It’s 7am, the weather is slowly turning and for the first time this year I’m standing in the hallway, shivering. I’m only wearing RD underwear and a tank top too tight for public viewing (it not only reveals the visible definition of my lower abdominal muscle but also highlights my striated shoulders, my developing guns, and draws too much attention to me). For some reason, as I’m looking up at the ceiling, adding open the heating vents to my mental ‘to-do’ list, Imperial March – the Star Wars theme music that signals the entry of Darth Vader – comes to mind.
Taking forceful strides into the living area to find Archie at the kitchen bench, Tyson and Maki on the couch, I say, ‘Boys, from now on, whenever I enter a room I want you all to stop what you’re doing and sing the Darth Vader theme music. I’ll show you how it goes.’
As I re-enter the hallway RM appears, corporate ready, looks me up and down in a way that makes me feel degraded and happy and, with a nod of lusty approval, says. ‘Hey, that’s what I’m talking about.’
‘Hey,’ I say, waiting until she’s passed by into the kitchen and then making my appearance again, eyeing off the boys and chanting, ‘Dah Dah Dah Dah Dah-Dah Dah Dah-Dah…’
‘Oh dear,’ RM says. ‘Daddy’s woken up all psycho again.’
‘So that’s the music, boys,’ I say, eyes focused, my right eyebrow raised in a commanding way that reminds me of The Rock. ‘I’m going back into the hallway now, and when I come out again, you guys chant that music, just like I did.’
Lewis’s is peeking outside his bedroom door, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. ‘Did you hear that?’ I say.
‘Yeah,’ he says, and just before disappearing into his room, ‘I’m not doing it.’
‘Oh, you’ll do it,’ I say.
When I enter the living room again I’m met with silence. Archie’s eating breakfast slowly, eyeing me off like he’s seen it all before, like he’s out-grown my left of centre, unique demands. Bloody teenagers. Maki’s looking confused. RM’s standing by the kettle with her arms crossed, smiling, shaking her head. Only Tyson seems at least partly enthused.
Running back down the hall I stop outside Lewis’s bedroom door and walk in slowly, chest up, breathing loudly, but Lewis is just standing there, partially dressed, trying not to smile. When I raise my arms in disbelief, his smile widens and so I step back into the hallway, count to three, step back inside his room.
‘I’m not doing it,’ he says, laughing.
‘We’re going to get better at this,’ I say, back in the kitchen, assessing the mess, mentally grading the pre-school tasks that have to be completed in order from most important to least important, with number one being download Imperial March so that I can play it throughout the house until it becomes a persistent ear-worm in the heads of every member of my family. ‘It has to be an automatic response. Like when army guys stand up to attention every time a higher-ranking officer walks into the room. Exactly like that except that you guys chant the Imperial March music whenever you see me.’
Imperial March is now playing from my iPhone as I’m eyeing off school bags and school clothes and the location of school readers. When I approach RM I’m almost in beast mode – in terms of the morning school prep – when she says, ‘So how did you sleep?’
‘Like I have no eyelids,’ I say. ‘Tyson woke up at 2.30am and I was taking him back to bed when he said, “The tooth fairy didn’t come” and I realised I’d forgotten to put five bucks into the glass on Maki’s bedhead.’
‘Oh God,’ RM says.
‘And so I pulled out the trundle bed and decided I had to wait for Tyson to get back to sleep so that I could get Maki’s tooth out of the glass and put the money in. But Tyson stayed awake for a fricken HOUR. And I was saying, “You have to go to sleep Tys, the tooth fairy can’t come if you’re awake. If you look at the tooth fairy she disappears” and then finally, after he’d fallen asleep, I’m attempting to get out of the trundle bed when it makes a massive squeaky noise and Maki spins out of sleep onto all fours, lifts the glass up and looks inside, then sees me standing there and says, “The tooth fairy didn’t come”. I was like, “It’s still night time Maki. There’s still heaps of time” and so I get back into the trundle bed to wait for him to go back to sleep. And I’m just lying there, trying not to fall asleep, getting angry with him every time he turns over to look at the glass. And I’m getting angry with myself for forgetting to get my tooth fairy tutu on. And Maki ALSO takes an hour to get to sleep. And then I’m sliding off the bed, inch by inch, trying to distribute my weight evenly so that it doesn’t squeak and wake everyone up again, and by the time I’ve found enough coin around the house to match the tooth fairy’s ridiculous modern prices, it’s almost five am—’
‘Jesus,’ RM says.
