When the man and I were getting engaged someone gave us a piece of advice: 'Never allow your children to sleep between you in the bed.' That seemed ok to us and was consistent with the good parenting practices of our peers. In fact, we didn't even have our babies in the room with us. They slept next door in a cosy smaller room where I went to feed. I breastfed them all for a year and so have no regrets about bonding, but the received wisdom now is that babies need to be close - all the time. This looks as exhausting as it sounds. My daughters carry their babies next to their bodies and sacrifice their sleep to reassure them during the night.
The man is away in Pakistan, Bethany was camping with her two eldest in a pod at Castlewellan lake so I agreed to have her eighteen-month-old baby overnight. Jasper Nathanael is grandchild #5. In the daylight hours he is the cutest, sweetest little boy, trotting along behind his big brother and sister, joining in their mischief: climbing trees, exploring woodlands and wetlands, jumping in puddles, jumping in the sea and happily playing in all kinds of muck. He is joyful child with a sunny disposition and an inscrutable smile. When he turns his brown eyes on me, my heart melts.
Come the midnight hour, however, he turns into a werewolf. When you put him down to sleep he goes from nought to distraught in seconds, howling to the moon like one of the abandoned infants of Shakespeare and so many fairy tales. His heart-rending wail is impossible to ignore. I tried sitting in the dark patting his back until the sobs settled and the breathing was steady, but as soon as I stood up to sneak out of the room he lifted his strawberry blonde curls and fixed me with a look that said, 'Don't you dare!'
So I brought little Jasper into bed with me, where he slept soundly till morning. I did not! He is a wriggler. He stays still for a few minutes and then lifts his whole body and hurls himself through ninety degrees to lie at right angles, his head hanging dangerously close to the edge of the bed. I dozed fitfully, my hand clutching his sleep suit to save him from falling. The sleep deprivation was worth it, however; for one night only, I might add! It was a joy to cuddle my beautiful boy because he is in my heart.
In the car the next day I listened to Poetry Please on Radio 4. Viral poet, Hollie McNish, had selected her favourite poems and I wept as I listened to this one by Hull great grandmother, Norah Hanson:
They come into your life, naked,
vulnerable, a mighty force you
have no defence against. They
cry you to attention, graft their
desires on your heart, take sleep
and reason from you and cast
a spell on you which you can't
or won't break.
They strengthen their hold with
every passing year, grafting their
joys and sorrows onto the throbbing
pulse of your life, and their children,
and their children, graft on the grafts
of generations until your heart's skin
is patched and stretched and aching
with the love and hurt they bring you.
This week I also heard the fabulous Aslan singing, Crazy World, and I cried some more:
'How can I protect you in this crazy world?
It's all right, it's all right.'