Getting our children to sleep each evening is becoming something of a military operation. And judging by the success we are currently having, it is a military operation of French design.
The following takes place between 19:00 and 00:00.
Events occur in real time….
Once the boys have finished eating dinner (and I use the term ‘eating’ loosely, since Ollie takes so long to finish a meal he appears to feed via osmosis, whereas Isaac only lands around 15% of the food in his mouth – the remainder ending up somewhere between his lap, his hair, the floor, the walls, or in/on the dog), we begin the trauma of bath time.
Ollie is ushered (shoved) into the living room to finish whatever programme he was watching, colouring he was doing, or game he was playing before we cruelly dragged him away to eat; while my wife tries to pin Isaac down long enough to start undressing him. This, as you might imagine, is like trying to pin down and undress a cat, except the cat would squeal and scratch less.
I manage to escape for a few glorious minutes of peace while I run the bath.
Isaac is the first to get in, and for a minute or so he stands rather than sits. This isn’t because he dislikes going in the bath, or because the water is too hot/cold (believe me, after five years of being a Dad, I can pretty much get bath water to any precise temperature, with just one highly-trained elbow); it is for one very simple reason: he knows, as well as we do, that he is going to piss everywhere within a few seconds of his feet touching the soapy water, and he would rather be stood up for maximum drama and effect (like one of those cherub fountains you see at garden centres).
When we realised that he was doing this regularly, we tried him on a potty before putting him in the bath, but the stubborn sod could be sat there for half an hour and the potty would still be as dry as the Gobi desert when he got up. Then, as soon as he went in the bath, the jet stream would commence. So, now, we just accept that he’s going to christen the water as soon as we stand him in it, and make sure we don’t tell Ollie when he gets in shortly afterwards.
Ollie appears – his state of undress usually ranging from having just one sock missing, to being completely stark naked, depending on how arsed he could be to get ready – and he also waits until one foot is in contact with the water before deciding he needs the toilet too. Again, we have tried to explain to him that he does this every bloody time, but he will swear that he doesn’t need to go, right up until that first foot is sufficiently soaked in bubbles, that it will leave wet footprints across the bathroom floor as he dashes to the toilet in a state of extreme urgency.
Having tried to force as much water out of the tub, and over me, as possible (usually somewhere between 40-50%), Isaac is the first to be removed from the bath and restrained by a towel, ready for my wife to begin the ordeal of putting him to bed. I have never tried to wrap a towel around a live octopus (who has?), but I cannot imagine it would be any harder to keep all the limbs inside.
Without Isaac to entertain him, Ollie quickly grows bored of bath time and wants to get out. Despite the fact he still has a room to himself (for reasons which will become clear, Isaac remains in a cot in our room), the two are adjacent to one another, so it is important that Ollie is as quiet as possible when going to bed.
Unfortunately, Ollie’s definition of ‘quiet’ appears to differ from the rest of humanity. He seems to think that he can still make as much noise as possible, so long as he repeatedly shouts ‘tiptoe, tiptoe’ while doing it.
My wife and I have now gone our separate ways. I am responsible for coercing son #1 into bed, while she’s in charge of the squealing octopus that is son #2. The plan is to meet again at the dinner table, at some point before midnight.
Ollie insists on putting his pyjamas on himself. Following a five minute spell where he repeatedly tries to force both of his feet through alternating legs of his Turtles onesie, I finally lose my shit and insist that I help him before we both relinquish the will to live. He cries because ‘Daddy shouted at me’. I get angrier because his crying will disturb Isaac. He cries louder. A vicious circle ensues.
I brush his teeth with all the gentle-affection of a hungover polar bear, before he climbs (stomps) up the steps of his cabin bed. He has the choice of listening to an audio book on his CD player (but we are trying to steer him away from this, as the volume is broken and permanently fixed on ‘old person’), or reading a book. Playing with his toys is not an option. He chooses a puzzle book and grabs a pen. I haven’t got the energy to argue, so resign myself to making the same threat I make every night – “wake your brother up, and I’ll throw that book into the back garden. I do not expect to hear a peep out of you. I do not expect to have to come back upstairs. I want you asleep in the next half an hour. Do you understand me?”
“Daddy, what’s 4 down?”
