The work schedule was cleared. The laptop was turned off and the inbox ignored. The apartment was cleaned, the bed sheets changed, the windows locked and the fridge stocked.
It was time for my daughter’s first sleepover.
Weddings and funerals require less preparation. Book launches are less stressful. Taking care of one human being is traumatic enough, but taking care of someone else’s human being is a whole different lie down in a darkened room with a couple of Panadol.
My track record in the caring department is hardly exemplary. School teachers and parents may be familiar with the quaint concept of kindergarten classes having a pet hamster or gerbil for the kids to take home at weekends to gain an understanding of nurturing and protecting others.
We brought home the class’ pet hamster once. And we lost it.
To compound the humiliation, my wife was the class teacher. We didn’t have any children at the time.
I had failed to secure the cage’s roof hatch properly and when we woke up the following morning, the hamster had gone. Thankfully, after scouring the corridors of our Toa Payoh apartment block at the time, we found the AWOL animal sleeping under the ironing board.
We learned a valuable lesson. We were never allowed to bring the class hamster home again.
And now, we were bringing home a class friend, my daughter’s best friend in the whole world. What if history repeated itself? What if I found her cowering behind the ironing board in the small hours? Would she be safe? Would she be able to iron the odd shirt?
When my daughter’s friend arrived, I ushered the six-year-old girl into the apartment and gave her a royal tour. “This is the living room where we have set up some board games with no sharp edges or small pieces that you can choke on,” I reassured.
“This is the kitchen, where we have a selection of wholegrain, fat free, diary free, sugar free, taste free, food free snacks for you to try – essentially I’ve sliced up some slices of cardboard. Anything with nuts has been removed because I read somewhere that if a modern child picks up a peanut, he or she will die.
“This is the bedroom, where I’ve padded the walls with pillows and teddy bears. And do not fear, my razor blades have been removed, along with the electric drill and the carving knives.”
The night was turning into a sleepover at Hannibal Lecter’s house.
Still, we pulled out all the stops. Princess dresses and nurses and doctors costumes were piled into a dressing-up corner. Popcorn was popped and a selection of carefully vetted animated movies, with saccharine, soppy endings and no scary villains, were stacked in alphabetical order by the TV. Reading books and arts and craft materials were laid out on my daughter’s desk and all the furniture in the living room was rearranged to allow for traditional fun and frolics like Musical Statues and Musical Chairs.
The girls sat on the bed and watched One Direction videos on YouTube.
I thought about adoption. Then I heard the soothing sound of silence and tiptoed towards my office. I managed at least three steps before I turned into their waiter and butler for the evening.
“Daddy, can we have a drink, please… We’re gonna make a One Direction show, Daddy … Can you make us a stage in a living room? … We don’t want to do a 1D show now Daddy, can you make it a toy hospital like Doc McStuffins instead? … Can we have a snack, Daddy? … Can we have dessert, Daddy? Can we have a pillow fight? Can you be a superhero? Can you make a cape? Can you fly? Can you make us fly? Can we have something else to eat? Can we play hide and seek behind the ironing board?”
By the time their droopy eyes started to close, I had formed a union with my wife, painted some militant slogans and organized a strike in the living room.
But the exhausted, exhilarated girls finally succumbed to their fatigue and trudged off to bed. As I turned off the bedroom light, they chatted and giggled together in the darkness. My grinning, beaming daughter had never looked happier.
A little later, my wife and I peeked through a crack in the bedroom door to check that they were sleeping, breathing and not escaping through an improvised tunnel.
The girls had fallen asleep holding hands. Such indelible images never leave a father. They are little snapshots of perfection. The girls looked so happy together, so peaceful.
Most of all, they were quiet.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His most recent Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island (2012), was a No.1 best-seller and turned into a TV series. His illustrated book series – Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase – is proving popular with children all over the world and is currently being adapted into an animated TV series. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Esquire, Men’s Health, FourFourTwo and Young Parents. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.