. . . That’s the question. Is your bedroom a haven of peace, privacy and passion? Take a look behind closed doors
Considering that most babies are conceived in bed – well, given the nation’s damp grass and modest character, it seems likely – it’s a wonder that any couple gets round to producing a second child. Why? Well, no one mentions this until it’s too late, But you not only sacrifice your figure, your fortune, a chance of being first on Mars or winning a Nobel prize – you also lose your bed. You’ll have to share it. Presumably you already share it with your partner; but that’s what double beds are designed for. Two is the optimum number of sleepers.
Children are programmed to steal your bed
It starts when children first arrive. Mostly, they’re born on a bed – at home or in hospital – instantly programmed to steal your resting place. Perhaps now that more babies are being delivered on floor cushions, bean bags and under water, this conditioning may diminish in the future. Then there’s the trend to bring newborn baby into your bed during the night. A trend of which I heartily approve; it’s like having a loving little hot¬water bottle tucked into the crook of your arm. It sleeps soundly and – if unimpaired by nightwear – will help itself to a midnight feast almost without disturbing you. A fine system. But what no one teils you, at least no one told me, is what to do when the tiny little hot¬water bottle grows big enough to numb your arm with pins and needles, demand another pillow, and kick off the duvet because its feet are hot.
The time-honoured game of Musical Beds
That’s when you start playing a time-honoured game called Musical Beds. Involving any number of players and any number of beds, it is played all through the night. There are various moves: Dad in the nursery covered only by the Muffin the Mule sheets (because the security blanket and other bedding was removed by the last occupant), or Mum unconscious, slung over the edge of a dropside cot, patting an empty sleepsuit (that occupant having already moved on, too). Usually the game stops when all the players end up in one bed. Kids, bears and comfort objects in the centre. Mum, feet uncovered, no pillow. Dad, clutching the headboard and valance to stop falling out. A friend and sleep-starved father told me: you’ll realise you have lost this game when you find yourself switching on the electric blanket in the spare room on your way up to bed, because you know in your heart that you are going to spend time there during the coming night. The next stage is when the children can arrive by themselves, uninvited. Nowanights, I snap awake at the hushed footfall of bare toes on landing carpet.
Even a Stay-in-Your-Own-bed Achievement Chart failed
Not that there’s much you can do about it. Threats, bribes, rewards – all are useless. I even tried a Stay-in-your-own-bed Achievement Chart with my son. What do you say to a lad who wakes you at 4.30am with a licked star to put on his chart and wanting to know if he’s got enough points yet for a pair of roller skates? Even if you make it through the night, the early mornings can be hell. Children wake disconcertingly refreshed – whatever kind of night you’ve had. And they’re unaffected by hard days, late nights, old age or hangovers. They just want to get up and get on with the day ahead. Ours seem to have refined the technique of parent¬waking. The five-year-old boy brings books, puzzles, hard unidentifiable poky bits of construction kits into our early morning bed. Our 18-month¬old daughter, once released from her cot (her brother can now spring her), is extremely damp and affectionate. My husband thought he’d perfected the art of feigning sleep; she has found it’s no good lifting his eyelids for sign of life, but tweaking individual hairs on his forearms is the most effective method.
Things that go bump in the night
I shan’t go into the noises: rattles, harmonicas, tuneless singing and nonsensical mutterings that sound like a radio turned to a foreign station. More terrible than the noises are the terrible silences. Quiet things happening while your eyes are closed: lipstick on white shirt, nail scissors on net curtain, the dredges of last night’s Horlicks in the underwear drawer . . . Since your bedroom is not private, you must conceal things of an intimate nature. Mum must keep her Pills where she can remember to find them, but the kids can’t. Father must be discreet too: Dad’s been eating chewing gum in bed again, look, here’s the wrapper…’ If your love life requires any more complex or hard-to¬explain accessories, forget it, until the children have left home. It is embarrassing enough to read in your child’s diary at school: ‘My Dad doesn’t wear pyjamas because he grows so hot at night.’
Your children think you must have got them through mail order
All this is theoretical, of course. When are you going to find time to be in your bedroom together and alone? No age of child will allow that as a couple you need time for privacy or passion. They seem to switch directly from the age when they don’t understand it, to the age when they understand and can’t believe you capable of it. Each generation of adolescents thinks they invented sex themselves. Their own parents must have got them through mail order. So how do couples have any more children? There must be thousands of first-time parents asking themselves the same question. Imagine all those couples with dark-ringed eyes from lack of sleep, on their double beds clinging together like survivors of a shipwreck on a raft. How on earth, they must wonder, does anyone else find the time, let alone the inclination? I can’t conceive . . . but, then, plenty of couples do. And that must be why they call it the miracle of birth.