Category Archives: sleep

Titles are for people who’ve had more sleep

Jetlag. Bullet points. Two things that go together like jaffa cakes and a cuppa.

  • Irish dishwashers should be made with double the normal capacity on the top shelf, to accommodate all these cups of tea people keep drinking. Or making and forgetting to drink. Somebody get on that, and don’t forget to cut me in on the royalties, ‘kay?
  • We’d hardly been in the country half an hour before Dash asked me “Why does everyone keep saying ‘Thanks a million’? Why does Daddy keep saying it?” He also asked B why he kept calling him Ted. I think someone was returning to his native idioms a bit hastily.
  • I’ll have to explain the Ted thing for 95% of my audience, won’t I? Maybe tomorrow.
  • Travelling was a breeze, except for the A-1 idiot rookie mistake I made of checking the stroller through with our cases. Mabel had been walking the whole time, pulling her little blue butterflies-and-hearts case adorably, and I saw no reason why that should change. (Doh.) As soon as the case went away on the big black conveyer belt of PleaseGetThatBackToMeLater, of course, she turned around to me and said “Pick meeeee uuuuuuup.”
  • We always gate-check the stroller. It’s why we have a stroller. I don’t know what I was thinking. Blame the euphoria of getting to the airport on time in spite of catching our Metro (to the bus to the airport) with literally, I am not being hyperbolic here, seconds to spare. 

[Mabel is playing just out of my line of sight. Every now and then I hear her exclaim “Jesus!”(more like Cheezuz, but whatever), and then I remember that she’s playing with the tiny figures in her aunt’s crib/creche/nativity that’s set up inside the front door. So that’s entirely appropriate. At least, until I find out what she’s done with the donkey, I suppose.] Ooh, risque Christmas humour. Do I dare?

  • Somehow, I have lost an earring, which is very annoying because I only have the one pair. And now I only have the one. It’s either on the plane, or in an airport, or in any of the three beds I was sleeping in at one point last night, or on the sofa where I was also “sleeping” while Mabel was wide awake at 1am. 
  • The children took turns to be awake last night, which was lovely for them, I’m sure, but not so much for me. Sleep went like this (you probably don’t need this much information, but I have to download it from my brain somewhere):
    – On the plane: 3 hours for Mabel, 2 hours for Dash, about 20 minutes for me, none for B. (He never sleeps on planes.)
    – After we arrived (at 5am local time): Big nap for Mabel, medium-sized nap for me, small nap for B, no nap for Dash, who refused to be tired but got progressively crazier and crazier. High on coke and speed, as his father said. At 3.30 we got into the car and Dash conked out in five minutes. We brought him home and put him to bed, where he stayed …
    – At bedtime: Mabel went to bed at 8pm (very reasonable), I followed not to long afterwards, around 9.30, maybe.
    – In the middle of the night: Mabel woke at midnight, starving. I fed her two pieces of bread with butter and a potato waffle, and after two more trips downstairs, to the bathroom, etc, she finally went back to sleep around 1.30am. Maybe.
    – … and then, what felt like a  moment later, Dash woke up. It was actually 4.30, so I suppose 13 hours of sleep was pretty reasonable, but I was sort of not enthused to see him just then. I fielded him till 5.15 and then handed over to his father and went back to bed until 9am.
  • So things should improve from here, right?

Bare brick and polished wood

Mabel was wide awake for THREE AND A HALF HOURS last night, alternately wailing “I caaaan’t get to sleeeeeeeeep withouuuuuut boooooobboooooo” and “Reeeeeead meeeee a boooooooook”, and I had the theme tune to Go, Diego, Go stuck in my head; and I was all set to rant about it at length but then it ocurred to me that just maybe it was something to do with the booster vaccinations she got yesterday, and lo, apparently a possible side effect of the Varicella vaccine is insomnia, so I’m going with that because otherwise she’s been sleeping unprecedentedly well and I didn’t even want to talk about that for fear of breaking the streak, so we’ll just move on now…

I just made Dash an appointment for an eye exam, because I noticed that he’s holding the book very close to his face when he reads, and on questioning he said that he finds it hard to make out what’s on the visualizer in school (I think this is the projector thingy that saves the teacher actually writing on the board). Genetically, glasses are highly likely if not inevitable, though I hoped the kids would manage not to need them for a few more years yet. However, it would be lovely if something as simple and fixable as that suddenly turned reading and writing from a chore to a pleasure for him, and I am now fantasizing that being able to see clearly would also make him so happy that The Rage would be a thing of the past and homework would be a breeze.

