The 5 Day Parenting ‘Experience’

I haven’t written much in a while. The reason is I was very, very busy over last weekend. After that, I was recovering from my busyness.
Why was I so busy? Well, my host parents went away on holiday and I looked after Little Man (3 years old) and Baby Brother (8 months old) for 5 days and 4 nights.
It was strange experience. Somehow both harder and easier than I had expected. Let me explain further.
The first day was only a half day, as the boys’ Dad didn’t have to leave until about 2pm to get to the airport. I made the most of my last morning of freedom, slept in, and went into my favourite Kinsale cafe, the Perryville Tea Rooms, for a pot of tea. The cafe is always quiet, with classical music, dainty tea cups, flowers on the table with a calming colour scheme of lilac, grey and light blue. Its incredibly calming. I sat there for 2 hours, mulling over my tea, reading a difficult, ‘adult’ book called ‘The Economics of Happiness’, which I knew I would not have the energy or brain space for over the next few days. I reluctantly left the cafe and headed home, steeling myself for the coming onslaught.
But Thursday afternoon was really quite good. Little Man was reasonably well-behaved, we played outside for a bit, played inside for a bit, and then around dinnertime, we vegged out on the couch and watched ‘Fireman Sam’. He even went to bed very easily for me, no tears, asleep by 8:10pm.
I was amazed. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe how easily it had all happened. I watched some TV, did some writing on an application, did some essay writing, even managed to finish off a blog post. ‘I’m really good at this parenting thing,’ I thought, ‘perhaps this is my purpose in life? Perhaps I should consider a career change?’
Ah, no. Not so fast, Jenny.
I went to bed at 10:30pm, which is early for me, but I knew the boys were likely to wake up in the vicinity of 6:30am – 7am, and heading to bed at 10:30pm would give me a solid 8 hours. I knew I would also have to wake up and give a bottle to Baby Brother around 2am – 4am, so I didn’t want to risk only having 7 hours sleep and also having to wake up during the night to do difficult tasks like measuring out milk formula and holding babies.
I was supposed to sleep in the baby’s room for the 4 nights, in my host mother’s bed, so that it was easier if he woke, and easier when I had to give him the bottle. The boys’ aunt snuck over after they were asleep to stay in the spare room in case Little Man woke up, so I didn’t have to deal with the both of them, which was a relief. It also meant I wasn’t the sole responsible adult in an isolated house with two little ones if, say a psychotic serial killer, decided to visit. Which is, of course, my main concern in life. Avoid psychotic serial killers. So far I’ve been quite successful in my avoidance of them. Just need to keep it up for the next 50-odd years. Anyway, I snuck upstairs at 10:30pm feeling pretty confident about the whole weekend ahead.
But, then, Baby Brother woke up.
I had thought I was very quiet sneaking up the stairs, but Baby Brother clearly didn’t agree. Either that, or the gale that was shaking the house to its very core somehow disturbed him. His mother had said he would only have one bottle during the night, so not wanting to feed him at 11pm and have him starving hungry at 5:30am, I tried to get him back to sleep without his bottle. He wasn’t a fan of that. I tried everything. I rocked. I patted. I rubbed. I sang. I bounced. I put him over my shoulder and attempted to burp him. I checked his nappy. All the while he was doing this exhausted, heart-breaking crying which literally sounded like, ‘I am so tired, I am so tired and unhappy. Why are you making this so hard? All I want is ——–. Why can’t you just figure it out and put me back to bed? Where’s my mummy? You suck. Why did my mummy go away? What did I do? What’s wrong with me? Why have I been abandoned with this incompetent child minder?’
Ok, so maybe I was projecting just a tad onto Baby Brother.
Anyway, at 11:30pm, having tried everything else, I went and got his bottle. Of course, he was asleep within minutes. Cursing my stupidity and stubborness, I lay him down to bed and lay myself down to try and sleep as well. I fell asleep pretty easily, which was great.
Barely an hour later, however, I woke up to a coughing fit from Baby Brother. I ran over to his cot. He was fast asleep. I went back to bed. He had another coughing fit. I ran over to the cot. He was fast asleep. Then he started making little moaning noises. I ran over to the cot. He was fast asleep.
I think you can see where this is going. I hardly slept at all that night. Every time Baby Brother so much as sighed too loudly, I was out of my bed, running over to check that he was still alive, and the sigh I had heard wasn’t his last gasp of life as he quietly turned blue, suffocated by his teddy, or something. I finally fell asleep around 4am, after he had his second bottle (and spent 45 minutes moaning to himself as his body attempted to digest it in his sleep – bastard), but was woken about an hour and a half later as the aunt left the house. At 6:30am, Baby Brother woke up and refused to go back to sleep. 15 minutes later, Little Man was calling out for his mammy. I’d had 3 hours sleep maximum, but, I was the sole responsible adult in the house, so up I got.
