Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Keeping Mum: Mayhem of messing with nap time

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Of all the trying times of toddlerhood, one that I continually hear griped about - and one I am currently struggling with myself - is the changing of nap times.

To those who have not looked after young children before, this issue might seem mightily unimportant. "He changes his nap time? He naps at a different time! Get over it!" you might say.

But when a baby/toddler is changing his or her nap time, whole days can be ruined. The very pace of life is interrupted; disrupted. And if you are juggling more than one child you can find whole weeks go by without you, the primary caregiver, being able to come up for air. The main reason for this chaos is that a child cutting back on his or her daytime sleep is usually permanently crabby for the four weeks or so in which it takes a new pattern to emerge.

To wit: my youngest son is coming up to 14-months, and slowly transitioning from two sleeps during the day to one. Previously, he had one sleep about three or four hours after getting up (at 5.30am, arrgh!), and then another, shorter one about three or four hours after that, finally going to sleep about 7pm.

The morning sleep allowed me to have a shower, tidy the house, do some writing and make a few calls. The afternoon sleep allowed me to spend some time with the older children, and prepare dinner. De Boni, get a life and get back to us, you might rightly exclaim. I'd love to, but this is the reality of being at home with multiple young children - everything still has to be done, and it has to be squeezed in where it can.

Nowadays, my son doesn't really need two sleeps, and if he has the second one, he is up past the time "mummy closes up shop for the day" as childcare guru Diane Levy liked to say. If you have been at home all day with children, at about 8pm you crave being left alone, so getting all children horizontal at a decent hour is important.

However, he still gets up early, and still sleeps about three hours after waking, meaning that by 11am most days, he has had all the sleep he is going to have for the day. So witching hour, with three children to organise, feed, bath and bed by myself, becomes more like feeding time at the zoo. Messy, noisy, and frequently torturous. If he's whacked into bed at 6pm because he's tired (or I am), I'm looking at a 4.30am wake-up call. In other words, I cannot win either way.

When everyone is well and the wheels have not yet come off, this state of affairs is manageable, just. I have to carry my infant on my hip while making dinner sometimes, the TV is on a little too long at others, but we get through. However, if the wheels are coming loose, the whole thing descends into a farce.

This Sunday we had children with colds up all night long hacking and wheezing, a trip to the emergency doctor's first thing in the morning, a school fair to help out at for four hours during the day, and then came home to find out sewage pipe had burst and was leaking effluent into the neighbour's property, meaning no showers or toilet flushing until the plumber could come at 7am Monday morning.

At one point I went over to explain and apologise to the neighbours, and I noticed my usually lovely neighbour couldn't get me off his doorstep quickly enough. When I got home and looked the mirror I realised why: hair all over the place, mascara streaks down my face from sneezing (I was coming down with the cold too) and a food-streaked shirt: I looked demented.

My beautiful, chubby toddler was responsible for all if it, and I had more hard nights ahead of me because of his relentless growing and developing (and virus-catching). Happily he's the only one who doesn't mind you pitching up looking like you've been dragged through a gorse bush backwards. Which is lucky, really, as he's seeing an awful lot of that recently.

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