Youngest has insomnia. You wouldn't think it could happen to a ten year-old. You think childhood is full of instant dreamless slumber, that it's only we oldies who lie awake until the small hours staring at the ceiling, constantly re-winding the day and re-fluffing the pillow.
"I can't switch off my mind," he says, sheepishly returning to the living room for the umpeenth time with that telltale nervous smile. Then he does it again. And again. And again: "I'm hot." "I can't get comfortable." "I'm worried about things."
It doesn't help that his big brother is crashing around. I beg him to be quiet. I tiptoe in there, "I've just turned your little brother's light out," I stage whisper, for emphasis. "Please can you stay in your room for a bit. Or come downstairs for half an hour. Just don't move around. Lie low. Whatever you do, don't come out and slam your door, and don't play your guitar, or sing, or play your guitar and sing, or play music, or watch a noisy movie on the laptop, or move. At all. Above all do NOT jump down the stairs. Please." He raises his eyebrows.
Then I go back down and slump before Masterchef. Wow, quite a long time goes by, I actually start to relax. Maybe he's gone to sleep? Then crashbangwallopboom: Eldest jumping down the stairs three at a time, while playing guitar.
I dash out. I hiss: "For God's sake!" I'm even louder than he was. Youngest appears at the top of the stairs, he rubs his eyes. His distress is theatrical: "What was that?"
"Go back to bed, I'll come up in a minute." That's me.
"You didn't come in a minute." That's him, later, back downstairs. Again.
I go up with him. All those stairs. I feel like I'm a hundred years-old. I lie down beside him. I stroke his brow. I can't believe I'm still doing this sixteen years on.
That was a few days ago. Since then we've tried: no screens before bed, hot milk, a warm bath, more story, less story, later to bed, earlier to bed, no hot milk, standing on my head singing an incantation. Actually, not the last one, that's a joke. At least I can still joke. A bit.
But seriously, I'm almost at the lucky knickers stage. If you're a parent you'll know what I mean. That's how it got when they were babies, if they actually slept through (they never slept through), I got silly about it: superstitious. I'd start thinking it was because of what I was wearing when I put them to bed: my lucky blue knickers. Or because of what they were wearing, or because they had porridge for breakfast, or because it was a full moon, or a heavy dew - completely ridiculous: clutching at straws. But you do, don't you? You're desperate. That's where we are now.
So, I bought this herbal sleep remedy. A friend told me to get lavender and spray it on his pillow but I couldn't find lavender so I got Bach Rescue Night Spray and sprayed it everywhere, like you do with lavender. Youngest was excited. Very excited. Too excited.
"I'm going to sleep tonight!" he chanted over and over again, jumping up and down on the duvet. "I can feel it! This is going to work Mummy!" and my heart sank. I went downstairs.
"It's a placebo," said Middle One.
"It might be, yes," I said to Middle One."That's what I'm hoping."
Needless to say Youngest had his worst night ever: up until a quarter to twelve. I was beside myself. He was beside himself. Husband was... fast asleep.
It was a school night. He got so desperate he came in with me and Caitlin Moran (my book, not the woman). Eventually he nodded off on my side of the bed and I got my kidneys kicked in all night. Still! Sixteen years since the first one was born, and still with the kidneys kicked in. It's a life sentence this parenting lark.
Stupid bloody herbal spray, I think, as I make up his barely-slept-in bed in the morning (fluff duvet). Then I stop for a moment to pick up the bottle, to chuck it in the bin, and catch sight of the instructions on the back. I never read instructions on the back, not if I can help it. I am allergic to instructions. Husband likes to read everything twice but I can't be bothered. "Spray twice on to tongue," it says. Oh! Duh.
So I'll try it again tonight, properly this time, and let you know. Just off for a nap.