I made breakfast in a haze. I whispered and croaked responses to Little Man’s requests. Every time Baby Brother cried or Little Man yelled, it felt like my whole body was being assaulted. I went through the morning in a daze, dosing myself up on tea, Berocca, ginseng and guarana in some sort of desperate attempt to get energy. When they failed, I raided the biscuit tin and dosed myself up on sugar. By the time Little Man was at school and Baby Brother was down for his nap, I was so hyped up, I couldn’t sleep, just collapsed on the couch in front of the TV and watched ‘Spooks’, attempting not to move a single muscle for as long as humanely possible.
That afternoon was much harder. I snapped more often, I didn’t have the enthusiasm to join in on Little Man’s games. I was desperate for a shower, but I didn’t know how I could keep Little Man occupied and Baby Brother happy for long enough. When do single parents shower? I suppose in the night time when everyone’s asleep. So, instead, I ate cheese and crackers. Energy, I need energy. Reading to Little Man at bedtime, I could barely see the words in the books, my eyes were going blurry from exhaustion and tears from yawning.
But, then, the eternal problem. I was exhausted, but suddenly, the house was mine. I wanted to sleep, but I also wanted to sit in the quiet, watch some TV, read my book, check the internet. I didn’t want to waste my alone time by just sleeping! I wanted to have grown-up time! I wanted to have me time! At around 9:30pm I forced myself to go to bed, even with great internal resistance. Of course, with the horrible weather, I lay awake listening to the windows rattle until 10:30pm, but eventually drifted off. I woke up on Saturday morning feeling better, but still exhausted. My one comfort was that Little Man was supposed to go to his Nanna’s that afternoon, giving me the option of having a longer break than on his school days. Nanna came by at about 1pm (later than she was supposed to – I tried not to be irritated and resentful), and when I put down Baby Brother down for a nap at 2pm, I snuck into bed to sleep as well. I’ve heard that new mothers are advised to sleep when their baby does. I think this is an excellent plan, the only problem being that baby usually doesn’t sleep long enough. Barely an hour later, Baby Brother was crying again, I jumped up in a daze, my head full of cotton wool. Nanna and Little Man were downstairs, waiting for me. I asked for 15 minutes to be able to have a shower. This was granted, and with clean hair, clean skin and a rested head, I felt able to go back to childminding. The afternoon was spent outside in some sudden sunshine, and the evening passed by reasonably easily.
Sunday morning, Little Man was taken by his aunt next door around 10am, and I was left just with little Baby Brother. This was probably the hardest day. Much as I love Baby Brother, he needs a deceptive amount of attention. You think, oh, he’s a baby, he’ll be fine, I’ll just give him some toys to play with and I can watch the TV. Not so, little grasshopper. After 15 minutes or so he’ll be bored of said toys and want something different. And when babies want something different, they obviously can’t say something like, ‘Oh, Jenny, I’m a little bored of the squeaky giraffe, would you mind passing the musical caterpillar?’ No, no. Its just, “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!’
As if the fact that you have left to play with squeaky giraffe (something they found very amusing 15 minutes ago) is akin to water torture or genocide. So, I went into the day thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to be easy, I can just do whatever I like all day,’ and about 15 minutes into it Baby Brother made me painfully aware that that was not the case, and I resented him greatly for it.
I did manage to watch ‘Its Complicated’ with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, which was perfectly aimed at my ability to think and engage with a story that morning, what with tiredness levels etc. Meryl Streep! I like her! Alec Baldwin! I like him, now that he’s on 30 Rock and I’ve kind of forgotten that horrible voice message he left his 8 year old daughter Dakota! Steve Martin! He has completely white hair and plays the banjo! Cool! Steve Martin and Meryl Streep stoned! Wow, that’s funny! Attractive people falling in love! That’s nice! Having an affair with your ex-husband! Ooh…. that’s… COMPLICATED. Touche, Hollywood producers, touche.
That night, Little Man was delivered home around 4pm, in the pouring rain, and his aunt asked if I would mind if she didn’t come over to sleep that evening. I was a little worried and upset, but said it was ok. I asked if Little Man had woken up at all the night before and she said no. I said, ok, that should be fine. I was mainly worried about the lack of sleep, and it felt like an even greater burden of responsibility on me, when I was already kind of cracking under the strain of the responsibility I already had. But, it wasn’t until it started getting dark that I realised the real problem.
Those psychotic serial killers.
I was alone. And they knew. Psychotic serial killers always know these things.
