Category Archives: Family

Last Friday Night

There’s a pounding in my head…

I grew up in Newcastle. As soon as I reached my mid-teens, “going out” involved dressing up and heading to Dobsons in the city centre where Happy Hour meant you could buy a treble Bacardi and coke for £1.25. For less than a fiver, by 8pm you could be staggering merrily through the Bigg Market, chancing your luck with the bouncers, before teetering to the bus stop to catch the last bus home. House parties involved Diamond White and cheap lager; blurry fumbles on the coats and the crippling dread of Monday morning.

It’s a blacked-out blur…

The drinking culture was hidden in plain sight. As soon as I got my first Saturday job at sixteen, the hours between fitting customers’ shoes would be filled with veiled competitive tales of the night before. At school, then sixth form, the gossip of who had got most pissed and done the most outrageous things was a particular form of currency which seemed to buy admission to the coolest cliques, even as the rules changed and changed and changed.

Think we kissed but I forgot…

For me, emerging from a shy and bullied start to teenagerhood, partying seemed like a kind of get-into-jail free card. It seemed like the easiest way to change who I was, though I realise now it worked more like a badly-fitting disguise. A lot of the time it was fun, of sorts. But a lot of the time, it really wasn’t. Who I’d kissed? Well, I usually wouldn’t have been able to tell you. When you’re insecure to the point of turning yourself inside out; when you’ve learned, without quite realising it, that your value is inherently bound up in whether or not some bloke thinks you’re worth the honour of a shag, it makes a mockery of the vapid “empowerment” line we’re all sold. I wonder how many women, really, have sober one-night-stands – and why that might be?

Trying to connect the dots…

There have been two high profile cases recently involving alcohol and consent (fast becoming a caringly concerned gloss for “rape”). Two young men who, legal consequences aside, we’re given to understand have suffered the life-changing effects of innocently having sex with women so drunk that it required forensic examination as to whether or not they consented. The effects on the women are less important, it seems. “We must educate”, implore these young men, piously, presumably so that no man ever goes through the ordeal they have.

I agree we need to educate. But I think that the education we’re talking about is vastly different.

I have three young children: two boys, one girl.

I will fight like a tiger to teach my daughter that she is worth infinitely more than being considered fleetingly fuckable by any man. That she has the right, always and in every circumstance, to refuse consent to being penetrated. This is blunt language, but it’s a brutal world. And I am not so naive as to think that whatever I teach her will stand up against the cultural messages which tell her otherwise.


And my sons? The boys who, I suspect, will be the target of this “education”?

I will tell them that they have no right to the body of another. That their pleasure does not trump (in absolutely all senses) the integrity of the person in whom they seek to find it. That they cannot go through life assuming consent is the default, or that the onus is on their potential partner to demonstrate otherwise. That whatever she (and for the purposes of this, I do mean she) may  have said, or done, or suggested; whatever she wears, however she dances, however much she may have drunk, she never becomes a convenient excuse for release.

The bitter truth, though, is that they are all three educated all the time. Even though they’re still too young to be exposed to the kind of sex online which makes the stuff we saw as teenagers look like material for Topsy and Tim, they see pop videos and hear pop lyrics and read billboards and magazine covers which make it clear what society really thinks about their respective roles.

I don’t believe that alcohol reveals the true person, although in vino veritarse has a certain ring to it. But I do believe that it drops inhibitions to make people act in a way that they believe they are supposed to, in the way that they’ve been taught to, in a million subtle lessons we will never have noticed. And I believe that this, at least where sex is concerned, benefits one group far more than the other.

I am all for helping to educate our children and young people about the dangers of combining alcohol and sex. Just not, ever, to enable boys to find a way of safely screwing incapably drunk girls and getting away with it.








Flipping Heck

Today is the first Shrove Tuesday in many years when I haven’t made pancakes.

I have lots of memories of other Tuesdays; Tuesdays in which I have berated myself for not remembering that pancakes take forever and a day to cook, and that running between stove and a table peopled with hungry, grumbling children is actually not as idyllic as the wholesome image I have in my head of presenting a stack of pancakes to universal delight.

