Promptly at 4 a.m. my little human alarm clock sounds off lustily and drags me to the edge of sleep. A sharp elbow nudge in my side completes the rude awakening.
son," my husband's sleep blurred voice mumbles in my ear, "Wants his food."
As I struggle into a sitting positon I reflect on the fact that Steven is "our son" at any other time of the day but at 4
o'clock in the morning he is apparently mine, all mine. There is no point, however in pursuing the matter for he has already hunched back into sleep; in any case he would simply remind me of what he sees as the providence of nature in not endowing fathers
with the means of nourishing their young.
Blearily I get out of bed; my bedroom slippers find themselves on the wrong feet and my dressing gown has somehow turned itself inside out. By the time I have
padded, kipper-footed, over to the cot, Young Steven has reached top gear and I can hear the shifting sounds from the other side of the bedroom wall which tell me that, once again, our son has disturbed the sleep of our neighbours. With guilty haste, I lift
the warm and bawling bundle from the carry-cot.
"Hullo, little boy!" I say, and the whole world, and Steven, stop crying.
It is easy to believe,
sitting there on the end of the bed with my tiny son in the dim circle of light from the night lamp, that we are the only two people awake in a sleeping world. It's not that I am unaware of the existence of the night workers, the insomniacs, even the other
mothers like me on the early morning milk round. I have only to look out at the windows of the local hospital to be reminded that others are working through the darkness. But for the moment it's just we two, as far as I am concerned.
No day-time feed is half so peaceful as this one. Steven has no chance to enjoy the restful quiet which all the baby books stress is advisable for happy feeding. As soon as I lift him out of his cot or pram, the
cry goes up on the jungle telegraph - "The baby's out!" - as if he were an animal escaped from the zoo. Within seconds his sisters have appeared on the scene to watch intently as Steven applies himself to his main interest in life.
"Little sucker," says Anne affectionately, stroking her brother's downily-furry head.
"What did you say?" I ask, startled.
"I said 'little sucker' - he does suck so nicely when he's being milked, doesn't he? What did you think I said, Mummy?"
I let it pass but make a mental note that maybe I should discuss Anne's
quaint use of vocabulary with her sometime.
It is difficult to concentrate on the mechanics of feeding a baby with an audience of inquisitive daughters in attendance. When they bring their books to
me and ask me to read to them "because you're not doing anything much at the moment" - it is still harder especially as all three like to perch on the arms of my chair and lean all over me while I am reading.
It is a relief when Steven, satisfied, finishes feeding and I sit him upright to wind him.
"Where's your windies then?" they coo at him. Considering that I have never used baby talk myself when
the girls were tiny, they have an amazing command of that strange language. Steven, apparently, understands them. He blinks solemnly at the three faces surrounding him and burps obligingly.
one, Cyril!" they all sing, loudly in his ear, "Let's have another one!" I am not at all sure that Doctor Spock would approve.
But if my daughters are almost too attentive towards their baby brother
it often seems to me that I have too little time with him. It is one of the problems of a fairly large family to manage the delicate business of dividing time and attention equally among the children. Before school each morning it is my older two who lay claim
to my attention. It falls to me to solve the case of Hilary's missing plimsolls, or to explain to Anne why I cannot, in all honesty, make up an excuse why she shouldn't have to eat her custard at school dinner time just because she doesn't like it.
For the rest of the day, Little Nan needs my constant reassurance that she still matters in my life and I have to underplay the importance of the tiny usurper in the carry-cot. While everyone else can fuss over
my new arrival admiringly, I have to cuddle my little daughter and tell her that there will only ever be one Little Nan.
Which only seems to leave that early morning hour for my little son. Of course,
like any other sleepy mother, I will heave a deep sigh of relief when Steven eventually sleeps through the night and allows me to do the same - but somehow it does seem worth the yawning mornings for that brief time of tender togetherness.
Four o'clock in the morning is for Steven - and for me.
Slough Evening Mail: March 1973