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     Volume 4 Issue 46 | May 13, 2005 |

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Slice of Life

Bed Time Tales

Richa Jha

My maternal instinct is at its worst at night. Which is not to say that it is laudable during the day, but at night, you simply can't get me to wake up every hour to check on my child or to pass him the glass of water that he ever so categorically asks for. My son has learnt the unkind way that snuggling up to me once the lights get turned out only leads to an irritable-mother-syndrome, best avoided, if possible. Predictably enough, The Hubby comes into his own with his gush of mothering impulse at night.

This suited us both fine all these years; I would get to do what I like doing best - sleeping - and he managed those brief hours of close cuddling up with a fast growing up child who increasingly decries the thought of being treated like a little one. Ahead of the arrival of the minikid, our son has established some ground rules in his mind, and being smothered by excessive nestling is unacceptable.

His new would-be big brother status got a further reinforcement when we decided to start preparing him for sleeping separately so that we have room on the bed for the minikid as and when it decides to storm into our lives. To ease up the process of physical distancing, we planned for a separate arrangement in the same room, to begin with. He enthusiastically took to the idea of having a bed of his own, and was quite content with the suggestion of a 'down bed', which is nothing more sophisticated than a fluffy mattress covered with his kiddy bed sheet.

Every evening, he gets to move his entire collection of books, small cars, along with the trusted coterie of stuffed toys on to this now most-sacred space, so he has every reason to be ecstatic with this deal. Since big boys are strong enough to move mountains, he doesn't mind moving his own mattress from the other end of the house and then inhabiting it with his favourites (forgot to mention his shoes, a newspaper, a magazine, handkerchief, an alarm clock, and an empty tube of my face cleanser that get added as frills on the fringes of his down-bed). It's an interesting night time ritual he looks forward to. And, he doesn't mind that bit of a squeeze he has to contend with.

Given this new down bed in place, the father and son have got separated, with at least two degrees of separation between them: one, this huge mountain of a matron (the down-bed gets laid on my side of the bed); and two, the different levels of the up-bed and down-bed. Which leaves The Hubby at odds with the huge outpourings of maternal instinct that keep spilling over at night. As can be figured, The Hubby doesn't know what to do with it.

"Convert that into paternal instincts," I offered to help yesterday.

"Like how?" he looked at me quizzically, perhaps not aware that such a thing as paternal instinct does exist in this world. The problem with our present days is that it glorifies motherhood to such nauseating extents (and I am party to the crime) that fathers feel like the most worthless nincompoops around, especially when it comes to handling sons who know nothing better than clinging to their mothers.

But this 'like how' was difficult to answer. I pondered a little and suggested, "Like checking out from the position your son sleeps in as to whether he'll make a better cricket player or soccer player. Or none. In which case, do not despair. There is some room for accomplished chefs in this world, which is my assessment of what he'll ultimately choose to become. I have heard him talk of 'three tablespoonfuls of oil' and 'freshly grilled lobsters' in his sleep. In the process, make sure that his sheets are over him, not under, and his pillows are under him, not over. That is enough work for each night. I can train him to call out for you in case he wants to visit the toilet."

He somehow didn't seem convinced. "Why can't we lay his mattress on my side. At least I can see him from here."

"But where is the space on your side?"

"So let's switch sides. Everything will fit in place."

I shot down the suggestion as quickly as it had been made. "No, there is no way I'm going to travel a mile ten times a night to go to the loo. You stay right where you are, and so does he."

The Hubby's disappointment and resentment lingered through the day, made apparent from his pout and his unwillingness to share ice cream with us at dinner. In one of those rare waves of empathy, I suggested that he take over the task of reading out books to the child at bed time. That way, they get to spend a good hour every night nuzzling up. The instantaneous sparkle in his eyes made me wonder how stupidly we had overlooked such a simple solution.

The son accepted the proposal, but, in part. He said he didn't mind his father taking over the duty, but there was no way he would have it on the down-bed. The only other breathing creatures allowed to share the bed with him are his ant, spider, insect, lizard friends and other creepy crawlies that strike his fancy. Mom and Dad had better stay away. At the same time, he ruled out giving in to being cajoled into getting his books read out on the up-bed. The only option left was the lounge. Take it, or leave it.

The father accepted, reluctantly.
But he did not give up.

Late last night, in the thick of the dark, I could trace the figures of the father, the son and several inanimate spirits in a deep embrace, oblivious to the cares of the world. The claims of being a self-reliant big boy forgotten, the physical discomfort of being squashed by toys and books from all sides ignored, the two of them looked like they were having the most peaceful sleep of their lives. Honestly, I didn't even realise when The Hubby had left this up-bed for the down-bed.

Maybe, The Hubby and I ARE made differently, after all.

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