Just let me dream, okay? If he needs glasses, he’ll get glasses, that’s all. (Not like the last time.)


Meanwhile, what I was going to say…

Yesterday we had ocassion to go to the local high school, because they were offering free flu-mist vaccinations (the sort they squirt up your nose instead of an injection), and both the children needed them. I’d never been on the premises before, though I drove past it multiple times a day before we moved up the road to this house. In fact, I’ve never been in any American high school before.

I know high schools tend to be big, and this is a particularly big one, but I was still surprised by the memories that were kindled when we walked through the doors: not thoughts of my secondary school (grades 7 to 12), but instead a strong sense of the Arts Building in my alma mater, UCD. (That’s University College Dublin, not the University of California at Davis or the University of Colorado, Denver.) Partly it was the size, but mostly it was the architecture: the late-1960s style and exposed brick made me feel that if I opened a door I’d be faced with not a classroom but a vertiginously terraced lecture theatre.

I loved the UCD Arts Block. (That’s Liberal Arts, if you’re American.) It was my place in the world from October 1991 till May 1995, when I left partly because I feared if I didn’t go then I never would. I might have stayed, and done a master’s in Spanish Linguistics, or English Lit, and ended up… well, an unemployed MA instead of an unemployed BA, I suppose. In the Arts Block, I could roam the halls with impunity and claim a sun-drenched low, wide windowsill to read in, or snooze in, or, if lucky and with boyfriend, canoodle in. From the overpriced Finnegan’s Break (oh, har har) cafe to the orange lockers in the LGs, past Dramsoc at the bottom of the stairs and sashaying to the strains of the jukebox from The Trap, where those majoring in pool hung out, to giant Theatre L for my English lectures or an L&H debate on a Friday night, and upstairs again to the Modern Languages corridor where the secretary of the Spanish Department was never around if you needed her, I was on home ground.

There was a wooden set of sculptures in the middle of the building that people could sit on, or around, or arrange to meet up at. The first time I saw them they struck a particular chord, somewhere deep in my memory, and the informative plaque confirmed it: the piece is called Pangur Bán, by Imogen Stuart, and it was first displayed in Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre in 1976.

When I was three and four years old, I had regularly climbed that very sculpture, peered through its low-down spaces, found the tiny mouse hiding in a corner, delighted in stroking its smooth, cool, dark wood and laying my cheek against it – and here it was in a new location, stirring my sense memories a decade and a half later. It felt like a special, personal discovery, linking me to this new place before I’d even arrived. (Me and every other student from South County Dublin, maybe. But I don’t know if they all remembered it the way I did.)

I felt like a very obvious interloper if I ever ventured into the Engineering Building, I’d only been in Ag once, and Science – despite the fact that my father had helped design it, the ugliest building on campus (it was the 60s; they couldn’t help it) – was just about somewhere I was allowed be once I was dating one of its number, but the Arts (and Commerce, I suppose, grudgingly) Block was mine.

I didn’t realise how right I felt there until I was about to leave. Just standing between the double set of doors at the main entrance by the “Information” desk (I use the term lightly), I knew that I couldn’t hold on to it – I had to move on and make room for the students coming after me. I had no grand plans for the future; I didn’t really know yet what I’d be doing in September, but it was time to go. Closing a chapter, wondering where the next one would open.

A qualified first

Mabel fell asleep last night without nursing.

I have to qualify that statement a whole lot, but it’s still a first.

  • She has fallen asleep at bedtime without nursing before, for her father a few times, and for the babysitter once – though not for a long time.
  • She falls asleep without nursing in the car, in the stroller, and even in the middle of the night. It’s just falling asleep at bedtime that’s been the sticking point for, well, ever.
  • She did nurse yesterday evening, but (because she’d had a nap) was then wide awake again (demanding waffle, water, music, etc) before finally falling asleep.

But last night, after wailing and crying and demanding and protesting that she couldn’t, she finally lay down and let me start Cinderella, and in very little time, before Cinders had even got to the ball, I’d say, Mabel had yawned twice and her breathing was regular and I was pretty sure she was out. I got as far as losing the slipper before I stopped and gingerly sat up and crept away, but it was a done deal.

Given all those reservations, I’m sort of surprised by this – but all evening I have to admit that I had an odd sense of impending freedom.

Would you take fashion advice from this girl?

