It's just after 2am and I'm in a deep sleep. Somewhere downstairs, there's someone crying, writes Mark Hotton in And Baby Makes Four.
Because it's 2am, it takes a while to work out who it is and to wake up enough to get some pants on and negotiate the staircase of death.
It's Zach - he's sitting bolt upright in bed, sobbing his little heart out. This looks serious, like something a cuddle won't fix. But I try anyway. In between sobs he tells me what's upsetting in one simple word: "George".
Oh crikey, I think groggily, someone has broken in and kidnapped George. Then I realise his favourite teddy bear has simply fallen out of bed and is lying near my foot. With a deft touch I flick him (George, not Zach) up into the waiting arms of a grateful 2-year-old, who quickly falls back to sleep. Groggy mental note, must encourage George not to fall out of bed.
As I carefully ease myself out of his room, minus a few kiss and cuddles, I head for bed, only to be denied a return to bliss by the perfect storm of calamity.
Suddenly Suz is stumbling for the toilet mumbling something about being sick while Piper starts squawking like the loudest noise on the planet. There's retching and squawking, moaning and grumbling, and then I realise there's a dead bird in the middle of the hallway - well, what used to be a bird - courtesy of the Furley "The Fleet Footed Ninja Assassin" Cat.
It's like every member of the household has conspired to ruin a perfectly good sleep. Well almost everyone - I keep an ear out to see if the chickens were kicking up a stink, but they were behaving and not trying to escape, for once.
Sleep is a precious commodity and no parent of a newborn can ever have too much. I've tried to encourage Suz to sleep when Piper sleeps, but that's not always easy or practical.
We've worked out I need sleep more than she does. Surprisingly, I get a little scratchy if I don't have the right amount, or at the right time: Usually those last few hours just before 9am.
And lately, I've not been quite getting a full unsettled night of sleep. If it's not a newborn screeching in the early hours wanting another feed, it's a 2-year-old with pointy knees and elbows, and scrunchy toes wanting to climb into bed at 5am.
It's quite staggering that at that time he can climb the staircase of death, negotiate past the dozen or so pillows that litter the bedroom floor, and get close enough to bellow "wake up Daddy" as though I'm the fifth Wiggle.
Sometimes, assuming I'm conscious enough to navigate down the staircase of death, he'll end up back in his bed where, with a bit of encouragement, he might drift off to sleep.
One time he ended up in the big bed and by ignoring him we both got another hour or so of blessed sleep.
But usually he'll either want "music" and insist on turning the stereo on and off; or he'll want to play on the iPad, which he calls "bus" because it has his favourite Wheels on the Bus app.
You haven't lived until you've had that song played over and over in your ear while you try desperately hard to cling on to semi-consciousness to eke out those last few moments of sleepy bliss.
Postscript: The morning after writing this, Zach decided to get up before 6am, which actually proved to be a positive because it gave me plenty of time to rescue the bird that Furley had brought in and was fluttering around the exposed ceiling joists and wall framing in Piper's room. Why her room has no ceiling or wall linings is a tale for another time. The bird survived.
Mark Hotton is an unusual journalist in that he doesn't drink coffee or energy drinks and relies heavily on sleep at night to help him stay awake during the day.
» Mark Hotton is a journalist, amateur chicken fancier and on the adventure of being a dad of two,
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