Intrigued, I did a quick circle around the bag, and then, shifting the baby into one arm, I awkwardly bent down and opened it up with the other.
Inside was an odd collection of white, spherical objects, all roughly the same size, and huddled together at the very bottom of the bag. I’m sure you’ve already guessed what these objects were, but then, you probably have the advantage of a little more sleep than me right now, don’t you? My middle-of-the-night self, you see, does not fire on all cyclinders, so, when the penny didn’t instantly drop, I reached into that bag, picked up one of the white objects, and raised it up to eye level… at which point the stench hit me, and I realised that, yeah, that was a collection of dirty nappies, right there. GOD.
It took me a good couple of minutes to stop gagging, at which point I realised that Terry had, at some earlier – but equally hellish – time of the night/morning, emptied the nappy bin in the nursery, only to realise that the outside bin was already full to overflowing (Probably with even MOAR dirty nappies, tbh…), and that a black bag in the kitchen was his only option.
To my 4am self, it felt a bit like a metaphor for my life right now: that feeling of thinking you’ve discovered some kind of potentially wonderful surprise, only to open it up and discover that it’s a literal bag of shit. And then you’re outside in the snow that won’t stop falling, trying to wrestle the lid of the bin open anyway, despite the thick covering of snow on top of it: you know there’s more to come, and that last week, when your husband tried to drive to the hospice to see his very sick mother, his car just slid sideways down the hill outside your house, and he had to turn around and come right back home. And now it’s three days later: the snow still hasn’t cleared, he still hasn’t made it into the hospice, and now his foot has started to hurt again – badly enough to need a second dose of prescription painkillers, or he won’t be able to walk – so here you are at 4am, desperately trying to calm down a screaming baby, and not wake up your sleeping partner. But the baby needs his nappy changed, and while you’re doing it, he spits up on his onesie, so you change that too, and at the exact moment – the EXACT moment – you finish pressing together the last stud on the thing, he spits up AGAIN, and you have to take that once-fresh-but-now-totally-soaked onesie back off again after approximately two minutes wear, and replace it with yet another one.
And then you rinse, repeat, and rinse again.
(It’s like raaaiiiiiiiiiin, on your wedding day…)
My 4am self is not my best self, needless to say. She’s not like my 11am self, who sometimes goes for 5 mile runs (Or who used to, anyway…) and feels like she’s winning at life, and she’s nothing like my pre-2016 self, who was always careful to get exactly the right amount of sleep. Nope, my current, middle-of-the-night, circa-2018, self is the same self who last week wondered why her freshly-changed baby’s back seemed damp, only to discover that, when she’d changed him, she’d somehow laid him down on top of a wet wipe, which had gotten stuck down the back of his sleepsuit. And, OK, it was only there for two minutes, if that, but STILL, people. STILL.
My 4am self is the one who realised that it’s not the exhaustion that gets you as a new parent, but the loneliness – and the way there’s no real difference between day and night any more, just a constantly-repeating 4-hour eat/sleep cycle, which pays absolutely no attention to circadian rhythms. My 11am self didn’t know this, because my 11am self is never lonely: none of my other selves are, really. But in the middle of the night, with the darkness pressing against the windows, and the low battery indicator lighting up my phone, it’s hard not to feel a little bit hopeless. So I take the baby into the living room, and I can’t face one more nursery rhyme (I mean, I know Humpty Dumpty had already had a great fall, but at this point I’d push the %^&%$# off that wall myself, seriously…) (Also, why did they get the king’s HORSES to try to put him together again? Horses are RUBBISH at that kind of thing, aren’t they? It’s the whole, ‘no opposable thumbs’ thing, surely? And now I feel a bit bad about ol’ Humpty, really. I mean, dude didn’t stand a chance with a bunch of horses in charge of operations, huh?), so I get Alexa to play him some R.E.M instead. Daysleeper. Find The River. Nightswimming. When that’s done, and he’s still only three-quarters of the way towards sleep, we move onto Counting Crows, and I sit there and think about how the lyrics of all of these songs apply to my new life just as much as they did back in the days when I used to listen to them on repeat on my way to school/work… and suddenly it’s my much younger self sitting there, sobbing because it’s raining in Baltimore, baby… but everything else is the same.
And now it’s 6:52am. The baby is finally sleeping, and A Long December is playing – that line about how it’s been a long December, but there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last / I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself / to hold on to these moments as they pass.
Somehow we’ll survive this: me, Terry, Max, Michael Stipe, Adam Duritiz, and hey! Surprise entry by Dire Straights, of all people! (Look, my baby likes Romeo & Juliet, OK?) We’ll survive it, and we’ll do our very best to hold on to these moments as they pass. Because they WILL pass.