‘And I have so much to get done today,’ I say, hugging her, my chin on her head because I’m still feeling a little dominant and damaging, in a dark overlord kind of way.
‘Pep up wussbag,’ she says, bless her. ‘You should put on more uplifting music and get in to it. So that we’re all in this together, rather than just watching you perform.’
‘What song,’ I say. ‘Something by Megadeath?’
‘I said something uplifting.’
‘I know what you’re thinking,’ I say. ‘You’re thinking Teardrops by Womack and Womack.’
‘That’s exactly what I was thinking,’ she says, even though she clearly wasn’t.
‘It’s a very good song,’ I whisper, face to the nape of her neck, breathing in the perfume that, when mixed with her fleshy pheromones, is just so…I don’t know, so hormonally stimulating.
As I’m opening Spotify, opening my 80s playlist, queuing up the song and setting it to repeat indefinitely, I’m yelling, ‘Arch have you packed your homework? Tyson get out of your pyjamas and into your school clothes. Lewis? Where are you? Maki stop playing with all that money and get your socks and shoes on…’ only stopping short because Maki responds, in an entirely shrieky way, with ‘No, you get your shoes on, Dad.’
‘Hey, sweetheart,’ I say, kneeling down to adjust the school shirt of his collar, smiling, straightening his jumper and rustling his fringe, spiking it up a little to really bring out his six year old cuteness. ‘If you talk to me like that again I’m going to get myself a little butterfly net. Next time you lose a tooth I’ll wait in your room all night just to catch the tooth fairy. Then, while she’s freaking out inside the net, I’m going to throw it on the ground and stomp on it. And then I’m going to take all her money and fill your glass with all the teeth. Okay sweetie-pie?’
Maki’s face is deadpan as his eyeballs turn left, the right, then left again – a clear sign that he’s trying to find the perfect response that will crush me and put me back in my place – and I’m feeling kind of superior, pretty certain that I’ve won this little rap battle, until Tyson lines up beside Maki, the same look in his eyes, and says, ‘You can’t. The tooth fairy goes invisible if you look at it.’
‘Yeah,’ Maki says.
There’s no way, in the state I’m in, that I’m going to let them win this battle, that’s what I’m thinking as we’re having a three-way stare off, but there are no clever lines coming to me because the two of them have pre-fatigued me by keeping me awake all night.
I’m just about to say something subpar like ‘Dads can see the tooth fairy’ when Tyson says, ‘Dah Dah Dah Dah Da-dah’ and the thrill that comes from that is almost overwhelming.
‘That’s it, Tys,’ I say, grabbing his ruddy cheeks in my hands and shaking him a little bit. ‘You see boys. It’s that simple. You just have to sing the The Imperial March, just like that, whenever I come into a room, every day for the rest of your lives.’
RM’s hormonally uplifting scent and the dulcet sounds of Womack and Womack is enough for me to draw on the feeling of victory and I’m suddenly certain I can survive this sleep deprivation and make it through the day.
I’m going to scoff down 300 milligrams of caffeine in a strong coffee and when that wears off I’ll do it again, and if I feel like I might be nodding off I’ll wake myself up by heating a teaspoon and giving myself a first degree burn on the wrist. And when my gym buddies come around tonight I’ll have a pre-workout drink loaded with Beta-alanine, and then I’ll get them to slap me in the face at least five times before I go for a bench press PB. And after that, I’ll sit in my writing room and get all crazy with over-tiredness and write a post that’ll make this overwhelming dread-fatigue seem like it was all worth it.