I am in the kitchen preparing our dinner, but I try not to commence any actual cooking until my wife has successfully manoeuvred Isaac into his cot (which involves cuddling him into a sufficiently deep enough sleep, so that he can then be transferred, through a series of painfully slow and precise movements, from our bed to his) and has joined me downstairs. This, of course, is pointless. It doesn’t matter what meal I have chosen to cook, or how long it takes to complete, because Isaac has an in-built timer which is set to go off as soon as I serve up. It’s got to the point where I don’t even use the clock on the oven any more, I just wait for Isaac to wake up and scream down the monitor (which will be at some point within the first hour of him supposedly being down for the night) and I know that dinner is ready.
Dinner is served. Well, for me, anyway.
I cannot remember the last time my wife and I managed to eat a full meal together. Usually, I start eating while she tries to get Isaac back to sleep, so that when I’m finished I can take over if necessary. On this occasion, she has managed to put Isaac down again, and joins me before her dinner gets too cold, but her creeping downstairs appears to be a signal for Ollie to commence making as much noise as possible. We hear him get out of bed to grab another book off his shelf, and judging by the noise, he pulls several more to the floor in the process. Then, moments later, the sound we have been dreading – the bathroom light switch. Why does he always choose to crap when we’re eating?
I have drawn the short straw, and head upstairs to help Ollie in the bathroom. Every single stair creaks loudly on the way up. I have tried to remember which parts of which stairs creek, and have tested a variety of different stair-climbing techniques over the past few months to minimise the noise (ranging from ‘the rock climber’ to ‘the contortionist playing Twister’) but it’s all fruitless. It doesn’t matter where you stand, they will creak.
Ollie is safely back in bed, considerably lighter than when he left it, and I again threaten him that I will start removing toys from his room, and then limbs from his body, if I have to come back up again.
Both boys are in bed. One is asleep, and one will hopefully join him shortly. We know it won’t last though, so I make us a brew and grab some chocolate to build up our energy reserves and to keep us from falling asleep on the sofa. We sit down to watch Pointless.
Damn it. We hear Isaac crying down the monitor. If my wife goes, he’ll spring awake wanting a cuddle, so I head upstairs again.
I try a new tactic of practically sprinting up them this time, hoping that if I’m running, jumping, and springing off the walls like one of those French free runners, I’ll be lighter and therefore quieter…. Nope.
Stupid. Fucking. Stairs.
Despite the cacophony of creaking, I get to Isaac and put his dummy in before he wakes fully. After a few minutes, his breathing deepens and he’s off again.
We have managed to get as far as the head-to-head round on Pointless, when there’s a noise from the monitor again. Please, God, no.
I try taking the steps three at a time, like John Cleese doing his silly walk, but now the creaking is interspersed with squeals of pain, as I place an unnatural strain on my calf and groin muscles.
Cursing myself, I make it to Isaac just as he wakes properly. Where’s his dummy? I check in the cot, under the cot, under him, but I cannot find it. The little sod has launched it somewhere. He’s going to start screaming any…
Isaac is inconsolable, so my wife comes upstairs and takes over. I start to head back to the lounge, defeated, but decide to check on Ollie first to make sure he’s asleep. I sneak into his room.
He’s reading a book. I tell him to go to sleep and he cries. I shout-whisper at him for disturbing his brother, and he cries even more. I decide to leave before I make the situation worse.
I am alone in the living room and there’s still no sign of my wife. I start to wonder whether she’s fallen asleep herself, or is silently sobbing into a pillow (neither of which I could blame her for, as I would have achieved both by now).
She gives up trying to get a wide-awake Isaac back into his cot, and brings him downstairs to avoid waking Ollie – who is now finally asleep, with a book glued to his face via a mixture of drool and sweat.
Isaac has won, despite my wife’s persistence, and he knows this. He does his signature ‘victory dance’, which entails him leaning against a sofa, bending slightly at the knees, and then thrusting like a small dog getting amorous with your leg.
Determined to finish Pointless so we can clear some space on our Sky Planner before going to bed ourselves, we allow Isaac to play on the floor while we retire to a sofa each. Immediately, Isaac decides that all of his toys are utter crap, and what he really wants is the TV remote.
Pointless is over, finally, and it’s time to call it a (ruined) night. We take it in turns to restrain Isaac while the other gets ready in the bathroom. Eventually, we’re in bed (along with a still wide-awake toddler) and the lights go out.
Isaac, having enjoyed a five-minute spell of kicking me in the back, fills his nappy with an assault on at least three of the senses. I start to cry. My wife – uncharacteristically – swears like a sailor.
As a new day dawns, I am still quietly sobbing into my pillow. My wife instructs me to get some sleep as I have work in the morning. I try to insist that I should be helping her with Isaac, but I can barely keep my eyes op….
(beep, beep, beep)