(Pre-heat the oven, people. Pre-cook the pancakes, then bring the children in for a final, flipping flourish once you’ve got the hang of it and you know that there are plenty to share.)

Still, even against previous dismal attempts, this year I didn’t come close to owning Pancake Day. I had no eggs. No lemon. My husband had bought a pack of ready made ones, but we didn’t even need those.

The children were always going to have pancakes at school (they did), at wraparound (yup), and – in the case of No2 and No3 –  at Brownies and Cubs too (barf), so I wasn’t too bothered about the fact I’d be working, and therefore swearing at a laptop, rather than at a pan.

Instead, I picked all three children up from wraparound, drove them home, ruined their lives (apparently) by feeding them a healthy, home cooked meal from the slow cooker, and then, having dashed No2 to Brownies, left the boys to their favourite pastime – the Xbox they got for Christmas.

I don’t think I worry unduly about being a bad mother, but it made me laugh and fret at the same time that my children, who’d been away from me and their home for all but about 45 minutes since waking up, were happiest blasting clones and being Princess Leia.

So, being a 21st century mother with a penchant for sarcasm and a hungry Facebook account, I shared the moment.

I love finishing work a bit early so I can spend quality time with my children


And they got it.

“Your house looks like my house”

“I recognise this scene”

“At least they’re in the same room as you!”

When my eldest was a newborn, I kept in touch with the women I’d met at antenatal class via text. We gave our babies morning scores out of 10 to record how they’d slept the night before. It’s gone on ever since, with the same friends and new ones, via Twitter and Facebook and wry eyebrows at the school gate.

It’s fashionable to say that social media has made mothers judge each other more; that it’s created a broader palette against which we can find ourselves lacking and a forum in which we can reassure ourselves by trampling those whose fingers stray nearest our heels on some impossible ladder to an unattainable perfection.

It’s probably true, to some extent, but no more so than the impeccably turned out family in every community since time began whose presentability was frantically smoothed over to hide the cracks beneath; the one you’d look at with envy in the market or at church and whisper about afterwards with your sister.

Tonight, though; feeling frankly inadequate at what on many levels could be read as a double mother-fail, the comments of my friends, all so different, all the same, made me smile.

Village, schmillage.

When life doesn’t remind you to buy a lemon, friends come to your aid.


Schrödinger’s Mum

I didn’t know Schrödinger, you understand, let alone his mother. I believe they had a cat, but I think that may have ended badly. Or maybe not.

So it’s silly, really, to say that I thought of her (the mother, not the cat) this lunchtime, as I made an emergency dash to the Post Office to get some cash.

I was working from home, you see, feeling smugger than smug after a productive morning job-wise and happy in the knowledge that I’d got two loads of washing out on the line too. The sun was shining, I had some interesting work to pick up in the afternoon, and I was relishing the novelty of re-tracing the steps of a gazillion school runs without my ankles being in imminent danger from a scooter or my arms trailing a whinge in a raincoat.

Then I saw her, as I sped past the park. Pushing a toddler on the swings, the pair of them wrapped up warm and presumably filling in time before going home for lunch and a nap. I couldn’t see her face; couldn’t tell if she was revelling in the moment or deflecting wails and grizzles from her child and counting down the minutes till they could decently go home.

It was a lovely image, one of those snapshots of motherhood that matches exactly the gallery we all seem to carry within us: This is what being a mum looks like. 

The image that we look forward to and the one we miss when it’s past.

She could have been me, that mum. Me on any one of a hundred days, standing in the park, playing with one or two or three children; making the most of a break in the weather or just desperate to get away from CBeebies before the programmes started all over again after lunch.

“The hours are long, but the days are short” they tell us, those whose children are long grown and gone. We know they’re right, and yet it’s hard, to be in that picture and behind the lens; to try to provide in the now for the wistful regret we know we’ll feel in the future.

Knowing that this precious time is fleeting but, sometimes, desperate for it to pass.





