I glance at the clock – twenty past two. In the morning. Again. I lie there, holding my breath and hoping that K will settle herself back to sleep, but no luck. Her cries of “Mummmmeeeee!” become louder and more desperate and, as I come nearer to her cotbed, her two little arms reach up and clasp me fiercely round my neck. She buries her face under my chin and I lift her up. What woke her up? Was it a nightmare? Or the last, big back teeth that are coming through at last and giving her pain? I try to soothe her but she points very definitely at the door and says “stair! Daddy-car! ‘side! (outside)” and sometimes also “Babory!" (Balamory, her favourite programme) and cries even louder in case I’m going to say No. But I don’t.
I tiptoe down the stairs with her, trying to avoid the worst of the creaks, which sound like rifle shots in the silent darkness. I know exactly what she wants, and I know that I’ll do it because it helps her to settle again. In some ways it is my own fault of course; when she was little and suffered with wind and colic, or was upset for any reason, I’d walk up and down stairs with her or take her outside as a distraction, rubbing and patting her back, and singing songs, and it helped every time. She knew that somehow this made her feel better, and so wants me to do it again; it’s logical I suppose. At least, it seems logical to me now at this unearthly hour!
I open the door at the bottom of the stairs that leads into the living room, and the cats are pleased to see us. Diesel gives a little chirrup, stretches and slowly descends from the chair, and Bubbles rushes up to us ‘bripping’ delightedly and purring while rubbing around my legs, trying to trip me up on my way to the light switch.
K stops crying and looks at them. Then – “Babory?” she asks. The cats are making their way to the kitchen, hoping for a midnight feast. I switch on the tv and dvd for K and put her in the chair, but she wants me to stay with her – “Dee-dow!” (sit down). The cats are becoming insistent so I take K with me and give them something to eat. Purr purr purr!
We settle down in the chair and watch one of K’s favourite episodes. K can say most of all the characters’ names, giving them her own emphasis – “Edie … BUS!” “Josie … JUMP! and “ARCHie!” are her favourites, though she’s getting to grips with Miss Hoolie and PC Plum, and hasn’t quite managed Suzie and Penny yet. I’m beginning to feel as though these people are my personal friends! As the seagull sweeps across the screen to herald the end, I know what’s coming next – and it does. “Star!” she commands, pointing towards the back door or, if she wants to go out to the front garden, she’ll say “Daddy-car” and point to the side door that opens into the car-port where the car is.
Last autumn, when the clocks had changed and afternoons were dark well before K’s bedtime, we took her outside and showed her the night sky. We’d point out the constellations and name them for her. We’d show her the planets, and tell her their names. She was utterly entranced. “Dark!” she cried, in wonder, as we took her out into the garden that was no longer familiar to her without the daylight. She soon learned to say “Staaar” and “Booon” for Moon. (Quite a few of her words start with B at the moment!) It became a regular treat throughout the winter.
And it’s been part of our middle-of-the-night routine over the last few weeks, too; not every night, as she still sleeps right through most of the time, but just occasionally when something has woken and upset her.
I pick up one or both of the two warm blankets that I keep downstairs for her, depending on how cold it is, and we go outside. The cats rush out past us and for a while we can see their white fur against the lawn, in the light from the Moon and the solar lights, and then they disappear. K settles into my arms with her head on my shoulder and gazes up at the sky. Sometimes she’s disappointed that there are only clouds, but if we’re lucky there are stars to see.
“Oooh! Staaar!” she shouts, and points, then snuggles back underneath the blanket. “Yes, star!” I say, and try to put it into context; “that’s part of Orion’s belt, and that one’s Saturn; when you’re a bit bigger, we’ll set up Mummy’s telescope so that you can see its rings”. She probably doesn’t understand everything I’m saying, but she enjoys the conversation.
I walk forward a little way so that she can see the Moon in the gap between next-door’s tall trees, which thrills her again. “Ooooh! Booon!” I can’t help smiling. Usually there is silence all around us, even though we’re so near to a main road. The dark stillness is broken occasionally by wind rustling the trees or a solitary vehicle going past, but usually it feels as though we’re the only people awake in the whole world, just K and me under the starlit sky.
