I’ve been thinking about this, and it’s taken me a while to locate a memorable sleepless night! Is that normal?
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The first night home with No.1 was pretty rough but full of beauty and nervous love. She made weird noises, stopped breathing, gasped a few times, changed colour a lot, and we watched the whole show with bleary eyes and wonderment and a large helping of nauseous anxiety. We even rang the hospital a couple of times and got that patronising label of “new parents”.
That aside, I went through all the toddler years, the health worries (which are the worst) and one extra-especially worrying time when No. 1 had this strange paralysis at night. She couldn’t turn her head and couldn’t change position in bed as a result. She was still in our room at that point and I would wake every time I heard her attempting a move. We found out later (after some observation in the children’s A&E that proved totally inconclusive) that it was probably due to her teething. Mr’s best friend had experienced the same thing with his first child.
Then there was school camp. Seeing your child’s bed empty at night sends a cold chill down your spine til morning. Oh and not forgetting “The Missing” night when (about episode 3 of the BBC series) I turned up at school and No. 1 was not there - which resulted in a full on police search. We found her but that’s another story.
So, health worries, new school, school trips and possible abductions aside what was the worst, most sleepless night?
Camping in gale force winds!
For the past five years at the end of August, we’ve been camping at the same farm in Dorset with friends. It started as a small, short, family trip, three-man tent, two adults two toddlers, two nights. Cosy, minimal and low rise!
We’d crawl in at night having put the girls to bed before a night-cap and snuggle up together, all safe and hamster-like in a feathered nest of duvets and hay beneath the groundsheet for extra warmth.
As the girls grew, so did the tent... and the equipment... and the car... and the length of the stay, along with the confidence and ambition of the mother.
“If you can’t get the time off” I thought the 3rd year, “I can do this alone”! I’m a seasoned camper therefore I can do anything.
I made my debut appearance as a single mother/solo camper, with full and exclusive responsibility for the safety of my two young children sleeping under nylon and fibreglass at the top of a coastal cliff in Dorset. Yay!! What could possibly go wrong?
Now I say, lone-camper but this year after two wonderfully peaceful nights of just me and the girls and the stars and a salty breeze, my brother and his family arrived and set up “Camp Bastion” (as he named it). Full on posh gazebo complete with kitchenette area consisting of a table from his carpentry workshop that had the weight and elegance of a butcher’s block and enough kit to put a film-location catering van to shame. (My sister-in-law is a fabulous cook and likes to feed kids.) No feeble, aluminium camping bumf here please!
We had a wonderful day, blue skies, sea air, salt-water paddles, chicken stew and hot chocolate. Blissful as a Boden advert we sang around the fire and sent the kids to bed with ruddy cheeks and un-brushed hair.
I always take a radio camping - it helps me feel like I’m in a room when alone at night with the wafer thin modesty partition, which lets face it, is all a tent really is! I’m dosing off but to tell the truth, I’m always on guard in a tent and sleep is not deep but more of a sentry. This night was calm like the others; the radio was clear; The world Tonight, Book at Bedtime and then some gentle flapping of tent. I turned the radio up. The flapping increased. I increased the volume, the flapping got louder, until pretty rapidly the tent was dimpling and waving and starting to patter with rain.
I held tight, but sensed my eyes were clenched and sleep was slipping away.
At one point a gust blew the side in so far that, feeling curious like an inquisitve cat, I got up and decided to push back to ‘feel the force’. It was exciting. My heart was gently racing as it does in anticipation of something unknown, not clanging just tapping a rapid breathless beat. My strength was weaker than the wind. I could lean on the tent and still not hold it back. It came in gusts, playfully testing me out.
It was a great tent, a new one - a splash out purchase now this camping thing was ‘a thing’. We were lucky. I knew it, and I lay back in my ‘mummy bag’. I peeped through the ‘’room divider’ at my slumbering beauties, sound asleep and exhausted from play.
Then, crash, the loudest most incongruous crash I’ve ever heard. Hard things amongst the soft grass. Clattering utensils in the middle of a field. And then a whoosh and a thud. I was up like a shot, like a wild mummy animal, and out in the squall of the storm in a flash.
‘Camp Bastion’ had taken a hit. The gazebo had been lifted, buckled and dumped knocking over the butchers’ block, that in turn ripped a gash in my brothers slightly under-achieving borrowed tent. It was hanging by a single thread. One last guy rope that had managed to hold, like a stubborn root.
Beyond my brothers tent the hill began to drop away with a village of tents downwind in the lea of the hill, all calm and still and unaware that they were in a perilous position (and probably unaware of the wind). Visions of the runaway gazebo thrashing down hill, rolling children and sleeping bags into a huge expanding ball like tumbleweed flashed through my head, and I managed to get a hold of the thing with its broken legs and wonky frame.
I held on for dear life.
I remember light, like the moon was shining but the sky was grey and the rain was spray. I felt like I was out at sea, and for a few minutes I seemed to be the only person awake in the world. I felt like Ellen MacArthur in mis-matching pyjamas, mending the rigging - until a voice came from inside the tent; my brother.
‘What was that?’ he asked with fear, I shouted through rain the wind snatching my words. He checked the kids, no-one hurt, then together we pulled the gazebo out of danger and crumpled it into a heap. We secured up the rest of the camp, used the butcher’s block table to ground the gaping tent, and moved anything lose into my porch (yes, I had a porch that you could even stand up in). After about an hour of emergency, remedial tasks, we went back to our beds.
My girls slept through, the wind slowly calmed, and the sun eventually rose.
The morning was a clear one. The sun shone on our battered den and my brother had developed a 1000-mile stare. It turns out the table had narrowly missed his sleeping son.
I still camp alone for a week in August but I choose my spot wisely, always use the guy ropes, and check the forecast for wind gusts on my phone before it gets dark.
I batten down the hatches and turn on the radio.
I think the wind will always make me nervous.