Peer(cing) pressure

From the moment that line appears on the pregnancy test (or is it words, or sex, or predicted SATs scores these days?), parenthood is full of dilemmas.

Do you choose a home birth or an equipped-to-the-eyeballs hospital setting? Do you breast or bottle-feed? Let your baby make her first forays into sold food via whatever she can grab or by dint of a spoon held firmly by you? And, if the latter, do you spend more hours than seems feasible pureeing a butternut squash or opt for the jars that line the supermarket shelves?

The only thing worse than facing all of these dilemmas is knowing that, even as you do so, you are prime cliche material. The things that feel (and, in fairness, sometimes are) so very vital to you, at that moment, will feel vanishingly unimportant just a few years later and whenever you see someone else in the same position, though you will usually try to hide the fact.

If you have very young children, I hate to tell you, the dilemmas don’t decrease in number as your offspring’s age increases. And if you thought that the baby stages were fraught with the risks of judging and being judged, just wait till you have to navigate your child’s request to watch or play or do something you deem inappropriate while simultaneously not calling into question the morality or good sense of their best mate’s mum who has no problem with it at all.

When your principles, your peers and the interests of your precious first (or second, or third) born collide, there is no help in being aware that everyone else has to make a choice one way or another, or that the world, in general, doesn’t thereby end. Mostly, it’s not a prolonged battle. I am entirely comfortable in my position banning Call of Duty, restricting internet access  and vetoing the purchase of hair gel for my four year old. In each case, the desire of the child in question to fit in is, to my mind, easily outweighed by the potential harm (or mess, if we’re talking about the hair gel). Other things aren’t so easy.

My daughter, who is eight at the end of the month, is desperate to have her ears pierced. She has been for at least two years. She plays Claire’s Accessories with handwritten labels, documents all ear-related jewellery in a dedicated journal in the same way that others spot birds or trains, and has an impressive collection of clip-on creations ranging from chandeliers to plastic moustaches (yes, really).  She is fairly sensible, reliable and with as much sense as any self-respecting seven year old should have. She will also, come September, be the only little girl in her class whose ears remain unpierced.

I just don’t know what to do.

I don’t want her to have it done, for reasons of, if I’m honest, snobbery, sense and safety. She is still, to me, so little and so lovely as she is. She spends all her time doing gymnastics, with long hair twined about her face and neck.  I have twice had to let piercings close up because of infection, and, having had my ears done again in February of this year, am in the unfortunate position of literally being stuck with the pair I chose, since the butterflies seem welded to the posts. In terms of practicality and safety, I feel on pretty solid ground in saying no.

And yet, she is a little girl, not just my little girl. She is a little girl whose best friend moved away last year and is still sometimes adrift in the shifting sands of friendship groups. She is a little girl who likes to fit in, who feels secure in belonging. I can teach her to take pride in being herself, but it’s a lesson I only truly learned myself as I approached forty. Is it fair to try to enforce the lesson now, in this way? Will I look back at photos of her this summer and wish I had let her have her wish, or regret giving in?

I don’t know.

And knowing that it is, in the grand scheme of things, an absolute non-issue, is no comfort at all.

Inspector Gadget Arms (or, a letter to my ever-taller son)

I remember when your world was measured by the span of my elbows. Sitting to feed you, your (unexpectedly enormous) downy head resting against one arm of the nursing chair while your (unexpectedly enormous) feet grew, day by day, steadily further round my side on the other.

I remember holding you, rigid, against my shoulder; feeling the air trapped in your (unexpectedly enormous) belly as a physical pain in my own; groaning with sheer relief as it escaped after hours of rocking and swaying and marching up and down the stairs with a dip of the knees just so.

I remember the grateful presence of a new bump to shelf your solid weight against when your early solo encounters with the world proved too much. The wedge of you against me as one arm wrapped you still while the other manoeuvred doors and straps and partings.