As I stand there gently rocking her, a low-flying aeroplane floats silently towards us like an alien cat in the sky, with one red eye and one green eye and a flashing nose. As it comes nearer we can hear its engines, and then when it passes overhead we hear the sound trailing behind in its wake, louder and then fainter again as it disappears over the rooftops, leaving us alone once more. K pokes a little hand out from underneath the blanket and gives it a wave, and says “Bye bye”.
Then her head begins to feel heavy, and I start to sing softly. I don’t have a great singing voice but she seems to like it anyway! I begin of course with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, and then hum it again quietly. I do this with all the songs; sing the words first, and then hum the tune. She likes to hear them in a particular order, so then comes “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, which is another favourite, and if I don’t sing it next she will start it off for me. Then I go into “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” The next one is a slow, gentle, repetitive lullaby that I made up, and I feel her relax with her chin on my shoulder, like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Her breathing becomes slower and more regular, and I feel her relaxing into sleep as I start on “Westering Home”.
Finally comes “The Skye Boat Song”, and she’s usually fast asleep before the end of this one, though occasionally she’s still half-awake, in which case I give her “The Dark Island”, which will usually do the trick.
I stay there for a few moments longer, still rocking her, still humming the tune, and enjoying the moment before coming back indoors and carrying her back upstairs if it’s still early and going back to bed, or if it’s later maybe staying up to do the ironing, or perhaps settling down into the chair with her on my lap or, like now, sitting at the computer typing while she sleeps in my arms.
Sometimes she’ll have woken later, nearer to four or five am, and while we’re outside we hear a solitary bird singing. Then another bird joins in, and another and another until we’re surrounded by our own midnight serenade of the Dawn Chorus. What a fantastic sound! Somehow primitive and heartwarming, all those little souls welcoming the start of the new day. The light is barely touching the horizon, but the birds know that it’s coming, and they sound excited at its approach. It’s as though they’re all singing just for us two, and it takes our breath away.
I think of all the other mothers and fathers over the millennia who have done the same things with their babies. How many countless parents have seen night turn into day, right back to the beginning of time, when humans first walked the earth? I feel a kinship with them all. How many have stood at the door of their cave, looking out across prehistoric landscapes, and rocked their child to soothe him or her back to sleep while looking up at the night sky? I’m not the first and I won’t be the last. And how magnificent the stars, Moon and planets would have looked then, like diamonds on black velvet, without the orange haze from town lights on the horizon!
Yes, it’s another broken night, and I could have done with the sleep. Yes, this little baby is now a toddler and weighs about two stone.
But this is my longed-for child in my arms. Here we are, together at last, after all those years of waiting. How many times over those years have I looked up at the heavens and wanted to share their beauty with my son or daughter, the way that my Mum had done with me, thereby instilling a love of the night sky that has never left me.
These moments sometimes seem more real than the world of daylight and playgroups, talking and eating, playing and doing other things. And I am only too well aware that they will become few and far between and soon will stop altogether. She’ll soon be sleeping right through the night every night.
I will have my unbroken nights then. But just think of what I’ll be missing! Other Mums talk of their relief at being able to have a whole night’s sleep and I can sympathise with them, of course, but there is something special about sharing these nights with one’s baby.
Time passes so quickly, and I want to hang on to every moment, which is why I’m writing my thoughts now so that I don’t forget any of the feelings that I have now.
So though I might occasionally still inwardly groan when I see the time on the bedroom clock – because I am only human, after all! – I do not for one moment begrudge the fact that she sometimes wakes me so early for our night-time or early morning walkabouts. I will treasure the memory of them for the rest of my life. I tell her so now, while she sleeps, and will tell her again when she’s old enough to understand, and again when she has children.
These moments are magic moments, with just the two of us in the whole world, and one day they will be gone for ever and will never come again except in my memory. As with everything, as she grows up one phase morphs into another, creating its own unique memories. I do really miss the beautiful baby that I brought home from hospital and loved so much, but she turned into a gorgeous toddler, and I love her just as much. One day this toddler will be gone and I’ll miss her too, but then she’ll be a child and my heart will still love her. Then she’ll be a girl, and then teenager, and then a woman, maybe with babies of her own. But she’ll still always be my baby, and I’ll always love her.
(Written by me who was woken early this morning – can you tell?!)