Nothing compares

It’s been thirteen hours and seventeen days
Since they took the hour away from me
I go out every night from my bed to yours when you call me at 5am or before
And now you’ve messed up my Sinead O’Connor tribute poem too

Okay, fine, never mind. But my point is that it’s been more than two weeks since the hour went back and Mabel still doesn’t seem to have adjusted in the mornings. She broke a run of horrible nights last night by sleeping soundly from bedtime till morning, but morning came at the unreasonable hour of 4.50am, which is not what I would call morning. I nursed her for an hour and then I was drained dry and she was her father’s problem and I got about an hour’s sleep before I had to get up and find out what all the shouting was about.


That moment when you’ve said “Fine, just get in the car naked then,” and your four-year-old leaves the house resplendent in underpants and trailing a big red blanket, and you throw her clothes in the car for when you get there, and then the neighbour across the road comes out and sees you and laughs. And it’s late November, of course. That moment. It’s funny, but only because she’s my second child.


Mabel likes to put her feet in Dash’s shoes and stomp around declaring, in a deep voice as if he’s, you know, at least ten years older than her instead of two and a half, “I’m Dash.” Then she says “I’m really strong,” and “Daddy shouts at me,” to add verisimilitude.


Since the hour’s been gone I can do whatever you want
I get up whenever you choose
I can never eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
But nothing
I said nothing can take away these blues
`Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares to you


She sits up in bed at some ungodly hour and musters all her self-control to stop crying.

“Mummy,” she hiccups, “let me explain why I have to have booboo to get back to sleep.”

“Okay.” I’m a bit delirious with tiredness because my body is no longer inured to waking every two hours. I know I should stick to my guns and refuse to nurse her, but I also know that I owe her at least a listen to her point of view, and that I’ll probably give in.

“Because…” she casts about a bit for something that will convince me of the strength of her feelings; “…because it’s milky and … squishy… and I neeeeed it.”

Really, how could I refuse such an eloquent plea? Also, see above, re tired.

Night-weaning is a long process, it seems. We go back and forth. Blanket rules just don’t work here. I can make an edict, but for the sake of all our sanity, sometimes I give in. Mostly, I get into bed with her when she wakes, and she asks for booboo, and I say “First, I’m going to tell you Cinderella,” and she’s asleep before I’ve got to Act II (The Prince Decides to Throw a Ball).

But sometimes she’s wide awake, open-eyed and waiting for me to hurry up and get to the end so she can have what she’s patiently waiting for. Meanwhile I’m wandering off at every sentence and trying not to just fall asleep mid-word. She’ll say “Mummy, have you finished yet?” and I’ll say “All right, here, then; just go to sleep,” and hike up my pyjama top.

We’ve said – I’ve said, and she has sort of acquiesced, so far – that once she’s four there’ll be no more booboo at bedtime, only first thing in the morning. I don’t know how that’s going to go on Sunday. There might be more back-and-forthing, it might not be as clear-cut as that. But we’ll start trying, and eventually, we will see progress.


There has been some backsliding on the night-weaning issue.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, becuase it was going so well. She hadn’t had a boob in the middle of the night for so long that I was sure she’d forgotten it was even a possibility. But hey, I was wrong. How ’bout that?

When we were in Chicago, Dash was just getting over his almost-croup, and I was convinced Mabel was about to come down with it. One night she seemed warm, to the kiss test, and I suspected she was running a low-grade fever. She definitely had a cold. She woke up in the night, and I decided to hell with my principles (such as they were, the no-boob principle is always fighting against the why-shouldn’t-I principle) and gave her the boob. It sent her back to sleep quickly, it gave her antibodies, it kept her hydrated, it was just the ticket. In the morning her fever was gone and she only coughed a few times.

So I said, “It’s only because we’re away, and you’re sick.” “Once we go home, there will be no booboo at night, you know?” I said. “Only in Chicago,” I said.

Yeah, right. She’d broken the streak, and she knew it. Also, she’s still sick with a very runny nose and a crackly cough that doesn’t worry me because it sounds productive, as the pharmacist would say. I have not had a lot of luck denying the midnight boob since we’ve been back. And I can’t tell whether it’s because she’s found my weakness (you know, liking sleep) or because she really does need it because she’s sick. But I’m teetering on the edge of sick myself, with a runny nose and an incipient sore throat that never gets quite bad enough to bother about, and telling the long version of Cinderella at 3am is really not something that appeals to me when I know there’s another option.

I do try, though. Last night. Ugh. Last night she woke at some horrible hour and I recounted all of Cinderella (slightly abridged, with breaks whenever I dropped out of consciousness). Then she wailed at me for 20 minutes until I gave her one boob. Repeat for other side, even though she’d promised she’d go to sleep after just the one. (She’s like an alcoholic. I wonder has she an addictive personality, perhaps.) Then the other side, or a Mabel story, or I don’t remember what. Finally, two hours later, she said she was hungry.

