It’s 2am. The kennels across the other side of the river are at full capacity over the Christmas break, and the howls and barks set off every dog along the valley. It feels like when we lived in Brunswick and a roaring late night motorbike would wake up the dachshund two doors down, who would bark his annoyance and set off a chain of tiny, terrace-housed barking dogs up and down Merri Creek.
The cicadas are at full blast, and the cockatoos screech through the manna gums lining the river. It feels as if we are living in the deep bush, instead of perched on the side of a granite hill, overlooking the vale separating Melbourne’s suburban sprawl and the wineries of the Yarra Valley.
A whimper. “Mum, I did a wee.”
I sigh. I could ignore it, let him fall back asleep. But a fear of having the stinky kid at kinder, the judgment of childcare workers and an exacerbated eczema issue makes me lumber out of bed, stumble into his room and strip the bed. I peel off wet underwear and throw them into the tangle of sheets in the corner.
I wipe him down with a damp cloth, fumble with the nappy that he should have had on in the first place. I lay him into my bed and he curls up like a poked beetle, all sweaty hair and rosebud lips.
I sigh, again, and lay down on the bare mattress in his room. The mattress is new, and soft, with a foamy pillowtop. A few short years ago, a nighttime interruption was a personal affront, an attack on my right to sleep. I blamed the babies. I’m not proud of it, but the heady early days of motherhood make for crazed midnight thoughts, jacked up on four nights of waking up at 20 minute intervals. I remember when his brother was small and I was hovering on the tightrope between chronic exhaustion and the muddy sinkhole of post natal depression, and the baby fell asleep on his front. The SIDS pamphlet I had been sent home from the birth centre with was shoved on the bedside table, part of the detritus of a major life change.
A thought flashed. If he had SIDS, at least I would get some sleep. And then the guilt hit me. What kind of mother welcomes the idea of cot death? What kind of mother feels relief at the thought of her baby suffocating in the night? What kind of mother?
I know now, that thoughts are not actions, and that it is what you do that matters. I love my babies. But I still feel sick at the thought of them facing harm. The older boy will go to school next year, and the idea of it kills me a bit inside.
The dogs across the river are quiet again. I breathe in the smell of my baby and listen to the twin snores of father and son through the thin walls of our creaky house on the side of a hill.