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AT HOME WITH THE WALTONS: Hamlet had it easy.

Byline: adam WALTON

HAMLET thinks he's got it bad: his uncle has killed his father so that he can marry his mother. This is the stuff that royal families are made of. Hamlet should be proud,not torn asunder by ghostly visions and vengeful,murderous urges.

And what is it that almost stops him from killing his uncle?The thought that whatever rest he finds in death will be disturbed by dreams,``to sleep! perchance to dream; aye, there's the rub''.

Poor Hamlet! He should try living with Ava Lily Walton, reigningWorld Champion of Sleep Interruption; now that would give him something to get his Yoricks in a twist about.

In my early 20s,fired by a notion that. I would be my generation's John Lennon,Jack Kerouac and Jimi Hendrix combined,I would stay up for days on end, shooing sleep away with Turkish coffee and strong cigarettes, writinggodawful, delusional songs warped by my voluntary insomnia,and telling whoever was stupid enough to listen that I was ``too young to sleep'',and that I would ``sleep when I'm dead''.

Ah, the innocent and rampant stupidity of youth!

Right now I would donate the organ that was my part in Ava's creation for a good night's shut eye.

However,microbiology is drastically underfunded in this country,and there have been no takers.

Pre-Ava,in those gold- tinged days of careless abandon, sleep was as free, available and refreshing as fresh air; post-Ava, well,I'm still waiting for the ransom note,``wE HaVe kiDnApPeD slEeP.SEnd pounds 1m iN uNmARked NoTEs or NeVEr eXPeRienCE iT AgaIN!''

Suffice to say that. I would do whatever was required to raise the funds. If anyone out there is looking for a round and furry pole-dancer, who's surprisingly flexible for his age, and prepared to do ``extras'',please get in touch with me.

I remember, with that clarity especially reserved for regret and loss, my last night of uninterrupted, delicious, shimmering sleep.

It was the night of Ava's birth,after I had done what any self-respecting man would do who has just been smashed in the face by the magnitude of the reality of the thing that he has been ignoring for the last nine months finally coming to fruition.

I wet the baby's head with ten pints of Guinness, three bottles of champagne,and enough shooters to send the Magnificent Seven packing.

A bar tab from hell that gave me my last, sweet taste of heaven. I woke up the following morning at nine -NINE! -had a leisurely breakfast,idly mulling over whether my new daughter would play the guitar, the flute,or the keyboards,and trying to work out the best way of telling my wife that. I wanted Ava's middle name to be Dalglish.

I got to the hospital at half past ten. All thoughts of middle names enthusiastically cast themselves out of the window when I saw my wife. She looked like she had been caught in the mosh pit at a Brother Beyond gig by a band of marauding Brosettes.

Very nasty! Her eyes were hollow and vacant and she just muttered,``I didn't sleep a wink. She wanted to feed all night!''

She -of course -was fast a sleep. An innocent little DNA time bomb whose inner clock had been set by a jet-laggedGod after a turbulent flight back from Australia.

My wife bore the brunt of those first six months -but at least she had the luxury (!)of maternity leave to fall back on.

I was being wok en from the shallowest of sleeps five times a night, every night,and still expected to perform all of my,erm, taxing,hunter gatherer tasks; like playing records on the radio,or wrestling words out of an uncooperative keyboard.

Within a week,my tether might as well have been attached to Shergar's tail. I craved sleep like a junkie craves heroin. My methadone was Big Brother and all three series of Robin of Sherwood on DVD.

Since those heady days,and the sleep-free wilderness they call ``teething'',I have learnt a few lessons about babies and sleep.

1.Don't ever let them know that you need to sleep. If you have a vital meeting first thing in the morning,do not think about it in front of baby, she will be able to smell it in your hormones,and will scream all night. 2. Babies are comforted by constant movement. Ask your partner to take the baby for a spin in the car -the baby might not sleep,but you will. 3. Use vodka in the baby's milk,not gin, which leaves a telltale aroma. 4. Do not try to keep them awake during the day by prodding them,or subjecting them to Will Young's album,it will just make them seriously cranky and give them nightmares.

5.Buy ani-pod with an eight-hour charge,and turn it up loud when you go to bed.

6.Soundproof the nursery witheggboxes and polystyrene tiles. 7. Consider auctioning your baby one-Bay.

OK! OK! All but the first two will land you in jail facing charges of negligence but,believe me,each and every one of those thoughts will cross your mind.

Take solace in the fact that one day the sleep destroyer will be a teenager who won't ever want to get out of bed.

There are no simple solutions. A loved and happy baby is still going to turn you into a panda person.It's inevitable.

We thought going on holiday would help,but after three days of Ava acclimatising to the time difference in Boston,MA (ie screaming), we wanted to be back at home.

Even when kindly,mad, grandparents look after her, we lie awake worrying whether she's keeping them up!

Ava is coming up to her second birthday now. I would be lying if I said that. I hadn't had a good night's sleep in all of that time.

I think I slept through on December 14, 2003,but maybe the sleep deprivation is deluding me; you see, I've also recently started thinking that. I still have a number one song inside me.It's got to be a lullaby,hasn't it?
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 27, 2004
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