The weather outside was, again, miserable. Pelting rain, roaring wind, the whole house was creaking strangely, and it continually sounded like someone was putting one foot on one of the steps outside my bedroom and waiting for 15 minutes and then putting their other foot on the next step and so on (I don’t know why they weren’t coming up the stairs quicker, probably because they were too creaky. But, that was definitely what was happening). There was a tiny little door in my host mother’s bedroom, in front of which was placed a giant glass bottle full of coins. The tiny little door kept banging gently against the big bottle. Now, presumably, the big bottle was there to stop the tiny door swinging open with wind, but in my paranoid brain, that door led to the equivalent of Bluebeard’s basement of dead wives. There were a pile of murdered au pairs behind that door. No, there was a murderous gremlin behind the door and the coins and bottle were some kind of offering to keep him at bay. Then there was the baby monitor, which I suddenly had to use because I was now responsible for Little Man and Baby Brother, and the other baby monitor was down in Little Man’s room. Now, everyone knows that baby monitors are evil. You can hear all sorts of terrifying things on baby monitors. This is what horror movies have taught me (well, at least, this is what horror movie previews have taught me, as I know that I can’t watch horror movies, because if I did, I would have to move back to my parents’ house for at least 6 months, and would only be able to fall asleep with all the lights in the house on, surrounded by garlic and with an arsenal of weapons under my bed). SO, say your charge is possessed by the devil, you could hear all sorts of horrible things coming out of that monitor, that when you then go to check on them, they’re fast asleep. Or, maybe you could hear those psychotic serial killers in the baby’s room talking to you saying things like, ‘Have you checked on the children?’ Oh, baby monitors are evil. And now I had one right next to my head. Evil, evil, evil.
Sunday night, needless to say, was not a good night for sleeping. After I got over all the fear and paranoia (circa 2am), Baby Brother was doing his little moaning digestion thing, and I just couldn’t sleep. I was furious. I was exhausted. I kept muttering to Baby Brother, ‘would you just stop? would you just stop? I’ll just go sleep in my own room and you can stay up here and cry, hey? hey? what about that?’ Of course, I didn’t go to my own room. But, I did my own little protest and moved to the spare room next door. It was still close enough that I would have heard if Baby Brother was truly in distress, but I no longer had to listen to every turn of his head. I fell into a deep 3 hour sleep and woke feeling strangely refreshed, at 6:30am. Just enough time to sneak back into the other bedroom, and hear Little Man waking up on the baby monitor 15 minutes later.
I was in a ridiculously good mood all of Monday. Though, by dinner my exhaustion had caught up with me. I could no longer handle the slightest of yelling or screaming. Luckily, Little Man, at least, picked up on it and stayed reasonably quiet. Baby Brother was wrecked by 6pm, refusing to sit still in my arms, refusing to sit quietly in his buggy or his high chair, so, even though I knew it meant he would wake around 6am the next morning, I put him to bed at 6:30pm. I figured the early start was someone else’s problem, not mine. Little Man was getting harder and harder to put to bed the more he got used to me putting him to bed, but I wasn’t going to put up with any crap on this last night. He was asleep by 8:20pm and I had the house to myself and a day off coming up the next day. My host parents were arriving back at around midnight, so I still had a few hours of potential psychotic serial killers/demonic children possession to deal with (Little Man was muttering to himself in his sleep that night, and it was more than a little unnerving, this strange, whisper-y voice wafting out of his room, but I managed to keep hold of my emotions).
So, there you go. I’m more capable with children than I thought. I always kind of worried I would ‘break’ little children, but turns out, I’m perfectly able to look after them, so that’s nice to know (I’m sure my host parents are also delighted to find this out in hindsight…). Nice to know, but I don’t think that means I’m about to run out and have kids anytime soon. The lack of sleep, for one thing, is too hard. I know that you usually have a partner-in-crime (and, just quietly, I don’t know how single parents do it, so thanks Dad, I love you very much and admire you even more than I ever used to. I just don’t know how you got through it), but, still. I need my sleep. I’m a little pathetic that way. No sleep, and I go a little psychotic. I also eat a lot of sugar. A LOT. And I eat enough sugar as it is, so I can’t really afford to be upping that intake any time soon.
Anyway, I’m sitting in the pub as they close up around me, and my computer is about to run out of battery, so its time to end. More posts soon.

Not actually the kids I look after. Just so you know.
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1 Comment

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One response to “The 5 Day Parenting ‘Experience’

  1. aha i've been trying that 'sleep while the baby sleeps' thing and my body has decided it means 'sleep whenever he doesn't need you, or at least whenever he hasn't said 'wawa can i have some help' for two minutes, or at least has said it quietly', regardless of what position i am in at the time. i imagine i have freaked toby out quite a bit, when he comes in the room and stomps or shines a torch in my eyes to wake me up, while i'm sitting directly upright holding onto my book, but presumably snoring. i would find it creepy. oh and dont worry, i havent had a baby myself, just filling in for a carer so doing some ultra intensive babysitting. i'm so glda i dont have to be there at night, i know i would get so scared! good on you 🙂 xoxo

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