You come for cuddles still, your head tucked still beneath my chin, but with your feet, now, planted firmly on the floor. Gone are the days when I can lift you, though not yet those when I can wrap you close and hide your face against me when you need to be out of the world for a while.

I don’t know how to prepare for the days when your arms will outreach mine. For the days, in a few short years, when it will be me pressed to your chest, not the other way round. I don’t know how to believe that your feet will stay firmly on the floor when I can’t be there to check.

It is the strangest thing, to know that I am to be dwarfed by you, while you will stay forever small enough to fill my heart. To hear the snippets that you bring back, as you grow and start to make sense of your life, of a world beyond what we can easily explain and contain for you: “Mummy, the boys in my class think “vagina” is a swear word”; “Mummy, what is a rapist?” and not give in to this urge to enfold you in an embrace that excludes all possible chance of harm; all the inevitable ways in which you have to start to sift and understand and compromise.

I understand now why parents hanker after the early days, that constant presence of a child in the arms, something I thought, while I lived it, couldn’t be completed soon enough. It’s a new kind of love I’m learning; a new way to hold you close without you realising I’m doing it. I can keep you safe still, but I need to teach you how to do it for me when you’re somewhere out of reach. To hold you, always, even when it will be the last thing you want; to keep you wrapped in my arms even when I’m nowhere to be seen.

Getting there

It isn’t that I believe that chaos lurks around every corner, but if it did, it would definitely start with laundry.

Before I had children – only three children, who I’ll regularly put back into grubby-ish clothes to avoid adding to the washing pile – I couldn’t have believed how much time I would spend sorting and loading and emptying and hanging and ironing and putting away. I feel like a modern-day Sisyphus with a spin cycle; like Hercules, only with an airing cupboard rather than a stables to muck out daily.

Yet paying my nightly tribute to the god of laundry, putting away socks and pants in the hope of waking to a landing not filled with piles of clothes waiting for homes, I realised yesterday evening that some of the other household labours which used to seem endless have quietly resolved themselves.

It’s true, that if a toilet is going to be flushed round here, there’s still a good chance it will be me who does it. That the youngest one’s bedroom floor will remain, for the foreseeable future, a fragment of carpet land mined with lego. But my older two have started setting the table before meals and clearing the dishes away afterwards. They are beginning to remember to take their own toys and books back upstairs when they’re finished with them; to put their shoes in the cupboard and rinse the toothpaste tracks out of the sink and open their bedroom curtains without being asked.

When my eldest was a baby, and a committed sleep refusenik, people would ask how things were doing in the shut-eye department. “We’re getting there!” I’d say brightly, through gritted teeth, convincing myself that the new nap routine or the thicker blackout curtains or the singing heartbeat giraffe we’d just ordered would be the thing that would make a difference. When his sister was screaming pitifully at each nursery drop off, I knew that it would just be a phase. She’d get there (and reader, if you’re going through it now, she did). My youngest, whose body is in a small school uniform but whose heart and soul are busily engaged in saving the universe, has to be reminded minute by minute not to be rough, not to crash into things, not to wallop whoever’s unfortunate enough to be nearby while he’s mentally battling “baddies”? He’ll outgrow it, I know. Even this morning, re-enacting “Wrecking Ball” in the hall with himself as the thing in question and his siblings as…well, you get the picture; even after a miserable steely school run with moods and weather alike cold and grey; even when I really cannot wait for him to get past this stage…I know that it will just be replaced by something else.

The children break up today for half term, after six weeks of school runs and activities and general dashing around have brought us breathless from the New Year into mid February. It’s a welcome pause, for them at least, and one to which they’ve been counting down the days. Come a week on Monday, though, it will all start again as we helter-skelter towards Easter and on to the summer and beyond.

Parenting, I think, brings certain truths into sharp focus. Our time is broken down into innumerable small hurdles and triumphs, distinct portions to be marked off on the way…where? It feels as though there’s always something to solve; forever something to get past. As sleepless nights, pregnancy worries and tantrums recede into the past, they’re replaced by fretting over jobs (us), schools and friendships  (them) and life in general (all of us). We made it through the early days of parenthood, but we’re the challenges (and the joys) just change, they don’t disappear. Meanwhile, the shape of a different caring landscape altogether is beginning to resolve itself on our horizon.

