By: Tim Murray
I think my son is a dictator. No, not a real dictator with all the killing and oppression and dehumanisation of his people, more like a dictator in training, like he’s on work experience to see if he would be suited to the job in the future should the opportunity present itself. That being said, like most rulers or those attempting to wield absolute power he has a certain style and charm about him. He is one; his cheeks are ample and plump, not dissimilar to Kim Jong-un's, and like him one can never be entirely sure whether one stands in his graces or simply in his way. Though he can instil terror he can also make you feel at times like you are a valued part of his world. There is yet no country for him to conquer and so most of each day he spends in typical infant pursuits of chewing things, banging things and exploring the world around him. In these moments he is the epitome of all things ‘baby’: playful, giggling, cuddly and can easily bring out that proud parent sigh of contentment that comes with knowing that this person you’ve brought into the world was one of the best things you could do with your life.
In other moments though, I must confess, I fear a coup. I try to tell myself that I am overreacting, that he is a baby and I’m just being silly. And yet, there are moments when I am feeding or changing him that I start to wonder if the shoe is not on the other foot and I am simply the first of those who will fall under his despotic rule. There seems a glimmer in his eyes at times, an almost smug grin that says something like, 'if you're in charge why are you wiping MY bum?'
The most telling sign of his power against my wife and I comes at night. The interruption of sleep grinds us down, weakens our resolve, loosens our grip on reality. It is guerrilla warfare at its finest. He is not a signatory to UN conventions on humane treatment of captors and so has no qualms in using sleep deprivation as a means of torture and control. We do our best to withstand the onslaught, but the child seems able to survive, no thrive, on less sleep than seems normal for a human of his size. His ability to make it through the night and then the day on only broken sleep has taken on mythic proportions so that I have started to wonder if he is not part-powered by some unseen battery or other hybrid technology.
At night, I am like some bomb disposal apprentice, if there is such a thing. Terrified of waking him, my movements are slow and deliberate as I lower a blanket over him in an attempt to prolong his sleep by keeping him warm. I know in my head that once a child is asleep most noises will not wake them, but this logic seems to abandon me in my vulnerable and exhausted state. I can hear in these moments my heart pounding in my ears and breathing coming out in a quick, shallow rhythm. Any crack of the floorboards rings out like a stockwhip in the silence and if he should stir as a result, my reflex is like that of a deer caught in headlights. I freeze, mid-step, often ending up in a position as I try to balance that looks like I am playing a solo game of Twister whilst standing up.
I’ve told my counsellor that I have seen strange things that have troubled me: Toys lined up like troops before their commander and the child crawling back and forth in front of them like he’s about to deliver some pre-battle speech from Braveheart. The toys stand still in obedience and submission and he speaks in a language I cannot understand. She tells me I just need more sleep before scheduling our next appointment.
In an attempt to bolster the appearance of power he's taken to barking orders at the dogs. They respond with a look of indifference bordering on contempt that they have perfected over years of ignoring me. Resting their heads on their paws, their eyes move from left to right as dogs' do and they occasionally yawn in response to his commands. They know they are, officially, out of the bounds of his immediate influence. His world is the toy room, though he may consider annexation of their territory in the future.
Yes, I think my son is a dictator. However, like my work experience in Year 10 that doesn’t even come close to what I do day-to-day now, I’m hopeful his stint as a sleep depriving, emotionally unstable tyrant is short-lived. Because after all, he is despite all these things, pretty adorable.