F was going to be about feminism. And because feminism is a weighty subject and I am a rambler, it was going to be a long post. This past week has been hectic, so I haven’t had time to draft the posts the night before, like I wanted, but it was going to be fine, because I had all of it in my head, and just needed some time to type it out.
Forget about that. F is now about fishermen. As in, the main protagonists in my lengthy, incredibly boring night-time story for my niece (henceforth referred to as Xena for the sake of convenience).
When my sister-in-law (Sayesha) expressed interest in watching the latest Fast and the Furious movie a few days ago, I offered to babysit Xena so she could go watch it in the cinema with my brother before he goes abroad on a long business trip. I’ve done this a few times before, and it’s not so much babysitting as it is housesitting. Because the two of them are so thoughtful, I often don’t have to do much by way of actual work when it comes to babysitting. They always choose to go for the late night shows, after feeding Xena and putting her to bed, so I literally don’t have to do anything but be there as she sleeps.
We didn’t expect today to be very different, because, as usual, Sayesha had cut short Xena’s naptime in the afternoon, hoping she’d conk off faster at night. The plan was that we’d both go into the bedroom with her, switch off the light, and wait for her to fall asleep. Sayesha told me to be prepared with a long, boring story in case she had to leave before Xena was fully asleep, and told me to incorporate large numbers into the story so I had an excuse to count slowly and soporifically. Now, I wasn’t really planning on using the story, because I’ve never really had the need to before this. Today, however, was going to be different.
Fifteen minutes after switching off the light, Xena was still wide awake. Sayesha had tried playing the silent game (“whoever’s silent the longest wins, woohoo!”), and even distanced herself physically to the edge of the bed so she could get up and leave easily, but Xena was determined not to sleep. I’d been keeping silent until this time (diligently playing the game), but realised that I needed to distract Xena with a story so Sayesha, who was getting late for the movie, could slip out unnoticed.
And that’s how I launched into my story of a pond and the ducks and the HUNDRED fishes (you can already see where I was going with this) that lived in it. I tried to be as boring as possible, describing the different kinds of fishes, their colours and their sizes, but I could tell Xena was paying attention. I started counting the fish, but the story had been so terrible thus far (“here’s a pond, here are the fishes, let’s count them!”), that I felt compelled to add in the twist of the two fishermen who had decided to do some fishing in that very pond. Big mistake. Xena, suddenly more attentive than ever, immediately demanded to know the names of the fishermen and where exactly they were in relation to the pond. (I imagine she needed these details so she could better visualise the scenario in her head.)
Thus began the saga of Mr Hector and Mr Fernandez and their numerous (failed) attempts at fishing. Mr Fernandez had tried using a fishing net first, but unbeknownst to him, there was a large hole in the net, and all the fish had escaped one by one. (Here also, I tried to count the escaping fish, but to no avail – she was still awake at the end of it.) Then he decided to use a fishing rod instead, but after 30 minutes of waiting (another round of counting) and then a further 60 minutes, because Mr Hector told him that fishing needed patience, he had still caught no fish.
Xena had been silent for a while now, so I was hoping that she had fallen asleep, but at this point, she interjected to agree that fishing was hard, because she had a magnetic fishing toy, and it was really difficult to catch fish with that as well. I should’ve known at this juncture to really start slowing down the pace of the story, but I couldn’t help it – I had to explain to her why Mr Hector and Mr Fernandez had waited an hour and not caught any fish. I told her that – twist! – they had forgotten to put bait at the end of their hooks.
When I explained to Xena that bait was basically fish food, she suggested the fishermen go to the pet shop to buy some fish food. At this point, I realised there needed to be another counting session, so I came up with yet another roadblock – as it was noon, the shop was closed for lunch, and the shopkeeper would only be back at 12:30pm, and, of course, Mr Hector and Mr Fernandez would need to wait outside and count the minutes until then.
So I began – 12:01, 12:02, 12:03 – hoping the extra ’12’ in each utterance would make it longer and therefore stretch the whole thing out to an even more boring pace than it already was. Again, Xena had stopped fidgeting, so I thought she was falling asleep, but at 12:12, she giggled like I’d just told her a really funny joke. A few (story) minutes later, she was asking why I was adding 12 to all the numbers. I settled for the simplest explanation (“I’m counting the time!”) and decided to leave the actual time-telling lessons to Sayesha.
When I reached 12:30, I decided to go quiet, in the hopes that Xena had become so bored with the story that she wouldn’t ask me to continue, but after a few seconds of silence, she asked whether the shopkeeper had returned. I didn’t have the heart to keep her hanging, so I said that he had and that Mr Hector and Mr Fernandez had looked around the shop, chosen the kind of fish food they wanted and needed to pay 100 coins (of course) for it.
“Why so much?”, Xena wanted to know. “Because fish food is expensive!”, I countered. (I have no idea whether this is true – I have never tried to buy fish food, ever.) And having ended the argument, I started counting. Xena, ever wily, had her own plans for getting the story to move forward – she suggested I count 1, then 100, and just be done with it. I retaliated that the fishermen couldn’t be careless with their money and had to count it out so they knew that they were paying exactly the right amount to the shopkeeper. She seemed to buy this reasoning (yay, integrity and cautiousness!) and allowed me to start counting.
By the time I reached 50 and she was still wriggling about, I realised that the time had come to end all pretenses. No amount of counting or story-telling was going to get her to fall asleep, so I did the only thing I could think of that could save both her and me from my boring story – I simply shut up and pretended to be asleep. Xena tried asking me to continue the story a few times, but when she realised I was “sleeping”, she flung all her limbs around me and decided to have a gander at it herself.
Even then, it took another 20 minutes or so of her wriggling her hands and her feet and trying every single cramped sleeping position before her breathing got even and her arm slowly flopped off my shoulder. I’m now writing this in the dark bedroom, having finally wrangled myself out of her grasp, and gotten over my amazement at how much persuasion it takes to get kids to do the one thing adults would give anything to be able to. From the light of my laptop, I can see her curled up on the bed, clutching her Olaf pillow.
Hopefully, she’s not dreaming about fishermen, but at least she’s asleep.