded terrible – and like a lot of bands, felt like going our separate ways.

I’ve read so many Tweets and comments from parents saying how much they hated their children going back to school today. Before the holidays I thought I would be among them but, frankly, not only did I want her to go back to school, she couldn’t wait either.

And that makes me really, really sad.

Motherhood isn’t for everyone – and, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve questioned whether it should have been for me. Maybe those two loses before Freya were actually someone, somewhere, telling me I wasn’t cut out for it? I know that’s a silly thing to say but her first year was hard, hard work. We came out the other side stronger and even as I struggled I knew just how privileged I was to get this chance.  As she grew, our relationship did too. We had fun, we explored, learned together – even surviving the terrible twos relatively intact.

Then it was time for school – something that she was ready for, even if I wasn’t.

She has loved most of it and perhaps I was naive to think that we could just slot back into our old band when we’ve both being doing some solo stuff for a while now.

Over Christmas, we still went out and explored, splashed in muddy puddles, had playdates and enjoyed ourselves but when we were at home it seemed like she missed the schedule of school, of having a million things to do and right at her finger tips. We would paint and cook and craft and play and have iPad time and read but, whereas before that would be spread across the day (or more like different days), this time she was done in 15 minutes (from 5am).

I know that some of it was just the excitement of Christmas but there were several points where I just thought ‘I have no clue what to do now’ and because of that she went into meltdown. The last couple of weeks have not been my finest as a parent. After she had gone to bed, I would look at her, peacefully asleep ,and the guilt was almost overwhelming. It felt like that first year all over again.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it and keeping a steady rhythm, the song changes and I’m left a beat behind again.

The thing is, I want to be in our band but I’m not really a fan of heavy metal and it doesn’t seem like she enjoys pop anymore so I’m not sure where that leaves us? Maybe we need to explore some other genres.

Anyone know anything about jazz?

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Reasons My Four-Year-Old Woke Last Night (Plus Tips For Coping With Sleep Deprivation).

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The mind of a four-year-old seems to be a miraculous, if slightly terrifying, thing.

Since starting school in September, Freya has amazed me with how much she has learnt. She’s like a little sponge soaking it all up. The trouble is, at night she seems to be squeezing that sponge to get the excess out.

The first time she woke up last night was probably legitimate. She thought there was a spider on her pillow, which she some how saw in the pitch-black (an extensive search by light of my phone revealed that was not the case).

Next she started awake wondering why she didn’t win any money on the amusements when we were on holiday last week. You have to go through the amusements to get to the disco/soft play and I let her go on some of the little rides, which is why she didn’t win any money.

Then she needed a “huggle” (blaming Topsy and Tim’s gran for that one).

A drink (ok).

Woke up crying that she doesn’t have any friends. She does, I listed half a dozen.

Needed the toilet (legitimate).

Was worried that she will never get married. I explained, with as much patience as I had at 1am, that it’s not something to worry about now OR EVER and that she needed to GO TO SLEEP.

Other nights have included fears about being unable to write the letter a, pondering what you get if you mix red and yellow together and letting me know she doesn’t like being called “Banana Head”. I have never called her that, for the record.

Despite all the wake ups she was ready to go at 4.17am today (grrr changing the clocks) which was obviously not happening and so she fidgeted and sighed loudly until 5am when I finally gave up.

Sadly, this sleeplessness isn’t a new thing.

I know we like to make jokes about sleep (or rather lack of it) when our babies are young but I genuinely believe it’s more of a problem than we give it credit for. People told me I had PND in her first year when she would wake every 10 minutes some nights but I knew, while I was really sad (even though I had the baby I wanted more than anything in the world), sheer exhaustion was behind it. If I even got a tiny bit more sleep, I felt better (I still do).

People also told me, with confidence, she would start sleeping at three months, one, 18 months, two, three and now? They have given up asking, I suppose assuming she just sleeps.

The bags under my eyes tell a different story (not to mention the weight I’ve put on from comfort eating). It’s a lot better than it was but her little brain just doesn’t seem to be able to switch off. As the experts say there is nothing physically wrong with her, there isn’t much help available (at least, that doesn’t involve just letting her cry, which is not something I want to do).

And, of course, it doesn’t just create problems for me but her too. Generally she is a happy girl but as the day wears on and she gets more tired, she gets manic. There are no naps any more (not that she was ever much of a napper) so we just take a not much fun trip to meltdown city when she gets home from school.

I’ve tried all sorts to try and help her (and me) over the years from cranial osteopathy to a Grow Clock, restrictive diets to baths before bed, warm drinks to white noise and massage to reward charts but I’ve kind of just accepted now that I have one of those non-sleeping children. As I’ve been told numerous times “She won’t be like this when she’s 15, you’ll have to drag her out of bed.” I have my doubts about that but at least now I can talk to her about it and explain why sleep is important for all of us. Some nights are better than others. I do my best to keep calm and carry on, bake Halloween gingerbread  (recipe here) at 6am and enjoy the sunrise.

After more than four years of it, I have realised a few things that help get me through the day.

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Have you got a non-sleeper? How do you get through the day following the night before?

What I realised about Freya starting school (it’s not you, it’s me).

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I longed for this day.

During that first year when, on top of the huge changes that motherhood brings, the reflux, intolerances and sheer exhaustion of never sleeping in more than 10 minute snatches brought me to my knees, I thought ‘One day I will get me back, when she goes to school.’

What I didn’t realise, what I couldn’t realise back then, was that when that time eventually came, I wouldn’t want to let her go.

People told me ‘it won’t always be like this’ and, a personal favourite, ‘you need to make the most of it’. That’s easier said than done when my baby was crying in pain 80% of the day and night, refusing to feed, losing weight, not wanting my comfort but refusing to be put down – and no one was either willing or able to help. The only thing I could do was hold on and wait for it to be over.

I know it could have been far worse but it was still hard. I’m not going to pretend otherwise, even though I feel guilty about it.

They were right about one thing though, it did get easier. At nine months the reflux settled down, at a year I saw glimpses of what was to come. The fun, the laughter. Yes, there were also tears and tantrums – and a continuing lack of sleep – but by then we were bonded. She was my sidekick, my little shadow or, as our postman described her the other day, my co-pilot.

He was used to bumping into us, off on some sort of mini-adventure.

“Where’s your co-pilot today?” He asked, not realising she was now at school full time.

The truth is, for the last couple of years she’s been much more than co-pilot – quite often she picked the route, made the announcements and was flying the plane. Our days together, when I wasn’t working, were dictated by the journeys she wanted to take. Now she’s handed back the controls but after an initial rush of euphoria where I got a hot chocolate (and sat and drank it in the shop without having to colour anything in or make conversation about My Little Pony), had a henna tattoo and got my hair cut, I’m…directionless.

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I miss our outdoor adventures, exploring new places, visiting somewhere on a whim – even going to the local playground.

I. Miss. Her.

While I don’t miss endless hours of playing games that make no sense, the four-year-old rage or the constant commentary on anything and everything, I do find myself counting down to 3.30pm.

I realised on her first day that my fears about her starting school had nothing to do with her – she loves it, can’t wait to get in each day – and everything to do with me. My role as a mother to a baby, a toddler, a small child is over. There are no more babies for me and Freya will spend the majority of her time with other people now.

Early motherhood is… done.

And, as bad as of some of it was, I’m not quite ready for it to be over. I’m not quite ready to be flying solo again. 

It’s going to take some getting used to, just as motherhood did – although hopefully with more sleep this time.

Bubbablue and me school days linky