One waffle and one more bloody Mabel story later, she was asleep. For, I dunno, an hour, until it was morning.

I’m a bit tired today. I’ll night-wean her again when I have the energy. Don’t hassle me, man.

Nocturnal emotions (sorry)

I have that slightly dizzy feeling that no amount of coffee can remove. My eyes ache a tiny bit and there’s a noise, or a pressure, or something, just behind my ears. I’m going to go right ahead and blame Mabel.

Ironically, she didn’t have a bad night. The problem is that she didn’t have it – the okay night – in her own bed, she had it in mine. When B and I were still downstairs last night, having caught up on both How I Met Your Mother and Doctor Who, and I was starting to think I should go to bed – around 10.15, then – we heard a little thump thump thump and thought, ‘Oh-ho! What goings on are these?’ I went upstairs and found Mabel prone on our bed, wailing and telling me that she was never going to sleep in her own bed again.

I suppose I could have put up a fight, but much the easiest thing seemed to be to go with the flow at that point. I started telling her Cinderella, and by the second sentence she was out for the count. (It’s basically an automatic response now. And probably the only fairy tale I know.) So that was all well and good but now there was a three-year-old taking up a lot of space in our bed.

B decided to take Mabel’s bed for the night. I suppose that made sense, but I still think he got off lightly. I got ready for bed and assessed my options. She was right in the middle, but I decided there was slightly more room on my usual side, so that’s where I got in, with Mabel’s back to me. She wiggled backwards to get closer. After five minutes, I got out and walked around to the other side of the bed and lay down there instead. She moved towards me. I left her head where it was and pushed the rest of her body away from me, diagonally across the bed. Her head nudged closer to me.  She was on top of the covers and I was trying to be underneath them. And so it continued for at least half the night.

At some later point I realised that she was actually sleeping on the other side like a normal human in a queen-size bed, but by then the damage was done. I’ll take back her father any day. I won’t even complain about the snoring.

Present imperfect

Mabel’s a biter.

There. I’ve said it. It’s the worst thing your child can be, until they grow up and become a druggie or   a republican or a dirty hippie or whatever your bag isn’t, baby.

I’m sick of blogs that make you think everyone else’s children are perfect, and of making myself feel that I’m a crappy parent because of this one thing. So I’m telling you here and now that this is what’s been going on, and it’s not fun. I’m also willing to bet I’m not the only one of you who has had a child with a horrible phase, and I think we need to talk about it.

When she was younger, maybe a year ago or more, she went through a biting phase. Happily, it was short-lived and I didn’t have to be the mother of the biter. But now she’s doing it again so, for now, that’s what I am, again.

I know when she does it and how it happens. She’s not attention-seeking, and I don’t think she’s even pushing boundaries. When she’s seeking attention, she leaps up and down and rudely interrupts my conversations with adults. When she pushes her boundaries, she walks up the down-slide smirking and casting sideways glances at me to make sure I see how good she is at being bad. This is not how she bites.

It happens when she’s tired. Because right now we’re in a huge sleep upheaval – the good sort where she is finally, praise the lord, learning to sleep all night, alone, in her own bed, without waking – on the days after the nights where that doesn’t happen for one reason or another, she’s exhausted. I daren’t let her nap midday  – last time I did that, a one-hour nap led to a three-hour-late bedtime, and the whole, horrible, cycle was perpetuated. So we just have to plough through, and sometimes other people are the innocent victims.

When she bites, it’s because, although she may look perfectly content from the outside – watching tv, playing happily with other children, going about her own business – she’s actually teetering on the brink of exhaustion. Something small happens, and she snaps. Her instant, instinctive, uncontrollable response to the anger she feels then, is to bite.

I have a temper. I do, really. It’s been tamped down by time and effort, but I still remember the feeling of having to lash out. I still remember slapping friends who got my goat so badly I had to do something about it. (And I was probably nine or so for that memory – I can’t imagine what I did when I was three.) I remember making a conscious decision to snap a pencil in half rather than hurt someone. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying. So she probably got it from me, is what I’m saying.

I’ve also been the mother of the bitten, when the shoe was on the other foot, and that’s no fun. I know how people feel about biters; I’ve felt it, I’ve listened to the gossip, I’ve avoided certain children and watched them like a hawk. I would not blame anyone I know for feeling that way about Mabel at this point in time.