It’s hard sometimes fully to take in that we’re not getting there at all.

We’re here.


Spot the difference

I spent last week with an uninvited and unwanted guest. I had a spot on my chin which grew to such a size that it seemed deserving of its own name (if not postcode). God saw fit not to push me over the edge with spots in adolescence, so I’ve never quite learned how to co-exist with skin eruptions, let alone apply make-up and such like with sufficient skill to make them slightly less visible.

So it was that everywhere I went for a few days, the Spot came too. When I entered a room, it went in first. When I was talking to people, I felt as if there was someone else joining the conversation. In fact, so conscious was I of it, that I fell into starting every interaction with the words “I have a spot on my chin”, as if the person I was speaking to might have been under the misapprehension that it was, perhaps, a reenactment of Krakatoa or a misplaced Comic Relief nose.

Each time I said it, I cringed at the words. Why did I feel the compulsion to draw attention to what was, after all, a fairly unmissable blemish. Did my subconscious think that people might have wondered if I was aware of it? Was I reassuring them that I did check my appearance in the mirror before leaving the house? Perhaps my teenage self wanted to get in first and take away any potential ammunition from somebody trying to get one over on me.

The truth is probably an unedifying combination of all three, along with a dose of that peculiarly British virtue of self-deprecation. If it weren’t a contradiction in terms, I would say that I excel at it. I am world class at putting myself down. Doing that Facebook thing that’s going round at the minute last night, where I had been tagged to list seven interesting things about myself, I found it easiest and most natural to recount mildly amusing tales in which I was the butt of the joke. Although I’d never say it out loud, there are dozens of things about myself I should be proud of, lots of achievements which aren’t widely known outside of my immediate family. Yet, like just about everyone else on my timeline who’s done it, I went for gentle self-mockery. Look, look, I have a spot on my chin!

I don’t know if I would really wish it otherwise. There’s a comfort in people bumbling along together, pretending to each other that the good things we have are somehow all the result of happy accident. I am certainly far too British to feel at ease with the prospect of social intercourse based on the trumpeting of personal triumphs. There’s a difference, though, between not actively boasting and going out of one’s way to preemptively kneecap one’s own character for fear someone else may try to.

Yesterday I spent the day with my sister and my little niece. She is at peak cuteness; that fleeting blend of baby and budding individual, finding her words and personality and place in the world. Whatever is said to her, she repeats back, testing out her language and the things it can bring her. If you say to her, “A, what are you?” she raises chocolate-button eyes to your face and replies with the immense dignity of two: “I bootipull”.

She is beautiful of course. I’d say that even if I weren’t her aunt. She’s clever and loving and determined too, and she has that precious sense of self of a child who knows she is cherished and adored. That she is “bootipull” is, to her, a given, despite the soup and felt-tip marks all over her little face, her bare bottom and the gloves transferred from feet to hands because “my cold”.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest that we all try to emulate a two year old. There is little to be desired from grown ups declaring loudly that they are beautiful, let alone doing so while naked from the waist down. Seeing her yesterday, though, I realised how quickly even my own children are losing the ability to say or accept positive things about themselves. They beam when praised or complimented, but there’s a blush too, a slight duck of the head in discomfort. I’m already very conscious of not being overly self-critical in their hearing, but I know that there is more to do to raise them to be comfortable in accepting what is good about themselves rather than magnifying what is less so.

