Milo’s version of self-settling is currently a protracted, noisy, violent thrash-fest for which he demands an attentive audience. We call it ‘free-flopping’ and, so long as you are not in a hurry, it is hilarious.
I have thought in detail about how to adequately describe free-flopping; my best attempt is as follows. It is a combination of an inelegant green sea-turtle on the beach, labouring its way toward the water with its four fins working inefficiently in unison, a 9kg salmon that has just been brought on deck, bouncing and flipping in a completely unpredictable and potentially dangerous fashion, and Elaine Benes dancing.
Milo is no longer interested in being bounced or rocked to sleep in any way, he is also not pleased about falling asleep alone in his cot, so we are currently stranded in some kind of ‘self-settling halfway house’ in which Milo requires a parent lying next to him on the spare bed, playing no active role, while he violently ‘free-flops’ his way into a peaceful slumber.
This protracted process routinely takes between 15 and 45 minutes and involves Milo poking himself in the forehead and eyes with his schnuller, pulling your ears and nose with his little pincer fingers, pulling his ears and nose, slapping himself on the top of his head, aggressively trying to eat the cushions that are lined up to stop him inadvertently bashing his head into the wall, kicking you in the face, head-butting you in the chin, tossing his schnuller onto the ground whilst grinning at you, kneeling on all fours before spontaneously falling face-first onto the mattress, clapping and, at all times, desperately trying to leap off the bed with no regard for his own personal safety. It is difficult not to giggle.
Throughout this process it appears completely improbable that it might ever lead to Milo being asleep. But it does. At some point Milo’s sleeping subconscious wins the battle against his vibrant and energetic conscious mind and he falls asleep wherever he happens to be at that moment. For Kuepps it is regularly with Milo lying on his back horizontally across her stomach, his head dangling over one side and his arms and legs splayed as if in the midst of a star jump. For me it is quite often with Milo upside-down, his nose touching my knees and his feet in my face.
At this moment you have reached a critical phase of the free-flopping process. There are no guidelines as to when to attempt the cot-transfer but, go too early and the process will almost certainly begin anew.
Like delicately levering up a pancake with a spatula, you squeeze your hands underneath his hips and neck and gently prise him off the mattress. At this point he is usually dangling, head lolling around and his limbs flopping as if he is a ventriloquist’s marionette, done for the night. Hopefully you have maintained contact with his schnuller throughout the free-flopping sequence, although this is sometimes very difficult to achieve.
All that then remains is to lower him gently into the cot, stick the schnuller back into his mouth and dive quickly but silently, face down into the corner of his room and hold your breath for 20-30 seconds while you listen to see if his last gasp thrashing (which will always occur) will lead to sleep or free-flopping phase 2 for the night.
Once you are confident the child is truly asleep you very carefully get to your feet, millimetre by millimetre ease the door handle down then slip out, hoping desperately the cats are not directly on the other side of the door waiting to dart into his room and pounce on his face or meow in their enthusiastic, insistent way which may bring you down at the very last hurdle.
Over the weekend we obtained a potentially vital piece of information, there is a day-time training gym for Aspiring Gymbaroo Professionals (AGPs) in our neighbourhood. Lennox is bang in trouble.
After Milo’s morning nap I loaded him up with tuna, brown rice and super-purified kale paste and we went out in search of this secret gym, reportedly located in a disused aluminium smelter and operated by a Latvian man named Valdis. Valdis’ surname is lost to history, as is his precise age. Felix, the sponge monkey at our Gymbaroo, claims Valdis was a Commandant in the Latvian National Partisans, fighting the Soviet occupiers in post-war Latvia. Valdis’ family farm was collectivised when he was a young man but he remained on the property, using the many now dormant fertiliser silos as secret training gyms for other young Partisans. Some say these silos are the birth-place of Gymbaroo. The activities, which were in essence combat and fitness training, were disguised by mindless songs, tambourine and maraca throwing, remote-control wheel-barrowing, ‘slobber or toss’ games and rhymes about Jack and Jill, in case they were interrupted by patrolling Soviet soldiers. Valdis survived the occupation, made his way to Australia on an illegal Patagonian Toothfish trawler and, as the story goes, set up the very first Gymbaroo, somewhere in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.
Having met Valdis today, this is a story I believe.
As per Felix’s instructions we strode bravely through a sprawling industrial estate; past overturned fixies, covering our noses to protect from the richly aroma’d smoke billowing from the local artisan roasters, picking our way over discarded pallets, soon destined to be up-cycled into wall gardens and coffee tables. There, behind the pop-up Bratwurst, Jaeger-Schnitzel and cold-drip coffee wagon we first saw him. A mountain of a man; ageless, a head of impossibly thick black and white streaked hair as if a coiffured badger was curled up asleep on his head, hands like loaves of rye bread, a gnarled face like an obscenely overgrown walnut, skin, scorched by the elements to a dark brown as if the toaster dial had been turned up for a frozen bagel and then forgotten so the next piece of fresh bread is slowly crisped to the point you know that no amount of scraping with a knife over the bin will ever render it edible. But you try anyway.
Valdis appeared to know we were coming. “Valdis?” I asked, half choking the word. He simply nodded and ushered us inside, quickly.
Valdis is a man of few words, but what he says, in his deep gravelly voice, you listen to; “No outside food, this is a nut free zone. Socks only or your feet will get stuck on the slippery dips. AGPs under three only allowed in Kandy-Land”. We turned out our pockets to show we were not smuggling in any tree nuts, or boiled eggs, or shell-fish, paid our fee and as we went to move into the gym Valdis had one more utterance for us “hey, Milo… good luck.” Milo and I smiled at Valdis and I am sure I saw the faintest of affectionate glimmers in his eye.
Save for “Gonna fly now” by Bill Conti which blared on a loop over the tinny post-war PA system, the gym was silent. We saw some familiar faces clambering, bouncing and rolling but inside Valdis’ gym outside relationships count for nought, we are Valdis’ people. We spoke to no-one.
Buoyed by the sense of occasion Milo went straight to work; clambering up Kandy Kastle with ease, shooting down the Whistling Slide, toppling over and under the padded tubes in the Corridor of Courage, padding his way up and over Grandma’s Cottage only to be faced by the tortuous hills and valleys of the Plain of Pyramids. Milo completed this circuit several times, did some free-work on the tubes and then clambered over to me and up on to my lap. He was done for the day.
We loaded up the pram and headed back out into the elements. As we left Valdis gave us a small nod, no words but this was affirmation enough, then pulled the heavy roller door shut behind us. Milo fell asleep almost immediately in the pram so we wandered the streets for an hour while he rested.
After our afternoon snack I potted a pink daisy in an old steel bucket which I had previously painted powder blue, which is about the manliest thing you can do.
- Fastest time up Kandy Kastle – 14 seconds
- Number of steps to reach the pinnacle of Grandma’s Cottage – 7
- Litres of home-brewed hooch made from Vegemite – 0
- Think pieces submitted to the local paper on the steady decline in quality of Dunlop Volleys – 0