Every so often my little brother tells me he’s “really busy” and “exhausted”. As far as he is aware, he probably is. But you and I know, he’s not. He doesn’t even know the meaning of these words and, sometimes, when I’m having a bad day, I want to knee him in the wotsits and push him to the floor…(sorry Baby G!)
Girly No2, who is 1 this week (happy birthday bubbubs), has just started nursery and we’re in the being-constantly-sick-forever phase. You know the one I mean, that 6-week period of constant colds, all the viruses, chicken pox and hand, foot and mouth (neither of which are anything to do with chickens, which I’ve always found strange). I am buying so much Calpol and Nurofen I’m having to alternate my chemists lest the staff think I am drugging my children for my own amusement. The receptionist at the doctors and I pretty much high five as I pass by. And my daily battle with the Amoxicillin is causing me more rage than the tourists that stand on the wrong side of the escalator in London. Before I move on to my theme – I must take a moment to rant about infant antibiotics. What f****g idiot made them lemon flavoured? (I have to star out now, Facebook recently blocked me for profanity and overtly sexual content – I resisted the urge to write and tell them how very not sexual my butchered vagina is. Luckily for them, medicines were due). Why would you choose lemons? Kids hate lemons – look! Where’s the banana gone? The flavour of my childhood! Still now the smell of bananas takes me back to being a sweaty, snotty mess wrapped in blankets and nestled in my Mum’s lap! If I ever come across the decision-makers on this one then I really will be profane. Facebook will expel me forever. Anyway. I digress. We are all very tired at the minute as we are all ill, covering up to three different illnesses at various stages between us. Night times are hell. Normally I am very lucky – my girlies sleep very well, 12 hours a night, and I am like any other parent, just a regular level of tiredness that accompanies the role of playing Mum (or Dad). At the moment though, we are in zombie mode. It’s like having a newborn. Girly no1, now 3, wakes up coughing at least once a night hacking her tiny little guts up. She’s fairly easy to pacify with medicine, water and cuddles…then she kicks you out and tells you to close the door on the way out. Girly no2 though is a different story. She’s the wailing banshee, the shouter, the 40-minute-bursts-of-sleep-er. You put her down, get back into bed and just as you get to that lovely bit where your body gives in to the heavenly feeling of sleep….she wails again. Last night this happened 4 times. I slept from 1 til 3 and 5.30 til 7. I’m bloody tired.
So when I stare into the youthful face of Baby G, my 21-year-old brother, and he tells me he’s tired, you see why I briefly want to hurt him. When I’m feeling more rational, I don’t judge him at all. He’s in his twenties. He is a normal level of tired. BC (Before Children), I was the Queen of Being Tired. I used to sleep from 2am to 2pm every weekend and still be tired. I have blocked out instances when I might have dared uttered the words “I’m so tired” in front of any parents, the shame would be too much to recall. Because a strange thing happens when you become a parent; you enter a world of tiredness that you never knew existed. You do crazy things like a friend of mine did the other day and google “Chronic Exhaustion” genuinely comparing your own levels of tiredness with those of a refugee that has clung to the bottom of a lorry driving through the Eurotunnel for 4 days. You think you probably have the edge because for you, there is no end in sight. That is not to say child-free people don’t get tired, they do of course. But they don’t have the same hopelessness as a parent, because the parent knows that their windows of opportunity for sleep are controlled by the little people in their lives. They cannot take a sleeping tablet, or free up a weekend to just sleep, they just have to carry on. So deeply entrenched the lack of sleep becomes that even when the children leave home, the parents still wake up stupidly early. I never understood this about the oldies but now I totally get it. The innocent ability to sleep whenever and wherever is rarely fully regained. An appreciation is learned, but the ability never reacquired.
The other thing that makes my jaw twitch is Baby G telling me he is busy. I understand that there are busier people than me in the world. I would not, for example, sit in front of Theresa May and tell her I am busy. Alan Sugar either. My cousin, mother to eight and running her family business. There are just some people you know that, although you feel busy, you know you’re not quite as busy as them. Baby G has three things in his life – his job (engineer for a well known gas company), his car (?!) and seeing his friends. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is great. He is 21, he shouldn’t have other things to be worrying about. But I do find it irksome when he tells me that no, he hasn’t given any thought to Dad’s birthday in two days time because he has been too busy and is soooo tired. “Busy?! DOING WHAT?!” I want to shout! What things could you possibly have in your life besides how to have the most fun at your mate’s this weekend? Smoking is not an activity! Perusing the internet for new hub caps, also not an activity. Teaching yourself how to play your new decks? How lovely to have the time to learn something new! But also – not an activity. As he tells me the 5 things he’s done in the last week that meant he forgot to pop next door to pick up the only copy of the rare book we want to buy Dad, my to do list for the day will flip through my head. Today’s: breakfast (we all know that feeding a one-year old and a three-year old at the same time is a beast of a task); both girls to school for 9am; run 5k; let cleaners in (who has time to clean?!); get showered and changed (must look as least gross as possible as sitting in hair dressers in front of a mirror for two hours); do 2-hours work to prove commitment to new business partner; plan no2’s birthday party in 3 days time; order food and drink (online shop obvs); shop for Christmas shoebox donations and make up boxes; buy and make dinner; go for hair cut (write blog whilst highlights develop); write and send thank you cards for no1’s birthday (now 6 weeks ago – too late? Is it OK to combine thank you cards from both Girlies?!); return clothes that made you look like Gemma Collins before it’s too late for a refund; message friend with whom it took you six attempts to make a date confessing that you’ve totally screwed up and send her list of dates you can actually do; submit claim for lost watch in Amsterdam; and shave your legs because it’s been two weeks since you last touched your husband (unlikely I’ll make it this far but shows I am at least thinking about him). These are the things that just have to be done in order to keep life ticking over. They sound small and quick but they are interspersed with the bear-wrestling-doses of antibiotics to be administered, at least 4 or 5 little sicks on our new carpet to be cleaned up, 3 watery bitty pooey nappies to be changed, 4332 questions from No1 to be answered, regular “Quick Mummy! The wee wee is coming now!” toilet trips and then the usual dithering and dallying of trying to leave anywhere. It’s just a different level of busy-ness.
Anyone without children may well be feeling a prickle of annoyance. I’m not saying that your things are any more or less important than mine. Not that I am busier or more tired. These things are relative and we all make our own paths. I know I made my bed…it would just be nice to lie in it from time to time. I can, however, listen to my darling brother, whose nappy I changed when I was 14 (putting me off having babies until my early 30’s), and have a 3-second facial fit that looks like one of my wires has come loose when he tells me about his busy and exhausting life. When I recover, I smile and pat him on the arm and say “don’t worry, I’ll sort dads birthday” whilst secretly imagining I’m giving him a Chinese burn. One day I will share with him the truth and remind him of these times. I fantasise that I will do it when his first baby is about 4 weeks old and he’s so tired he’s nearly in tears. Then I’ll feel bad so I’ll hug him and tell him he will come out the other side….eventually….