The 5pm Phenomenon

At around 5pm every day at Toastbox, I develop a temporary phobia of old people and young children.

Other young children. Not this one:

baby pram sucking thumb

At this time, you can usually find me sitting in a corner, pretending to read a book / fiddle with my phone / people-watch, while my baby slumbers peacefully beneath the canopy of a bright blue pram. This state of slumber is usually the direct result of a very purposeful march along the street outside.

This street has the most fantastic sleep-inducing brick pavement in the world. It is an old pavement with just the right amount of gentle undulation and jarring texture provided by the brick, interspersed with metal drainage grills which break up the monotony with their smaller wavelength vibrations. The short-hand for this in my family is: bumpy bumpy. “He needs the bumpy bumpy.” “Time for bumpy bumpy.” Anyone who has cared for Michael for any length of time has learned that round about his nap time, there better be some bumpy bumpy within easy reach. For example, Marina Square is great – the connecting path just outside Killiney Kopitiam has some good bumpy bumpy. Marine Parade has premium bumpy bumpy near McDonald’s, if we happen to be shopping at Parkway Parade.

I have developed a keen eye for this. Upon doing a quick visual scan of the terrain in question, I am able to predict with impressive accuracy if my baby will sleep within 5 minutes. This would be a cool party trick, except it totally isn’t.

Back to Toastbox at 5pm.

On the Baby Sleep Inducing Scale, that particular street ranks a 10 out of 10. In other words, this baby is going down. But there are days where his routine is a little messed up, and it takes a little longer than usual, to the point that I start looking like a sweaty, demented lemming marching up and down and up and down in the sun, hitting an invisible wall at each end of the pavement. I try to look nonchalant while doing this, but it’s a little difficult when your baby is yelling his head off and you’re power walking nowhere and overheating from the effort, and there’s an annoying person sitting on a bench smirking at you.

When my baby finally surrenders and zonks out, it’s time for the ever tricky Operation Location Change. Making the transition from a street outside to a place like Toastbox is not for the fainthearted. My helper, Lyn, outright refuses to even try, and instead cowardly pushes him straight into the darkest, quietest corner of the shopping mall and hunkers down for the full 30 minutes of his catnap.

But I’m braver. Actually, I just really want my Toastbox time.

So, it happens. To the chilling sound of an ancient church organ, I turn myself inside out and horrifyingly morph into a cross between a SWAT operative and Hitler (I have no idea if Hitler had a strong dislike for old people and children, generally speaking, but I’m going to make an intelligent guess), and start scanning my immediate surroundings for potential nap disrupters.

PNDs can usually be identified by age. Children are the worst. They are unpredictable and piercingly loud. They don’t walk but run in sudden spurts, making loud slap slap sounds with their feet which are the death knell to a quiet, undisturbed nap. They weave in and out, knocking or brushing against the pram despite the fact that I always station myself as far away from their flight path as possible.

Old aunties and uncles pose almost the same risk – they move slower but they also tend to bump into the pram. And while not as piercingly high-pitched, they too are prone to sudden loud verbalisations.

With dexterity and swiftness, I steer my pram and its precious cargo on a tortuous path through the entrance of Toastbox, occasionally doing a full U-Turn to avoid a looming PND and then swinging back again quickly once the coast is clear. Once in, I station my pram safely, watch anxiously for any sign of movement underneath the canopy, and then heave a silent sigh of relief before settling myself down in my seat. I am then able to take out my entertainment of choice. But don’t be fooled – my radar is constantly on, and my hand is always twitching, ready to shoot out to steady the pram if needed.

I’ve been known to glare in fury at hapless aunties / uncles / kids who were just doing what aunties / uncles / kids do. Because in that terrifying moment when my baby’s arms jerk up in response to an unsolicited pram-brush or a piercing squeal, my heart sinks to my very shoes. And beyond. It sinks to the centre of the earth and out through the other side, and takes up orbit like a lonely satellite. I deflate like a sad, leaking water balloon. If you wake my baby, I will get sad, and mad. Coz it sucks. I’m left with a tired, cranky, un-napped baby and it sucks.

So if you see a slightly tense, mildly sweating woman sitting next to a bright blue pram at Toastbox, give her and the pram a wide berth. Take your seat across the room, wait about 30 minutes, and then watch as the canopy is pushed back, and a slightly sleepy, bleary eyed infant is held up in the woman’s arms like a trophy. And if you smile and raise your glass of ice kopi in greeting, she just might smile back.

Especially if you’re an old auntie.

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