TCNJ Magazine Fall 2020

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Page 14 of 47

13 FALL 2020 bed, Helen proceeded to deliriously jump on it 1,000 times, victoriously, like it was trampled prey. We shut out the light and she wailed an unearthly cry and beelined directly into our room. No one slept. Day two, I made a gimlet at 2 p.m., using the last two limes. Strategize, we told ourselves. I turned to my syllabus for an answer. In my freshman seminar, I teach portions of Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish, a dense work about the evolution of the modern prison system, social reform, and regulating societal behavior. I wanted to see if I could apply any theories to bedtime. The most appropriate seemed Jeremy Bentham's concept of the panopticon — a guard tower centrally located in a circular prison yard with one-way glass so inmates feel as though they are under constant surveillance and, as a result, inter- nalize socially acceptable behavior. I put a plan into action: I began by sitting on the floor next to my daughter's bed, plying her with false promises, parenting 101, until she began to doze, and scooted to the door, slowly increasing distance each night until I sat unseen behind it. By night three I felt like the all- powerful Wizard of Oz peering behind his curtain. Any time Helen jumped out of bed, she heard my voice and retreated. In my mind, I was already marketing my brilliant method worldwide. It worked for two nights. Days blurred. The nation started taking coronavirus seriously, sort of, and my supervisor informed me that I'd teach remotely. While I was ecstatic that all my social obligations cleared, and, of course, sad that people were suffering, that also meant Helen's chic nursery school, which we were still paying for, closed. They sent us YouTube clips with story hour. Helen chewed through them in four minutes. I tried not to check the news, but obsessively checked. Like everyone else, we Skyped with family and friends until we discovered Zoom, and spent uncomfortable stretches just silently looking at each other — every- one was isolated and no one was doing anything interesting. One of my brothers unapologetically brandished my favorite shirt, but in the larger scope it no longer mattered. Because it was my job to actively put students to sleep, I figured sleep- training my daughter would be easy. In a sad attempt to boost morale, I began diversionary tactics. I flipped a chair and Helen and I started playing horseshoes, tossing a hat on chair legs. I read bedtime stories so many times I internalized them. I made shadow puppets until I forgot they were my hands. When Helen nodded off, I stuffed a decoy pillow in a sleeping bag beside her bed. Of course, I didn't sleep. I'd roam the house, listening to silent streets, anxiously waiting for Helen's inevitable cry. Somehow, I'd been trained to no longer sleep. Catherine and I tried a good cop/ bad cop act to placate Helen, but our efforts were only half-hearted. How can you pretend to be a cop, or in this case, a prison guard, when the whole country is just one prison cell? The spring rains came and went. Helen, our spring-loaded cherub, or undefeatable movie monster, would jump continuously in muddy driveway puddles for hours while Happy Hour arrived earlier and earlier. After Helen's bath, she'd relentlessly jump on her bed, talking into a calculator, pretending it was a phone, telling everyone she was sick, while I tried to explain to her that the world was sick, not her. Like everyone else, I was a full-time parent, teacher, spouse, and pro- fessional ice cream demolisher, consuming massive portions until I was a stomach-stapling candidate, nearly breathless from walking into the kitchen. Six weeks in, no one slept. Sometimes I'd watch a neighbor, whom I'd affectionately nicknamed Groundhog, and imagined if he emerged from his basement apartment and saw his shadow, maybe there would be only six more weeks of coronavirus. I'd not only lost track of the days, but the difference between morning and night. I cried unprompted. But eventu- ally, one day, I smelled honeysuckle, and hamburgers grilling. Somewhere children laughed and I felt some luke- warm hope in the early summer sun. Helen began to sleep. At first, only for a few hours. Then one indescribably sweet morning, the sun shined. Catherine and I woke up, realizing Helen had slept through the night in her own bed. Now, I'm tentatively hopeful. The new baby, Jane, joined our family in September. And I've read The Very Hungry Caterpillar enough times to know — the caterpillar eats and eats and one day emerges. So will we. Andrew Erkkila '07 is a freelance writer and teaches writing at Rutgers University.

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