Jungle Hour

by Cassy Cochrane

Known variously as Arsenic Hour or The Witching Hour, Jungle Hour is that period of late afternoon when the day dilly dallies as to whether it will become night or not. It can never quite seem to make up its mind, and this is what babies can’t stand, because babies like routines. Babies like concrete things; things that are predictable, like night, like day. Jungle hour falls somewhere in between, and that is when everything turns feral. Jungle Hour is a silent assassin.

Here are the facts, as I have attempted to gather them.

Jungle Hour sidles up somewhere between four and 6.00pm (daylight savings-dependant) and it seems to affect babies between the ages of three and eight months.

Jungle Hour is one of the ‘grey areas’ of parenting- or perhaps the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of parenting would be more accurate. Jungle Hour is a white water ride.

Just when you’re at your tiredest and most fractious, your little angel will be afflicted by this phenomenon, an X file for which no explanation is easily given.

My twins recently turned three; a milestone in their development and mine as their mother. Slowly I am beginning to iron out my crumples. I have all but forgotten what the first year of my twins’ life was like: those first few months of night feeds and splintered sleep, of life with a permanent fireworks display in front of my eyes - until that is, my sister was due to have her first baby.

‘Tell me something they don’t tell you in the books,’ she said.
Then the memories came flooding back in all their white water glory.
‘Ah yes,’ I said. ‘Jungle Hour’.
We mothers have a way of erasing certain memories, and Jungle Hour, like the sensation of needles in your bottom or episiotomies or cervical smears, is one of the first to go.
‘What can I do to avoid it?’ she asked.
‘Well, nothing,’ I said.

So what exactly is Jungle Hour? What are the symptoms?

A couple of hours of non-stop, inconsolable crying would seem usual. It is like white noise, this caterwauling. It is like machine gun fire. You begin to wonder that your baby has any voice left, and what harm is he/she doing to his/her vocal chords. You wonder whether it isn’t too early to enrol them for opera school/ drama school get them on the audition list for next year’s Australian Idol. There is no respite. No amount of coaxing, cajoling, lullabies, milky breasts, warm baths or walks in the buggy seem to make the slightest bit of difference. So you go through your checklist. Full nappy? Overtired? Hungry? Thirsty? Too hot? Too cold? Teething? Burping? Nope.

You may as well not bother. The one thing you can do, as with any Civil Defence Emergency, is be prepared.

Make sure you have all the necessary provisions set aside to ease your transition through afternoon into night. By 7.00pm it will all be over, but those one or two hours can seem like an eternity in pure hell.
Put your own sanity first. Self medicate. It’s a good idea to get in a quick cup of tea and something sweet to eat; chocolate, cake, are always good at around four. This is the calm before the storm. Whether you decide, like your birth choice, to do it with or without the drugs is up to you, but a can of Guinness at around 5.00pm each evening is said to be great for breast milk. Chocolate, it goes without saying, is a necessity; all those endorphins, energy, it’s positively prescribed for Jungle Hour symptoms.

Of course my personal theory about this ‘indecisive time of day’ throwing babies out of whack is nothing more than speculation.

So why does it occur? There appears to be no scientific reason.
After consultation with two GPs and a midwife, plus numerous fellow mums and dads, I still find nothing concrete to provide an explanation.

It’s kind of like a baby version of PMT. There’s nothing scientific to back it up, but it most definitely occurs, and we all know that there’s nothing more real than the wide open lungs of a six-month old baby.

Here are some possible causes gleaned from my considerable research.

1) Its a transition thing. Maybe babies on the verge of eating solid food are extra hungry at that point in the afternoon. Or could it be –
2) Sleep. Perhaps they’re transitioning to drop a sleep so they’re dog tired at 6 but their little bodies just want to hang on that bit longer.

Are there side affects? You may ask.

For the baby? None. For the parent? Emotional and psychological scarring from a particularly piercing bout of Jungle Hour can leave a parent suffering aftershocks well into the night, long after Sir or Madam have finally passed out from exhaustion.

As my husband likes to point out in situations such as this, ‘Once you buy a ticket to the white knuckle ride there is no turning back.’

Like a storm at sea the only thing left to do is ride it out.

Here are some ideas that I’ve found useful.

  • Fresh Air: get some. You need to look after yourself first. Clear out those cobwebs. Oxygenate the blood. Feel that vitamin D soaking into your skin. Go to a park or playground. Somewhere there is noise. Other kids will drown out yours. You will find some comfort in the shared experience. Here are your peer group, the other wild eyed parents pushing their babies through the pink dusk of Jungle Hour.
  • How about noise? Babies love noise. Walk along the footpath of a busy street. Buses or articulated trucks are particularly noisy. Of course there is one problem - pollution. Weigh it up. Let the boundaries of your own sanity be your guide.
  • Shopping malls are also good (very noisy.) You will be distracted by the bright lights and colourful displays and so will your little angel/devil. Browse with intent. Park the buggy up by the cashier’s desk and leave the shop assistant to coo and placate. Shop assistants will do anything to appease if they think they’ll make a sale.
  • Why not visit a friend who has lots of other kids? The more chaotic the better. Lump your little fog horn off with some six or seven year old girl. They love a bit of responsibility.
  • Then again, you could always drive. Open the window. Let your hair down, sing at the top of your lungs. Drown out the machine gun fire in the back seat.
  • How about a drink? (Though of course not while driving!) Hey, it’s not a last resort. It’s a really good idea. One glass of wine will leave you sufficiently addled to take the edge off the jungle.
  • Lastly, sex. (Whose idea was this?)

Listen. It’s time we opened up the forum on this unexplained phenomenon.

Let’s give it a name and put it in the parenting manuals, to make sure parents of the future are aware it’s going to happen, because there’s sure as hell nothing we can do to avoid it.

Brother, sister, a problem shared is a problem halved. You are not alone. Jungle Hour is taking place right now, all over the world. If you’re lucky enough to have transitioned on to the next stage, look back and be grateful. Or maybe you haven’t realised it yet, because you are already immersed in the next stage- solids, a whole new nappy full of delights.

So, if you’ve recently given birth, or are still in the throes of your blissful baby-moon, this cautionary tale is for you.

I sent my sister a care pack, when baby Silas was around three months old.

The cyclone approaches, I said, and here is your Civil Defence Emergency kit to take to the shelter. It contains everything you need for the big storm: wine, beer, chocolate and earplugs.

Stay strong. See you on the other side.


© Cassy Cochrane

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem