As a parent you inevitably fantasize about the pastoral scenes of child’s play that will engulf your life. In soft focus and pastel hues I saw Tess in a sun-bathed playhouse. I was reaching up to help her down the ladder. I envisioned elaborate tea parties, soccer on the front lawn, and elaborate tea parties. I saw a bike. She’d be jumping at the door, antsy to get her coat on. I saw her bolting outside for a ride in the sun that bathes her playhouse. Her bike would have streamers. They’d catch the sun.
Sure there’s some of all the above, though it’s always raining in fungal Vancouver. But no activity occupies as much of Tess’ play time as one game, or her custom variations of that one game. Her favorite game.
"C’mon Papa,” she says. “Let’s play sleeping.”
Over the course of a Saturday I’ll hear this a half dozen times. The first occasion is usually around 6:30 AM. That would be fine, but the game called Sleeping doesn’t actually involve sleeping. Let it be said that at 6:30 AM every Saturday morning, this duplicitous game is a mild form of father abuse.
Here’s how you play sleeping.
You, the father, are now “the kid”. You “the kid” lay in the toddler bed and go to sleep, but you don’t’ really go to sleep. Keep your eyes close, lest you catch shit, but you must stay alert under those lids, whatever you do.
“Updates” are about to come at you. They will come from “the mommy” who sleeps beside you, but who doesn’t actually close her own eyes. Her job is to monitor, in part, your commitment to the game, so her pretense to sleeping is somewhat compromised. Do not note this weakness in her performance. Just pretend you’re asleep, if it helps.
Now you’re ready to play. And here’s how it goes.
You lay there.
“Updates” are descriptions you will receive about whatever the mommy has to do while you, the kid, do nothing. That is, Tess will get up every thirty seconds or so to attend to something within the purview of a mommy, something that interrupts her sleep, but leaves my sleep, as “the kid”, intact, and boring as all get out.
“The phone is ringing,” she says. “The baby is crying. Now I have to sew and turn the light off and...”
The light is already off, so she’ll have to turn it on, then off, to complete her task.
“Now I have to shut the door. The phone is ringing! Hello? No, we’re sleeping..”
All of this causes the baby to cry again, so Tess will declare that she has to get out of bed – although she hasn’t touched the bed in ten minutes now – and off she’ll go, to soothe her imaginary baby, the one sleeping on the floor, where Tess will soon do some “yoga” while I – you guessed it – sleep.
And by this point I am falling asleep for lack of any exertion of any kind.
“Papa!” she shouts. “Pa-pa wake up!”
“Don’t do that. Now go to sleep!"
The paradox will hurt your brain. It will pass.
"Hey,” I might try. “The sunshine came out! Let’s go -- surfing!”
Random verbs are my only hope. They tempt her imagination sometimes.
But Tess’s reaction is typically swift and pointed. She just drops whatever yoga pose she’s doing and turns the light on again.
“No! Stay in your bed -- kid!”
Off goes the light.
With that she’ll lay down beside me and ask the most confusing question of all. It’s an inevitable part of the game known as Sleeping.
“Papa,” she’ll whisper.
“Uh huh,” I’ll whisper back, careful not to open my eyes ever again.
“Can we play sleeping?”