Last night my son had a nightmare. He’s been having a lot of them lately. I know it’s a phase and he’ll get past it, but those night time yells that pull me from my sleep and set my heart racing can really turn my world upside down. To start with there’s the issue of seeing my gorgeous small son so upset, the real panic in his voice, the need to cling to me for safety from this perceived threat. Then there’s the very real sleep deprivation for both of us – he finds it hard to get back to sleep, so I lie with him in his too small bed for 45mins before creeping back to mine. Then it’s another 45mins for me to get to sleep again. In the morning before school we’re both bleery eyed and a bit sensitive. At school we realise we forgot to bring his schoolbag… I want to cry. Wearily I climb back in to the car, drive home again to get the bag, and then back to the school to drop it off and then home again. In the rain. It’s days like these I’m happy to be a ‘work from home’ freelancer and I don’t have to drag myself into an office, explain to a boss why I was 20mins late today and sit under horrible lighting on 5 hours of interrupted sleep.
And I think of all the unseen things we do as parents. It’s not just the nightmares. The school runs. The snack boxes. It’s making sure my son has clean socks and freshly cooked food. It’s reading Harry Potter for hours on end when I’d rather be reading for myself. It’s holding him whilst he vomits, fully aware I’ll probably get it next. It’s taking half an hour to talk him through his current frustration with an imperfect drawing and holding him while he cries it out even though the phone’s ringing and I really should answer three emails. It’s putting his needs before my own. It’s doing all of this 24/7 even when I’m tired. Even when I’m sick. Even when I have to work. Even when I’ve fought with my partner. Even when I have 17 things to finish before dinner. Even if it’s 4am and I have to work the next day. Even if – quite frankly – I’ve had enough and I just don’t want to do it any more.
But as parents we do it anyway. We may do it imperfectly or complainingly or with a large glass of wine in our hand. But we do it. Day after day after weeks and months for years on end. No one sees us doing these things. No one sings our praises for getting the best comforter award or gives us promotions for the best snackbox preparation. But we do it anyway. And we do it with love, mostly. If we’re lucky maybe there’ll be a teaspoon of grace thrown in as well. And if, sometimes there’s a slight aftertaste of resentment, it fades quickly with the next cuddle, the next tiny hand in ours, the next sleepy goodnight kiss.
A very wise friend of mine said to me once when I was a sleep deprived struggling new parent – “Moments of joy Pen, moments. The rest is just bloody hard work”. And I clung to that idea for a long time – taking those moments and treasuring them, holding them to the light and breathing them in as sustenance for those long tracks of bloody hard work in between. Find your moments, people. They’re better than any award or promotion.