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
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've GOT to see
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
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.
I remind myself that sleep is a process I can’t force on my littlest guy.
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
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 naive 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.