Shorebilly’s Swill: Parenthood – When Toys Go Bump in the Night
This week I’m going to take a break from my bar room diatribes, and assume the other half of my dual identity. If you’ve been following the column then you’re aware that I tend to vacillate between curmudgeonly aging, resort town bartender, and adoring father and husband. Believe it or not, these are in fact both the same person, and neither role is exaggerated. When you’re 43 years old, and still giggle audibly just from seeing the word ‘fart’ in print, you can only pretend to be so deep. When prior to this writing gig, you’ve been led down multiple career paths, all of which lead to you wearing an apron of some sort, it’s not so easy to be taken seriously. So the dual identity standpoint writing provides keeps me well rounded. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.
I’ve stated many times that I find the inspiration for this weekly piece at the strangest of times, in the strangest of places. This is one of those weeks. The other night, I had a lot of difficulty getting to sleep. This time of year, as the seasons change for some reason, my sinuses and my rapidly aging joints seem to take a beating. I can’t blow my nose enough, and certain body parts are in constant pain. That, paired with the fact that I was out of vodka made for a bout of insomnia. My left shoulder was killing me from an old injury, and every time I would start to dose off, I’d roll over slightly and it would feel like I’d been shot and wake me back up. Finally, I positioned some pillows in a configuration that would basically force me to sleep on my right side. Eventually, I drifted off into a relatively deep sleep. (Or at least as deep as a father of four with chronic anxiety attacks is capable of sleeping.)
Sometime between the hours of 4 and 5 am, I was startled awake by something monumentally creepy. Through the monitor on my night stand, I heard a bubbly, yet ominous voice say: “Hi, I’m Bobo. What’s your name? Will you play with me?”
I don’t care if you’re the toughest guy on the planet, if you hear that 8 inches from your head when you’re in a dead sleep, you will immediately be both frightened, and wide awake. I shot up to a 90-degree angle in bed as if I had just been shot with a taser gun. I can’t say with certainty, but I think I peed just a tiny little bit. My wife, whom even in her subconscious still possesses an eerily calm, cool demeanor, without even sitting up or opening her eyes explained to me quickly that our 2-year-old daughter had just rolled over in her sleep onto a talking stuffed animal. My consummately in control bride was completely undaunted and probably would not even have awoken from the event had I not briefly touched the ceiling. And my daughter who was now lying on top of a creepy talking stuffed dog, now singing to her, never even stopped snoring.
I’m going to sidetrack at this point just for a moment to offer the first of what I’m sure will be several pieces of parental advice through this column. As a four-tour patriarchal veteran with kids ranging from 22 years to 15 months, I feel qualified to offer some pointers here and there to the rookies in the ‘Mom and Dad game.’ If you disagree, then please pardon my arrogance. Disregard anything I say, and by all means, continue to follow the script in a book written by a child psychologist who never married or spawned. But if you think that maybe I’ve picked up a thing or two over the years as a hands-on dad, here’s the first helpful hint from Poppa Syd. DO NOT, under any circumstances, send your children to bed with any apparatus that talks, sings, plays music, or makes a sound of any kind.
This is for a multitude of reasons, one of which I’ve already explained to you. These things seem to go off at the worst possible times, potentially waking up other family members or the child attached to said device. Anyone who’s ever had to try to get three rambunctious kids to sleep after a long day understands how valuable that time is after they’re all down. The singing dog could have awoken the first child, and my 1-year-old who sleeps about five feet from the monitor that Devil Dog was speaking to me through. Another big reason that goes without consideration until it’s too late is that any of those stuffed toys with internal mechanisms requiring batteries can’t be washed. Which means that if it gets peed on overnight by a child who occasionally strips down to nothing in her sleep (hypothetically speaking of course), the toy is essentially a goner. Now you have to sneak it out of the house in the middle of the next night for disposal and play dumb to your kid if the toy’s absence is ever noticed. New parents, do with that information what you will, my guess is that you will thank me later. I had Dr. Spock, you have Syd Nichols, and you’re welcome.
So anyway, I’m sitting there in my bed wide awake. My eyes couldn’t have been open wider if I had fallen into an aquarium full of crystal meth and had to gulp my way out. (I don’t even know what that means but work with me). My entire body had completely tensed up. My unfounded fear continued to rise. Conversely, my wife’s annoyance that I was keeping us both up, combined with her entertainment over my fear wasn’t exactly a lullaby for either of us. Eventually, she even began to giggle at my omnipresent psychosis. The ‘intellectual’ in me was saying in my head, “The odds of a stuffed, talking children’s toy actually coming to life again, and going on a homicidal rampage through my home and family is very slim. That’s so totally 80’s, and in 2013, the chances have diminished exponentially.”
Meanwhile, the psychotic in me was saying, “I can’t however completely dismiss it as if it’s not a viable possibility.”
So clearly at this point, there was absolutely no chance that I was going to fall back asleep without at least doing a fatherly walk-through. So I, and the voices in my head, got out of bed and cautiously started in the direction of my daughter’s room, taking the time to put on a pair of flip flops before I left my room. My wife, as she’s done many times before, just shook her head at me, rolled over and went back to sleep. I slowly tip-toed through my house so that my chosen footwear would not live up to its name and give away my position to any potentially murderous toys. I actually stopped in the kitchen and grabbed a knife from the rack. On the first pull, I grabbed my really expensive carving knife but I thought better of it and swapped it for a French knife. My thought process leading to the change of equipment was this, “Nahh… I can’t use the slicer. With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, I can’t be having death on my equipment at dinner.” As ashamed as I am, that is completely true!
So I traversed my home, scaling baby gates and dodging toys to get to my daughter’s room. It took awhile to get there too, because whomever designed my house was either a huge fan of horseshoes, or was firmly under the influence of every narcotic available to him at the time. Where I sleep, and where my daughter sleeps, are literally separated geographically by about seven feet. And yet it took me 118 steps to get to her. (Yes, I did count.) That’s how stupid my floor plan is. If God forbid, there’s ever a fire or actual intruder, it’s more practical for me to go outside and run around to the front of the house and break in then to walk it inside.
Well, needless to say, my little girl was fine. There was not a possessed talking-toy, the stuffed dog version of Chucky waiting for me in her room. The unlikely stuffed offender was carefully removed from the bed, and everyone but me got a good night’s sleep.
This ends part 1 of this parenthood ramble. I think I’ll be coming back to this one periodically to add on and offer little bits of practical advice. Hope you enjoyed it and thanks for playing along.
Until next week,