Yes, as many of you will know, Ted is a hard-core non-sleeper. When he was tiny, around four months, he began what Tom and I now refer to as the twilight time… a six-month stretch where he woke every 45 minutes to an hour from the time we put him down until the morning. For most of that time, Tom was his primary carer, and I was working full-time.
It is apparently illegal under the Geneva Convention to use sleep deprivation as a torture technique, so we took a kind of perverse pleasure in thinking that there were probably prisoners in Guantanamo Bay having an easier time than we were. If you’ve not experienced it, let me tell you that extreme tiredness feels like flu. Your joints ache, you feel feverish, your skin is sensitive and you’re convinced you’re coming down with a virus. That is until the instrument of your torture shows you some mercy and you get a few hours’ sleep, whereupon your symptoms disappear immediately.
Everyone we know has had an opinion on what we should do about it, from co-sleeping to shutting him in another room and letting him scream it out. We’ve done loads of research, sought professional advice and tried quite a few things, none of which have worked long-term, and ultimately we’ve just decided that this is who he is. He’s a light sleeper, easily disturbed, and needs less sleep than most children (and many adults). Still, he’s better now… not a great sleeper, but better than the bad old nights. From waking 11 times a night, he’s down to once or twice, and ultimately, he’ll grow out of it. If there’s one thing having an older child teaches you, it’s that this too shall pass. Every phase they go through that you agonise over, Google, join a discussion forum about… well, most of them will be gone before you know it. I’ve never met a teenager that didn't sleep through the night. So in ten years’ time, I should be getting my full eight hours. It’s a scant comfort, but it’s all I’ve got.
That is, of course, if Ted’s evil twin is as merciful. You see, it’s not always my darling toddler that wakes me in the small hours. More often than not, as he breathes quietly beside me, it’s my other, impish offspring… Insomnia. She’s a fiendish little rascal. Often, as I lie in bed, trying to fall asleep, she’ll whisper in my ear. “What about that load of laundry?” she’ll say, or, “So have you really brought in enough money this month? How are you going to find more work?” If I manage to ignore her and start drifting off, she’ll tug at the duvet. “He’s going to wake up any minute,” Insomnia says reasonably, pointing to Ted. “No point in going to sleep.”
If I do fall asleep, she’ll often scratch at my toes, giggle hysterically and point at the clock, just so I know it’s only been 15 minute since I dozed off. Then, in the small hours, she jerks me awake, and then lies beside me muttering an endless stream of words and thoughts until my head buzzes, all the while pointing out the ever-diminishing tally of hours until I have to get up.
Yes, I know it’s an extended metaphor, but no, I am not mad (or not yet anyway). And in case you were thinking it, I have no plans to name any future daughter Insomnia. No one would ever do that. Or would they?
I’ve made a habit over the last while of collecting the most outlandish children’s names I’ve heard in parks and playgrounds. There’s a clear correlation between the poshness of the park and the lunacy of the names. In Queen’s Park we met little Horatio. In a park near Highgate, an adorable toddler called Geronimo. In Hampstead the other day, a lovely brother and sister called Inigo and Armanelle. All of these children bore their unusual labels with charm and innocent grace. However this week, on the Tube, I encountered a formidable lady accompanied by her teenage son. He must have been about 14, at that stage where teenage boys are crippled with awkwardness, where the act of travelling in public view on the underground with your MOTHER is enough to make every cell in your body cringe. His name, which she uttered in piercing, posh tones? Mortimer. Now that’s parental revenge if I ever heard it. Maybe he was named John at birth, and then he refused to sleep. Be warned, Ted… or should I say… Norbert?