It’s widely known that my kids can be shitheads, but when they’re short on sleep – my God – they take shitheadedness to the next level. I understand that this is a piss-weak excuse for bad behaviour; in fact, I’m reliably informed (by my friend Alison, no less) that in France the whole “tired and hungry” excuse for shithead kids is widely frowned upon. Your kid’s either well behaved or a shithead – there’s no tired-and-hungry grey area.
In retaliation to this argument, I present to you exhibit A: my 10-year-old son, Ben. When Ben’s had enough sleep he’s a CHARMING fellow, but any fewer than his necessary 10.5 hours and he’s giving Damian a run for his money. Unfortunately, Ben doesn’t sleep very well. One of these days, I’ll get him tested for sleep apnoea, but right now I’ll stay out of his way and pledge to never, ever let him have a sleepover again, because right now he’s a sleep-deprived shithead.
His behaviour at the moment is reminiscent of last year’s Bali holiday, when we had to get up at 4am for an early morning flight. The sensible, right-thinking members of our family (that is, the toddlers and the parents) got to the hotel and crashed, then woke up at 4ish refreshed and ready to hit the bar. Ben didn’t. Ben stayed awake. By the time the beer and peanuts were served he was stabbing a sharpened pencil through a complimentary colouring book and snarling at the waiters. And of course I’ve told you about our journey to England at Christmas, when he didn’t sleep for FORTY-THREE HOURS, until he finally fell elbow first into his lasagne. That was quite the achievement.
The problem is, no matter what time Ben goes to bed, he still wakes up at 6am, or earlier (shudder). It makes him an unpopular sleepover buddy. And son. It definitely makes him an unpopular son. But still, that’d be fine (sort of) if lack of sleep didn’t have such a real and dramatic effect on his behaviour.
When Ben came back from his friend’s house on Sunday afternoon – after a sleepover on Saturday night – I could see that he was slightly unhinged (first clue: he shouted at a lamb chop). We made light of it, ‘cos a 10-year-old shouting at a lamb chop is funny, kind of. Then we were, like, “early night tonight eh bud?” and he snarled and said something along the lines of: “You can’t tell me what to do, woman.” Ohhhhhhhhhhhh my friends, you want to press my buttons? You want to see the red mist descend? Call me “woman” and see what happens.
And then – get this – I asked him to take a box of Maltesers round to the house where he’d had the sleepover, ‘cos GODDAMN it, I’m grateful to those people. Bearing in mind they live about, oh, 12 seconds away, I didn’t think this was a particularly arduous task. He howled, and cried a little bit, and when I lent forward to wipe off the Nutella he’d smeared around his gob, screamed: DON’T ATTACK ME, as if I’m in the habit of attacking him on the driveway of our lovely new home. My friends, I was murderous. Not enough to attack my eldest son, but pretty fucking stabby nonetheless. Yeah, he went to bed early that night, but not before he’d kicked a wall, demanded NEW PARENTS, and told us he DIDN’T WANT A PLAYSTATION ANYWAY (good, ‘cos it’s fucking gone for the foreseeable, mate).
Kids need sleep. Kids need loads of sleep. I reckon – and I’ve got no scientific backing for this, just my own experience – that most behavioural issues can be attributed to a lack of sleep; to the pre-dawn wake-up calls and the post-bedtime wanderings. All kids have tantrums, but the tired ones (mine) will scream for a little bit louder and a little bit longer on the floor of Woolworths when refused a multi-pack of Kinder Surprise eggs. It’s a pisser, ‘cos there’s not that much we can do about it, as parents. Believe me, we’ve tried EVERYTHING to get our kids to sleep longer. We’ve put the clocks forward so they go to bed at 6 rather than 7. We’ve blocked out the windows with bin-bags (five-star interior design). Phenergan. Gro Clocks. Nothing really works. If you’ve got an early riser, you’ve got an early riser.
People keep telling me that I’ll soon be banging on Ben’s door to get him up for school, and then I’ll be, like, “Oh, I miss the days when he got up at 4 to eat all my Lindts and make weird YouTube videos.” Bullshit. If that day ever does come, I’ll just stand by the side of his bed, heavy breathing and prodding him to tell him that my sock’s come off.