Don't be fooled when I settle down on the couch. I know I still have a full ten minutes before I can be completely assured the cherub is actually asleep. I swear, toddlers' beds must come with a super sonic alarm that senses when my feet finally make their way off the carpet and onto the wood, signaling to me relief but to them: DEFCON 1 has been set in motion.
I wonder, yet again, why bedtime is so.freaking.hard.
Bedtime routines are not some occasional, just-when-we-feel-like-it tradition that take place when mom and dad have had one too many glasses of wine and decide that all mini-beings must vacate the premises. This is not some grand idea I've spent three months preparing for, like a baby shower or root canal, where all angles are considered and every detail sorted through like we're going on HGTV. This is bed time. This happens every, single night. Without fail they are in bed within the same two-hour time frame, in the same bed, with the same lights and the same routines. The distance from their bed to mine has not grown a hundred yards or been separated by a mine field containing ninjas in big foot costumes.
I'm specifically not mentioning nap time right now because some sort of guttural sound might come from across the internet and beg you to never mention the habit to me or ask my advice. Our house doesn't do no nap time and I ain't going back to that desolate land. I will not speak of it.
I will never understand why bedtime causes such a collective hyperventilating from every parent I know. It's like food: it's important, the habits stay with them for life, and we're responsible for training them in health and happiness. Only because I'm in my right mind and a decent three hours from the madness, can I say that bedtime must be downright important. The bigger the battle, the bigger the opportunity, right? Someone with teenagers, someone who doesn't have to go get another cup of water or tuck the sheet tighter or scratch the back the other way or sing another song, please tell me that we can build opportunities to genuinely connect with each child at night, right?
Half of you are already pulling out your essential oil sample to mail me, suggesting I rub their feet and start diffusing some Valorific or Solveallyourproblems an hour before bedtime. The other half have just renewed their Wine Club subscription and are wondering why Costco doesn't sell chewable children's Benadryl in bulk. Don't worry...I've already checked.
I'm not going to tell you that you'll need practically an entire day's grace for your kids all over again at 7 o'clock because that is depressing and unfair. I will tell you, though, that when I lay in bed with my eight year old, she begs for snuggles, the same song every night, and to always "pray for no bugs." There used to be a day when I didn't see the end of those requests. I can now sense that there will be a time when some book will distract her into another world or there won't be room for both of us on the bed, and she won't grab my wrist and plead for another two minutes.
Our boys share a room, each with their own twin bed, and most nights they try to catch up on their word count for the day in the few minutes I spend winding down with them. A few nights ago, Colby would not stop his chatter while Tucker was nearly settled and I firmly said to him, "Colby. Stop. Talking." The room hushed and I cringed to think that was the last phrase he heard from me that day. Even now, my heart aches to think those words ushered him into his dreams.
This is the moment where shame or hope will take grip of your heart and lead you down tonight's path at bedtime. You can feel guilt and fear about how you've handled bedtime and routines and goodnights and the effect it has had on your babies. You can willfully put on a cloak of determination that resolves to do better tonight and tomorrow and then it will be a new week and your resolve will putter out of energy. You can adhere to some method or philosophy and become slave to its precepts, without the heart of compassion and guidance and your child's spirit will get lost in the mix of your pride and a stranger's advice.
Instead, let's load the last dish into the dishwasher and take a quick second to pray: God, help me with bedtime tonight. Help me love. Help me finish well. Help me not scream like Xena: Warrior Princess. Amen.
I am thoroughly convinced that if you can put a child to bed without handcuffs, duct tape, or restraints, you could lead the G8 Summit (is it G7 now that Russia has been excluded?), hike at least half of Mount Everest, and breastfeed quadruplets. Maybe even all three in the same week. For tonight, here is my Irish blessing for you:
May exhaustion guide your child's will to a quick and painless death,May their bedsheets wrap ever so
tightlylightly around their bodies,May you walk forth from their rooms without the spanker in hand,May you never hear their voices again. Until morning.