You know when you have an argument with someone, or they’ve irritated you in some way, and you just don’t feel like talking to them? So you don’t. Because you don’t have to.
Having a baby is a whole different kettle of fish. The other night, S was clearly knackered, but would (could) not sleep. I was also knackered so in the end, tired of the draft coming from her flapping her gro-bagged feet in her bouncy chair, I took us both to bed. I would have fallen asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow… but S had other ideas. I tried begging, I tried pleading, I tried rocking her, cuddling her, feeding her. I even tried putting her in the cot I’ve finally installed at the end of my bed (whatever made me think that might work, I cannot tell you – sleep deprivation causing dereliction of mental capacity probably). This sort of situation tends to make me panic. Not in the way you might think, though. My panic has more to do with the fact I have no control over this situation. Usually, if I do not like the situation I am in, I can get up and walk away – and I normally do. When I can’t just remove myself from something that I don’t like, it makes me quite agitated. When you are a single parent, you are often stuck in situations you have no control over, and no immediate way to resolve. There’s nobody to take over the rocking and cooing so that you can go to sleep; you just have to suck it up, pretend you’re not mortally tired, and get on with the rocking.
This is yet another of those things nobody warns you about. I don’t mean the tiredness (though really, no amount of explaining can prepare you for that); I mean the whole idea that you are no longer your own person, you can’t just go to sleep when you want to, or go for a walk when you feel like it, spend all day in bed, whatever. Obviously, single parent or not, your life changes dramatically when you have a child. But when it’s just you looking after them, the change is that much more noticeable. If the baby is crying but you need the toilet, you have to make a decision: do I comfort the baby, and hope she calms down before I get to the dangerous stage of needing the toilet, or do I leave the baby to cry and hope she doesn’t get to the house-screaming-down stage of crying before I flush, wash and return? S spends a lot of time sitting in her Bumbo seat in the bathroom doorway.
As I’ve jokingly lamented in a previous post
, you can’t reason with a baby. You can tell them, “I’m just going to get a drink, and then I will feed you” but they won’t understand; all they see is that you are walking away, while they are very hungry. Similarly, the other night when S was clearly very tired but not sleeping, it was very frustrating for me not to be able to explain to her that if she just went to sleep we would both feel a lot better. I couldn’t say to her, “fine; you stay awake and play with your toys, but I’m going to sleep.” I also couldn’t say “for the love of God would you just close your damn eyes, I’m dying here!!” – tempted as I was. Also the next day, when my eyelids felt like sandpaper and I was far from on top form, there was little point in my saying to S, “sorry mummy is not moving quickly enough for you; perhaps if you had let mummy sleep last night…”
Every evening, I put S to bed upstairs and then creep quietly back down. Lately she has taken to waking again within an hour, and I have to go back up to her. Sometimes she takes 10 minutes to settle back down; other times it can be an hour, or she doesn’t settle at all, and bang goes my evening. It’s hard to do, but I find that if I just go back up and lay there with her, and don’t look at the clock or think about the dinner I could be eating or the TV show I could be watching, or the mountain of washing up that’s waiting, or the clothes I need to put away or the million other things I could be doing – it doesn’t feel so bad to be stuck there. I sometimes even enjoy laying there quietly for half an hour in silence, with no distractions. It’s an exercise in just accepting things as they are, without fighting against something I am powerless to change.
When I first had S, I downloaded a lot of parenting books onto my Kindle. One of them was called “Buddhism forMothers
.” I think perhaps I should read that one.