No matter how tired I am or how
far I have cycled the day before, my day always starts at
six o'clock, when a two year old opens his eyes, decides
that it's morning, and screams. "I thirsty Mummy." Always
"Mummy," never "Daddy." Then, before I've even had the chance
to rub my eyes, he increases the volume, "Want milk." We
both know the routine, and follow it to the letter. I try
to calm him down as he grows ever more hysterical, while
at the same time reaching sleepily for the milk and trying
to locate his bottle, which by now could be anywhere. Then
I slosh the milk all over the place, pouring it with half
closed eyes. He grabs it and sucks it down greedily, hardly
pausing for breath. The rhythm grows slower as he begins
to drift off again to sleep, and when it's finished he chucks
the bottle and turns away. But my night is over, and I lie
waiting for the others to surface, or noisily put away my
sleeping bag in the hope that everyone else will wake up.
This morning follows the usual pattern,
but this time we are sleeping in a Youth Hostel after two
sweaty nights in a tent. It's not much better; it's still
hot and stuffy and we share a small airless room with four
bunk beds. I am on the top bunk, above Matthew, sleeping
deeply as the children kept us awake until almost midnight.
In three months we still haven't managed to establish a
proper bedtime routine, either in the tent, house or hostel.
My wake up call comes on cue at six. "I thirsty Mummy."
Aware that the hostel has very thin walls, I scramble to
sort Cameron out with his milk. Leaning out of the bed I
realise I am six feet above the floor, so I make for the
wooden pink ladder that is stuck vertically to the bed,
and awkwardly manage the first two rungs before crashing
to the floor. Stuart turns over in his sleep. "I very thirsty,"
the wail increases. "Just getting dressed Cameron then I'll
go to the kitchen for your milk, be quiet now," I tell my
son, which only makes him worse, "No dressed, want milk
now." I throw on my shorts and T shirt and stumble through
the hostel, the only one alive at such an obscene hour.
Pleased with myself for pouring the milk at a record speed
in an unknown kitchen, I thrust the bottle in his face.
He takes one sip and screws up his freckled nose, "Too cold.
"Don't want sausages and beans,
want muesli," says Cameron as I serve him sausages and beans.
"Give that to Daddy then," I tell him, patience wearing
thin. The two year old picks the yoghurt coated raisins
out of the muesli, then spills the rest over the table.
"Want sausages and beans," he demands as Stuart finishes
off the last of the cooked breakfast. "Have some of Matthew's
beans," I suggest. "No, I need all mine," says Matthew,
covering his plate. He carries on eating his beans and ripping
the crusts off his bread until all that's left is a small
doughy square at the centre. "Want Matthew's beans," cries
Cameron, pulling at Matthew's plate. The beans end up on
the floor with the muesli and the crusts. "That's scary,"
says a young Scottish girl sitting opposite, who hasn't
taken her eyes of the whole proceedings. Her comment isn't
The boys negotiate endlessly
over the muesli
I retire to the bedroom with Cameron
to wrestle with his night-time nappy, trying to remove it
and replace it with Mr Happy underpants. But there's no
way this disgruntled boy is about to become Mr Happy Pants.
As I pull off the nappy, I see with horror the results of
yesterday's playtime at the river. The child looks like
he has measles. His tiny body is covered in red sandfly
bites, which he has aggravated into welts by scratching
in the night. He won't let me put on cream to soothe them.
Then he refuses sun cream. Stuart comes to join us with
a map and a plan for the day. "There's a climb out of here,
just a small hill, a hundred metres. Then another slightly
bigger one over towards the coast and we can find a campsite
somewhere along there." It's the word campsite that does
me in. Suddenly I can't do it any more, and break down in
tears. "We'd better go now before the sun gets too hot,"
Stuart presses on, "You sort the kids and I'll do the bikes."
He leaves the room to do his thing with a handful of water
bottles. I give him a look to say stop but he doesn't notice.
Matthew is sitting on the floor helpfully rubbing suncream
onto Puppy The Wuppy's tangled fur, "Puppy needs suncream
to stop him burning." I sit on the bottom bunk and sob.
Cameron wails too, rubbing his spots, "I hurting Mummy."
When Stuart returns the tableaux
remains unchanged. He finally clocks that something is up.
"What's the matter? Is everything OK?" he finally asks.
I spill it out, "It's not OK. It's all horrible. I'm so
tired I can't even think, Cameron looks like he's been playing
with a tin of red paint, the sun is already burning hot
and no-one will put on their suncream apart from the bloody
dog and I really can't camp tonight with all the sandflies
down at the coast. I really can't." Stuart looks at me closely
as I sob into the Mr Happy underpants. He quickly rejigs
the plan for the day, gathering up the spotty boy, the sticky
Pup and his Master, "Look. You need a break. I'll take the
boys out for the day, while you grab some sleep. Mummy's
tired so we're going to have a boys' day out guys." Cameron
cheers up considerably, and instantly puts on his trousers
and suncream. I hate the way he'll do that for his Dad.
Matthew disappears out of the door and returns with two
small dandelions. "I'll miss you Mama," he says, giving
me a kiss on my forehead. "I'll put these into this little
hole in your bar bag, so you can see them when you wake
up." They leave noisily and I lie on the bed and luxuriate
in the purity of the silence. It is the first time I have
been alone for a few hours in almost three months. Day and
night I have shared my space with my family, and until now
I hadn't realised how much this had exhausted me. I sleep
alone, and sleep deeply, with no one crying for milk.
Cameron co-operates, but only
for his Dad