Three-year-olds do not have much impusle control. It is easily eroded by fatigue, hunger, a long day, a frustrating scenario. They can ask nicely and use their words and share beautifully and even sometimes delay gratification in the morning. But come the witching hour, all bets are off. We’ve talked about feeling angry, and things you can do when you feel angry, like stamping your foot or jumping up and down, or punching a cushion. When she’s tired, there is no space of recognition between the feeling and the reaction, so there’s no time for me to redirect her or for her, yet, to redirect herself.

I have thought a lot about this lately. We’re using a star chart for other things, we’re bringing more order into our lives now that school has started, we are settling into a routine. I am trying with all my might to get Mabel’s sleep on track, because I am 100% sure that’s the key to all of this. That, and time. Time for her to not be three-and a-half any more. Time for her to stop doing it. Time for her to work out what to do with her anger, even when she’s not feeling her best. Time for the bitten to forgive and forget.

Time for me to believe in her, and in me.

Burnt out

I haven’t slept all night for six years, give or take, but now that I finally am, sometimes, getting a solid five or even six hours at a time – and the right hours at that, not the very unhelpful 7pm to midnight stretch that I remember complaining about Dash doing many many moons ago – I’m exhausted. I think my body has taken its pent-up resentment about not getting to sleep for so long and is throwing it back at me, finally, now that it can.

I would think it was my imagination, but a friend told me it happened to her too – when she weaned her two-year-old and her four-year-old finally started sleeping better, she found she was going to bed early every night to catch up on all those years of missed sleep.

I think it’s probably the end-of-summer doldrums too, though. Even though we’re out of the 95-degree days, for this week at least, it’s still hot and humid and sweaty and sunny, and I’m tired of it. We’re all far too jaded to bother greasing up the children with sunscreen these days, and are relying on the natural protection they’ve built up on their lovely tanned limbs to see them through. The mosquitos are having a field day, or several, and my ankles and poor Dash’s legs are currently sprinkled lavishly with their itchy little love-bites. Little feckers.

And the fact that Dash is already back at school almost – not quite, mind – adds insult to injury. I still can’t get anything done, because I have Mabel all the time, but I’m also starting to get the feeling that I don’t want to do anything, and that when she finally does get out of my hair (4th September not that I’m counting) I’ll just slump into a mouldering heap rather than do anything constructive with my surfeit of time and space, because constructive things are hard and require energy.

I think I’ll have to ease myself in gently by taking a little trip to Target. Or maybe Kohl’s.

Don’t even read this out loud in your head

I’m really tempting all kinds of fate even just writing this down, so I’ll have to say it in code, but Abelmay is eepingslay etterbay. I’m sorry if your pig Latin isn’t up to snuff, but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go. I said it out loud for real – in a whisper – to a friend the other day, and that very night the child woke up four times.

To recap, briefly, for anyone who’s new: Mabel will be four in November, and she has been sleeping like a four-month-old for her entire life. By which I mean that she would wake every two or three hours to be nursed back to sleep. So if she went to bed at 8 she’d wake at 10, 12, 2 or 3, and 5 or so, and finally get up around 7. If she skipped her nap and went to bed at 7, she’d wake at 9, and so on. Every now and then, just so I didn’t think I could even do something between 8 and 10, she’d wake up after just one hour. So, rather than lose my sanity completely, I was mostly sleeping in Mabel’s bed from 2am onwards every night.

It was okay, but it was getting old. She was getting old, and something had to change. Finally, this February, I got to the point where I was ready to try again, and so for the first waking we sent in Daddy. She didn’t like it much the first time, (think heaving, gulping, sobs) and I stepped in, but after a few nights she started to accept him and fall asleep with just a story.

In March I started trying to do that with her pre-3am wakings as well. She was still waking up, but often would go back to sleep with just a story from either me or her father. By 3am I would be too exhausted to hold out any longer, and she’d get what she wanted.

Last month, after babysittergate, I decided it was time to stand firm. She’d shown me she was able to put herself back to sleep, so I could finally deny her without guilt. The first night, she was awake for three hours in the middle of the night, trying to figure out how to do it. But in the next few nights things improved. Nowadays, she often wakes once, some time between 11 and 1, and that’s it until daylight. Daylight is when I have decreed she can have boobie, but not before.

So we finally really are nursing just twice in 24 hours: once at bedtime and once in the morning. And in between, Mabel mostly sleeps, in her own bed, and I sleep in mine. It’s taken a long time to get here – longer than I’d ever have let you tell me I’d wait, really – but it’s a good place to be.

Now I have to go and sacrifice some rubber chickens to the pig-Latin gods so that Fate doesn’t read what I just said.