It was an eventful night. Our children were seven, five and just under one year old, and we were at the beginning of a holiday in a motor home. We’re not sure why we thought this was a good idea.
The four of us were clear that our littlest must not wake up in the night. The nightmare scenario was that the Kraken would awake, wake each of us in turn, and that everyone would then lie wide-eyed and alert, in a very small space, until morning.
After we had all gone to bed, I lay awake in a space that felt similar to a closed coffin – actually a small slot above the cab into which I had to slide first, followed by Mary. Neither of us dared move: whenever one of us rustled, we could hear the Kraken stirring, as if in sympathy. I fell asleep. But not for long.
“He’s falling out!”
I’ve never understood how spies in films can wake up instantly, ready to shoot their highly trained assailant straight through the forehead. I woke up to my wife’s shouting. I tried to sit up. I hit my head on the coffin roof sending me into a spiral of confusion. Who is falling out? What are they falling out of? Why am I sleeping in a coffin? Who am I? Why am I here? If I pretend I’m sleep-convulsing, will I be allowed to go back to sleep?
After 10 years of marriage I’ve finally learnt that in a Red Alert situation I must leap into action first and only afterwards say the thinly disguised selfish responses;
• “Honestly, you’re worrying about nothing”
• “Let’s go back to sleep and see if it’s still a problem in the morning”
• “I think this is a problem that you are best equipped to fix”.
So instead, I did the right thing. I metaphorically leapt into action, which involved rolling over Mary to escape the slot. I fell down the impractically small ladder. Only then did I ask, “Who is falling out of what?”
At this crucial moment, let me explain to those that have never converted a roadworthy vehicle into a bedroom what it involves. Bear with me. You’d like a button that, when pressed, results in chandeliers retreating into ceilings, dining tables converting into 4-poster beds and enamelled baths rising from the floor. In actual fact, you have to squeeze a series of spring loaded thingys, catch your fingers in rapidly collapsing hard surfaces and work out how to fit the elasticated sheet without hitting your head three times on the same sharp corner. After this 37 step process, the Kraken’s pop up cot/tent is placed on the converted table about a foot off the floor. So you now see that it is possible for the Kraken to throw himself, in his cot/tent, off the table.
I held the gurgling Kraken in my arms. I looked at Mary. We both knew that my heart was about to be exposed. I wanted to sleep. We both knew that I would be able to sleep even through his warbling, whilst she would not. Holiday parenting lays bare the human heart. We both want to seize time of selfish relaxation. I want to seize more than her. Children don’t work to a timetable. They don’t check you’re ready with everything you need before arranging their emergency. When their needs (and wants) present themselves, I want to turn to Mary and say, “it’s your turn”.
But seemingly, there is an alternative:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2: 3-4)
Instead of keeping a close count of minutes of my selfish relaxation, I could look to the needs of my wife and children, considering them of greater value than me. Perhaps, eventually, my children might see a very dim reflection of Jesus Christ’s attitude to their greatest need.
On this occasion, in a moment of godly clarity, I said, “Let me take him for a walk around the lake so that you can all sleep”.
So it was that I walked around the French lake at midnight. I tried to take pleasure in it. I mostly turned over in my mind why it was me that was pushing a pram in the darkness on my holiday. I briefly stopped within earshot of the young Dutch people having a party. They were drinking. The women were laughing. The men were speaking that language that sounds like they’re forcing up mucus for fun. The thought did occur to me. ‘That is a real holiday. Each of them are doing exactly what they want, when they want. They go to bed, when they’re tired, and wake up when they’re bored, because they can. My holiday is an unspoken battle with my wife to seize moments of selfish pleasure-like sleep.’ Yet, even in this, I am being made ever-so-slightly more like Jesus Christ.