Little monkeys

One of my many failings as a parent is the way in which my children settle their disputes. I’d like to say that they sit down together and carefully consider the other’s point of view before reaching a mutually acceptable compromise, but no: it’s usually a matter of shouting and variously surreptitious wallops. I try to stay out of it, unless there’s imminent danger to life, limb or Lego constructions that I’ll end up repairing long after the argument is forgotten. Their play together is usually amicable, and if their altercations are sometimes less so, well, I tend to think that learning how to resolve a disagreement without the input of a grown-up is a fairly vital life skill (albeit one that plenty of grown-ups around me seem to lack). So it’s only when I really can’t avoid it (or when I’ve recently read an inspirationally pastel piece on parenting) that I let myself get drawn into the role of arbitrator. Usually, the “justice” (and I use the term loosely) that I dispense is swift and sharp. No, you can’t follow your sister round the house hitting her with a bow. Yes, it’s reasonable to close the bathroom door if you wish. Really, for the sanity of us all, imagine that you’re inside an invisible bubble when you’re sitting in the car so that you physically can’t amuse yourself by waving your hands in front of your neighbours’ faces. Some, though, leave me speechless. Dear reader, what would you do if you found your four year old and your seven year old rolling round the floor arguing about the lyrics of a Taylor Swift song? One of my other many failings as a parent is the way in which my children soak up pop culture like so many little sponges. It doesn’t matter what counterbalance I supply in terms of the beloved books or films from my childhood, or educational days out to castles and the like. What they really love, especially my seven year old daughter, is to watch shiny, pretty people in shiny, pretty clips on YouTube. (Shiny, pretty clips…and Minecraft.) Taylor Swift is a big favourite. I would say that they were word perfect – indeed, I would have said that they were, right up until I got caught up in deciding whether a line in the chorus of “22” was:

You kiss me like a baboon


You kick me like a baboon

Baboon Before you dash off to check like I did, confused at how I had, to date, managed to miss any simian references by Ms Swift, let me reassure you. The line in question is:

Everything will be alright, if you keep me next to you

No baboons. Sorry. Unfortunately for Taylor, (and even more unfortunately for me), even once corrected, the children decided they still preferred their versions. They’ll even still squabble about who’s right when they think I’m listening and in need of just a bit more inconsequential niggling to ruin complete my day. The imaginary baboons are going nowhere. The whole thing has made me think (as well as weep). I’m increasingly conscious of how quickly the little Pale we build around our children is breached; how soon they’re out there exposed to people and ideas we’d rather they weren’t – or at least, not yet. Beyond this, though, baboon-gate has made me realise that although I can try to frame my children’s experience of the world, I can’t live it for them. They will perceive their own reality in ways which seem, to me, incomprehensible; they will make mistakes that I can’t even begin to understand. The urge to protect them and to smooth their path by giving them what wisdom and clarity I have learned along the way is overwhelming, and of course I will try, but they aren’t newer versions of me; not my second (or third, or fourth) chance. They’re not going to pick up where I left off. Although I love seeing the people that my children are becoming – and although it’s a long time till they really do become independent – I have to start to learn to be there in the background when asked for advice, not necessarily being in front as a filter. Easier said than done.



We didn’t so much walk to school this morning as forge our way against the wind, our bodies alternately pressed flat then bowed out as our feet danced to catch up with the gusts.

I had lain awake most of the night, hearing the too-close tree creak and the rain dash against the window, and dreading the children’s outrage when I said we weren’t driving. They surprised me, though; chasing after laughs as they were whipped from their mouths, holding hands to anchor each other. Heads tucked into woolly hats, coats zipped up to chins and hands snug inside gloves. Or, in the case of the four year old, inside one glove and one mitten.

He doesn’t actually call it (or them, when they were two) a mitten. He says, instead, “vitten”, which each time I hear it sends the same, over-in-a-second flash of thoughts through my mind:

Don’t correct him, it is so cute, and he is my last baby and he’ll get it right soon enough.

Is he getting it somehow confused with “vitamin”, which to him means the fruity tablets I dole out periodically when I worry they’ve not eaten any enough fresh fruit and vegetables for a few days, and which are a treat akin to Haribo, and have I gone wrong somewhere there in making them seem a treat?

Does he have a problem with his hearing like his big sister?

Out loud, I just smile, and say “yes, your mitten” and get on with trying to leave the house.

