During our recent two weeks in Australia, it was our unfortunate reality to be embedded – literally – with the kids most nights. They were suffering “anxiety” and “displacement” and apparently our comforting presence helped them sleep.
By the second week, the constant kicking in the bum, horizontal manoeuvring, murmuring and coughing was beyond enduring. Coincidentally this happened the night we moved into my friend Erin’s house, where there were two double beds next to each other in the spare room. Relative freedom was glimpsed as Joel and I realised we could put the kids side by side on the futon on the ground, while we slept civilly and in the regular vertical position on the bed above them, reaching down occasionally to offer a reassuring pat/punitive spank in the event of any night wakings.
We approached the first night of this arrangement with anticipation of a mostly restful night. But by the time the sun broke over the eastern horizon, what we had witnessed was a chronological summary of the history of political science. Complex bilateral relationships throughout time were clarified in an instant as I watched my kids fight in their sleep to establish geographical dominance.
I took study notes on my phone throughout the night for any international relations majors out there. To accompany them, I would like to have presented a photo of the lay of the land here, but any parent knows that you never use flash photography when your kids are finally sleeping. That’s just foolish. Instead I have reconstructed the scene using the renowned forensic application MS Paint.
After the kids had brushed their teeth and had their stories, we popped them into bed as shown and took up our own neutral positions. The kids selected the Richmond Football Club theme song as their “last song” and there was a sense of peaceful co-existence in the room, an entente cordiale if you like, as the final rousing stanza rung out. Sleep followed quickly for all concerned.
No more than 30 minutes had passed before the first cracks appeared in the uneasy concord. It was the brash young upstart who fired the first salvo, rotating in the bed like a volatile screw until her feet rested on the stomach of the established superpower. His response was to launch his own offensive, flinging an arm out in a rude land-grab that involved half her pillow and her Minnie Mouse soft toy. A number of tactical engagements involving nudging and angry sleepy mumbling followed until the UN, usually an impartial observer, was forced to execute a stern whispered warning accompanied by a few ineffectual air slaps.
Amity was restored for a short time as both kids lapsed into sleep again.
Joel and I Ban-Ki and Kofi embraced, exhausted, and also fell into a sleep far more relaxing than should be possible while wearing suits, ties and the weight of a coalition of nations’ collective hopes for peace and advancement.
Shortly thereafter tensions again simmered over as the established superpower once again breached the invisible demarcation line and the brash young upstart responded with a devastating display of
military might screaming. The UN, still impartial but losing patience with each lost minute of sleep, administered some more pokes and smacks. Usually these are delivered metaphorically but in this case, literal physical punishment appeared to have the best effect, especially after diplomatic hair massaging and back rubs had proven ineffective in maintaining quiet order.
Minor skirmishes continued to erupt throughout the night in a restless climate of tension as each side made unauthorised border raids in an effort to occupy more than its own half of the bed. The superpower attempted to institute sovereign rights by mobilising a thinly veiled scouting party (his cat soft toy, and his Mickey Mouse) to take up positions on the young upstart’s pillow while pretending to be asleep. She let loose with a volley of elbow jabs and shouting.
The UN reacted swiftly and with fury, imposing sanctions on both sides: tomorrow, there would be no games on the iPad, no Freddo Frogs, and no trips to Australia EVER AGAIN unless they SHUT UP RIGHT NOW! AND F’ING GO TO SLEEP! (At one point Ban-Ki had to restrain Kofi from descending into a tirade of threats which could be construed by the member states as overstepping the stated aims of the organisation, particularly as regards outright threats of violence, and the protection of children as opposed to their abuse).
Then all was quiet on the western front for at least three hours, and everyone slept. No-one tried to subvert world order, change the political landscape, or get up for a glass of water or a wee.
The sun of the new dawn reached weakly under the blinds at about 7am and woke me up before the kids, sleeping equably and angelic. I thought of political history back to antiquity, Sparta and Thebes, Schleswig and Holstein, Germany and France, and how my two feuding beasts had fought an epic battle for dominance that ultimately resulted in little gain for either party. War. What is it good for?
I leaned over to kiss Ban-Ki, adjusted my tie, and dozed off again.