“Bedtime is not for the faint of anything.”
This phrase comes to me as I finally escape from tonight’s almost two-hour bedtime, which resulted in my 5-year-old getting to sleep an hour-and-a-half too late.
As I emerge from the dark bedroom and squint my way into the brightly lit hallway, I decide I’d better take some mental notes to avoid having to endure the forever-long bedtime in the future. The dos and don’ts flood my mind in no particular order.
Note #1: When reading the last story of the night, don’t use an even moderately suspenseful voice—much less a raspy, old, witchy one. Bring characters to life with only funny or regular voices. Otherwise I may have to resort to butt jokes to lighten the mood. Or, the extra bright nightlight comes on, which then leads to totally insuppressible desires to make the best shadow puppets ever. One more, Mom! You GOT to see this one.
Note #2. Save time for inevitable shadow puppets.
Note #3. Don’t make the butt jokes too funny. That can lead to uncontrollable giggling that’s eventually transformed into giddy-crazy.
Note #4: If he makes a big deal about it, just let him wear the stupid boxers to bed. I can put a pull-up on his sweaty little body once he’s already asleep. Sure, it’s like trying to put a too-small wetsuit on someone who’s just come out of the ocean, and the whole process is made more difficult when I have to do it while hunched over in the lower bunk, but it still makes things easier overall.
Note #5. Put “extra fresh” water in his cup next to his bed. Do it while he’s brushing his teeth, just before I get to lie down for the first time all day. That’s much easier than waiting until we’ve already gotten in bed, read, put on our shadow-puppet show, and turned out the light.
Note #6. Plan for much, much more time.
Note #7. Start much earlier in the evening.
As I get to my seventh note, I realize I’m making something of a battle plan, like a general preparing for war. I’m preparing, anticipating obstacles to avoid, and proactively planning for contingencies.
The battle strategies above won’t ensure success, but they make it more likely. The battle is always won at some point. He always falls asleep. Eventually. But the casualties in the process—lost sleep, future grumpiness, a relationship potentially damaged by a mother who yells “No! I don’t want to smell your feet!” and so on—can sometimes be ugly. Plus, even as I come up with new approaches, the enemy continues to evolve as well, becoming smarter and developing new stalling techniques.
And then I get it. It’s the word “enemy,” as it pops into my mind, that does it. Gives me pause. Wakes me up and helps me see the error of my metaphor.
I remind myself that the bedtime “battles” are a thing of the past for my 8- and 11-year-olds, who look forward to reading, and who, despite an inevitable plea for “one more chapter” when we read together, go to sleep without a fight night after night.
I remind myself that sleep is a process I can’t force on my littlest guy. He really does control that. I remind myself that sleep is a separation, and I understand why he wants to make bedtimes last as long as possible. After all, for these minutes he has my full attention, and we’re a tangle of arms and legs and hugs and hands on faces.
That doesn’t sound like a battle at all. That sounds like we’re on the same side. That sounds like something to look forward to and delight in and that I’ll miss terribly someday.
I’m not naïve enough to say that future bedtimes won’t be difficult from time to time. But I’ve come to the awareness that if I change my expectations and plan better and give us enough time on nights when it’s possible, then that means we both win.