The other mitten (vitten) went missing on Thursday. The glove, on Friday. I looked in the lost property cupboard at school, but to no avail, and I refuse to badger the staff, who have potentially fifty two small pieces of hand wear to manage per session. I suspect they fell out of a pocket, or were pulled off impatiently mid game so that little fingers could get on with playing.

Such a dilemma over something so small, though neither pair was expensive.

Do I buy the smart warm gloves that button into the coat and can’t fall out? I can’t really afford them, and the coat he has, handed down from his big brother, doesn’t have the right loops.

Do I sew them onto strings and knot them through the sleeves? I have bitter memories of small arms struggling against spaghetti tangles and wool snapped in temper.

Do I try to teach him the value of things, and demand that he take more care? He is only four, enjoying the last few months of largely unstructured outdoor play before he starts school proper. I don’t want to fetter the imagination that turns the playground into a spaceship and his friends into fellow super heroes. There’s time enough for him to learn the realities of what happens when playtime’s over.

Despite our persuasion, the fundamental wrongness of the mismatched pair could not be overcome and it didn’t make it to school. He insisted on removing both and stowing them in his bag, in the hope that their lost partners would miraculously reappear through the morning.

So he walked, with one small, warm hand wrapped in mine and the other clutched free, knuckles raw against the world.


This morning was one of those occasions which in years gone by I could only have dreamed of (had I ever been asleep long enough to do so).

I had to wake two out of my three children in order to get them ready for school on time.

Perhaps it doesn’t sound much to you, this concept of waking sleeping children. Perhaps it’s been your experience from day one; perhaps you had one of those cherub-like babies who found sleep a welcome friend, not a foe to be battled at all costs.

For something that we never had enough of in our house, Sleep was an omnipresent figure in our lives. We courted her, enticed her; carefully contrived dates between her and our children in the hope that they would discover a mutual pleasure in each others’ company. We would set the scene: soft lights, warm rooms, full tummies, predictable routines. We would watch for signs of interest: rubbed eyes, pulled ears, sometimes even the unguarded sign of defeat that was a yawn, and rush (without any appearance of haste) to engineer an encounter.

But despite all our attempts, Sleep was a fickle friend. She would dally a while, as eyelids drooped and breathing slowed, before suddenly remembering somewhere else that she had to be. Sometimes she would settle briefly, and we would slowly, slowly, slowly lower a slumbering babe into her cot, or creep away from the stilled pram. We grew expert at the infinitesimal stealing away of fingers and palms from below a soft, warm, be-nappied bottom, and more expert still in that sudden jerk, that tiny holding of breath that meant anew the heartbreak of desertion.

Lover-like, we hoarded the time Sleep spent with us, jealously totting up the hours that never felt enough. Where did she go, when she left us? Why wouldn’t she stay, when we had done all we could to make her welcome? What forced her to depart, long before dawn, while we knew that she lingered well into morning with our rivals?

These holidays, I’ve realised that the wooing was not in vain. Or rather, perhaps, that it is over.

We take Sleep more or less for granted, now; we know that, illness aside, she will be there at the end of the day, and that she’ll tarry till – if not noon – at least till children’s TV has started for the day.

We don’t matchmake between Sleep and our children any more. We kiss them goodnight and they meet her in their own time, not in our arms; they take their leave in the morning without needing the comfort of our presence to reconcile themselves to the breach. If there are spats or tiffs through the night, we’re no longer required to smooth things over, save for the occasional nightmare or the wide-eyed, bolt-upright, fast-asleep chatter of No2.

Things have changed so slowly, so imperceptibly, that the remembered 3am walks, the perching ready to chase after Sleep as she left, the falling into the pillowy, dreamless dark oblivion of the truly knackered feel like someone else’s story, not ours. I don’t miss the months and years of  broken nights and gritty-eyed days; I can scarcely believe that I lived through them at all. After these two weeks of lie-ins, though; after gently shaking awake those same children at the hour of 7.30 who in previous years I was coaxing off for their first nap at that time, I realise again how quickly that total dependence on us – in some ways – is fading away.