Those in Kampala will read the time at which this is coming in and will surely sympathise; the defiance of a three-year-old in THIS weather at THIS time can only lead to kiboko or a VERY MAJOR lesson in patience.
Over time, my three-year old has developed a system for summoning us to her bedside in the night, which involves pestering her eleven-year old sister awake by calling out to her gently but continuously until she responds firmly as proof that she is awake, then instructing her to call either one of us.
The eleven-year old, once awakened, is always desperate to go back to sleep and applies herself to her three-year old sister’s assignment with energy fuelled by this desperation. Since we are always asleep when her frantic shout comes through, our response is always quick, frantic, panicked and, again, quick and frantic. It is always only after we have completed the sprint and hurdles across to their room that we remember that this is normally a summons by the three-year old to entertain any one of her middle-of-the-night needs.
Things proceed calmly after that, most nights, but it is painful.
On this night, in this weather, it is even more painful; first of all, I have developed a system of not waking up fully when this happens, in order to fall back into sleep in the style of the military command ‘As You Were!’ – I’m sure you all have this. The human body is an amazing thing for having this auto-setting where you can memorise slumber and lock it in, go to the loo or fridge or frisky kid for a few minutes, then Return To Unit or Return-To-Sleep.
When the weather is like this one right now, raining cats, dogs and other larger animals, the body has ways of absorbing sleep so completely that you begin having dreams of candles melting and merging with their holders like your body onto the mattress under the blanket. Even in your sleep, you find that position that you are somehow aware is the perfect one without moving even a toe to one side or another; and the sound of the rain in that slumber penetrates all sleep and even enhances rather than interrupts it.
In THIS weather, Return-To-Sleep is automatically engaged, but when I got to the three-year old’s bed and heard the first words come out of her mouth I became immediately alert to how awake she was and fear set in.
“Daddy,” she said, to test whether I was surely, properly awake and to prepare me for a long discourse ahead, “I am seeing light and I want to bathe because I think it is morning.”
She is now at that age where she comes up with such statements of reason for things that make you first work out how she did it before you can address her argument – which puts you on the back foot when she follows it up with another argument.
Imagine this position at THIS hour of the night in THIS weather when your body is locked into Return-To-Sleep mode.
I wasn’t entering into a conversation.
The poor eleven-year old was also awake but unlike me, her return-to-sleep is faster and more assured so she got up to use the loo. I decided that I had to change the three-year old’s nighties, children being children, and immediately dispatched her to go with her big sister to the loo while I picked out her change of nighties and waited for them to return, only to hear a bit of commotion a few minutes later.
Shuffling over to the rescue, I found two white ants fluttering about, the eleven-year old sleepily watching their feeble drama, and the three-year old pointing at them with commands for someone to put them out of commission.
She hadn’t used the loo yet.
I crushed them underfoot – the white ants, not the girls – on my way to picking her up and placing her on the loo.
Disappointed at how quickly this had been resolved, the three-year old then declared, “I am going to pupu.”
This is her threat whenever I take her to the loo and appear to be in a hurry, and in polite adult english language would be phrased as, “If you think this is going to be quick, you have another think coming!”, while in Luganda it would be, “T’ompapya! Ndi wa ddembe!”
The eleven-year old gave me a sympathetic diplomatic fifteen seconds of company then left.
I didn’t even acknowledge the threat and after two minutes held out the nighties with, “Have you finished?”
I breathed a sigh of relief when she disembarked from the loo, but then she headed to her room and roused the eleven-year-old to help her with finding another set of nighties – her preferred set of nighties, for this occasion.
I watched in disbelief as they browsed the clothes cabinet, the three-year old with a running commentary of her clothing preferences and wearing history of some of the outfits, and the eleven-year-old showing a little commitment that ended when she realised I had arrived.
After trying on two sets of nighties and rejecting them, I begged her to go to sleep and she responded in the voice and tone of my Aunt Robinah, the most big-headed of my beloved aunts (which is why God gave her Edgar for a son): “But I don’t want to sleep.”
She didn’t shout it, or whine, or anything child-like; she stated it as if to say, “Seriously, why do you think I am all up in these clothes right now?” or “Beera mu kilaasi”.
The eleven-year-old, always focussed and now in the comfort of her bed, gently asked me to tuck in her net tightly and bade me a good night, then promptly dropped off. This is when I remembered how it was only a couple of years ago that her and her nine-year old brother began appreciating the opportunity for sleep that rain provides. The nine-year-old, meanwhile, cannot be anywhere in this story as he has a strict sleep policy when it rains, which reads in full as follows: “Sleep.”
He even prays for it to rain at night so that he can sleep. The nine-year old so keenly looks out for rain at night that if he hears the signs early in the evening he will be off to bed well ahead of the rest, to lie in wait for the rain to fall.
Not so the three-year-old, and tonight I could see that my seminar on the subject had flopped.
So, ordering her to enter her bed with a sternness I hoped she would not ignore, we faced off for a few seconds and she gave in.
I was overjoyed!
Tucking her in with instructions to close her eyes and just go to sleep, I left.
But my Return-To-Sleep setting had worn off.
And as I tried to regain it, seeking my perfect sleeping position and listening intently to the sound of the rain beating down, I heard instead: “DAAAADDDDYYYY!”
She was now thirsty. The rest is insomniac history.