I must stop being so inordinately pleased by the fact that I outwitted a 6 year old. It is … unseemly.
I babysat for some friends on Saturday night. They went off to see the new Bond movie and for some dancing. I read to their two boys – let’s call them Boss and Cherub -, watched them fall asleep and then crept into the loft conversion to settle in with a good book, listening out for any sleep disturbances. There were very few.
As I was reading to both boys, Cherub fell asleep on me and when I finished the story, I shifted him to his bed. Boss said, “Is Cherub asleep?” I nodded. “You know, Oanh, sometimes, when one of us falls asleep before the other one, the other one can stay up to watch TV.”
Me: “Hey, that’s a great idea. Just to make sure Cherub is definitely asleep, though, let’s wait 5 minutes and pretend we’re asleep, too.”
So the little Boss curled over, smiled up at me and closed his eyes, pretending he is asleep. He was such a good pretender that he actually did fall asleep. I almost did as well, but as I was sitting on the floor between two beds, and not lying down on a nice comfy mattress with doona, I managed to bestir myself. Grinning because I had not been tricked into letting Boss stay up watching TV, I turned the lights off.
It was a very wet, very windy and overall miserable night. The book I had chosen from my friends’ shelves was Diana Wynne Jones’ The Time of the Ghost, a rather unsettling story. As the wind lashed around the house and rain beat against the windows, I read. I almost turned the TV on because the story scared me so much – except I had to finish the story so that it would leave me. Otherwise, I would stay afraid.
Every now and then, I went down to the boys’ room to see if they were okay. They’d moved from where they’d started, and kicked off their doonas (although being English, they’d probably call them duvets). A few times, Cherub called out in his sleep and I came in to comfort him. The way he sat bolt upright, eyes closed, lurching forwards for a hug was at once disconcerting and utterly charming. The first time, I murmurred at him, “Mum’s out, but it’s me, Oanh’s here. It’s okay,” He came fully awake, which worried me, until he said, with his head to one side, “Hello, Oanh!” as if I had just turned up at his house. He gave me a hug and settled back to sleep.
Later, Boss woke and came looking for me. “Are Mum and Dad not back yet?” he asked. “No, but I’m still here,” said me, “Are you okay? Do you want to stay up?” “No, I’ll go back to bed.” But he stood, confused, in front of me. I got onto my knees to give him a hug, and asked him if he wanted anything, “Another story? A pee? Water?” To the last, I got a nod, so I trotted off to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. He drank, gave me a hug and then went back to his bed.
I love the tactility of children. These two, in particular, have no qualms about demanding hugs or climbing onto your lap to talk to you. Cherub has a habit of reaching his hand to your cheek as he talks, or of putting his face right in front of your face. Boss likes to hold onto you while he is talking.
There is something so upsetting about a child upset in its sleep, and something so comforting about being able to soothe a child, with rubs on the back and murmurred words of,”It’s okay”, even though I don’t know what’s wrong or what I would do if I did know what was wrong.
Much later, their parents came home. I was comforting Cherub at the time and trying to settle him back to sleep, but they’d missed him so much they were quite happy to take over the settling part. “You okay?” Dad whispered at me. “Totally fine. They were great.” Boss woke and said, “Dad!” and “Bye Oanh!” and Cherub sleepily lifted his arm to wave at me, and I snuck off.
Oh, and I finished the book.