The Baboon Game

One day this weekend, as a favor to me, Tony kept Eli going all afternoon without a nap. Tony was going out that night, which is no big deal (even when sick, I manage, of course, and plum the experience for a story) and he figured rather than leave me with a well-rested jack-in-the-box who would pop out of bed every 5 minutes, interrupting my work and disturbing his older brother to the point of tears (everybody’s) before finally crashing around 9pm, he’d leave me with a sweet and docile child who’d tuck in to bed happily at 7, leaving Ben to his rest and me to my work.

Well, that was the idea. Except this always backfires. Sometimes, whether due to intent or accident or a simple willful refusal, Eli doesn’t nap (he’s approaching the age when Ben dropped his nap), and it’s never good. Sometimes he winds up a cranky ball of tears by 6pm, sometimes he carries on like the Energizer bunny, fueled by adrenaline, until late. We should know better by now. And yet.

The other night was a variation on the theme that I hadn’t encountered before. Tony left around 4:30, the boys and I sat down on the couch to read a book, and by 4:45, Eli was nodding off to sleep. That wouldn’t do at all. Sure, it’s ok — even welcome–for a little baby to take a late afternoon nap, but a rest so late in the day would only give my toddler fuel to carry on into the wee hours; or if it was more than a nap, he was likely to wake up “for the day” at 4:30 or 5am. I had to take measures.

“Ben!” I said, enlisting the help of an expert. “We need to keep Eli awake or the night will be a disaster! What should we do?”

“Balloons,” said Ben.

(OK, his first suggestion was “Read Tintin to me!” but I didn’t even have to say a word for him to understand how wrong that was.)

And so we got out the balloons. And lo and behold, within 3 minutes, Eli was running around the house, merrily tossing his balloon around. He played, he ate dinner, by 7pm he was appropriately tired, it was all good.

And over the last few nights, the balloon game (or “baboon game,” as Eli calls it) has developed to the point that it is in fact the perfect game, one in a series of games that Tony and I (mostly Tony, to be honest) have perfected over the years, which require little to no energy nor imagination from the parent and lots of energy and imagination on the part of the child.

One of Tony’s classics is Napping, wherein he lies on any comfortable surface and submits quietly to tucking in, kisses, and storytelling. Another is “Hat On, Hat Off,” which involves him sitting in the living room arm chair wearing a hat while the child runs from the room. When the child returns, the hat is off. Child runs out of the room, Tony moves hat, child returns, etc. Somehow, this was wildly amusing to toddler Ben, and continues to produce shrieks of laughter from both kids.

So what started the other night as batting filled balloons around the house and then moved to letting untied balloons shoot around the living room has now, by some mysterious kid alchemy, developed to this: I sit in the armchair and blow up a balloon while the boys run out of the living room, run a circuit down the hall, through the kitchen and dining room, back to me, where they take the balloon, let it shoot into the air, retrieve it, hand it back to me, and so on. Lots of shrieking and running from them, nothing but breathing from me.

I’m not saying every day is a walk in the park, and of course now that I’ve written about it, the game may never be as much fun again, but for one night, baboons were all we needed.


  1. Marjorie says:

    Those home-grown games are so integral to our routines … they’re also traditions in the making, Enjoy the baboons!!!

  2. Violeta says:

    Ah, I know too well how sometimes the keeping-them-up thing can backfire. Thankfully most days M & J tire themselves out enough to still take a 2 hour nap! But with the baby, no way, if we skip or delay her nap, no matter the logic, she’s miserable AND totally awake.

    I love the balloon game! We’re always looking for that sort of entertainment.

  3. Elrena says:

    This post made me smile — not only because it’s a great story, but because we have been doing the exact same thing this week over here! The kids are playing with their balloons even as I type.

    Maybe it’s a Mama, PhD thing?

  4. Aliki2006 says:

    I admire your tenacity for blowing up those balloons–they always make my head hurt!!

    We have these crazy spontaneous games, too–it’s amazing how sometimes the simplest things can turn into rituals of absolute delight.

    And both my kids stopped napping at two…sigh.

  5. Daphne says:

    You really had me chuckling over this one. Those games are exactly the ones my husband was uncannily skilled at introducing. I believe he got a lot of mileage out of “Napping,” too.