I let Craig handle last night’s round of “Whack-a- Mole” (bedtime) and settled into the couch at 7:45. It’s like my victory lap – that couch settling.
Day is done, gone the son, gone the girls and the the fights and the whiiiiines. All is calm- Bravo ooooon- sleep is nigh….
One of the myriad problems with this parenting gig is that they save the hardest part for last. BEDTIME. Bedtime should be in the morning – when we’re fresh and kind and sweet – and decent parenting still seems like a very real possibility. But no, the hardest parts – dinner and baths and bedtime – arrive at the end of the day- when we have nothing left. When the truth is, we are counting the minutes. Counting the moments until no one is the boss of us anymore. Until we can sink into that couch, book, internet, or glass of wine – whatever our victory lap includes.
It doesn’t help that in our mommy minds, we have this idea that bedtime is supposed to be the most peaceful, loving time of day. That we are supposed to send our lovies off to dream land with songs, stories, soft, sweet voices and strokes of their cherubic heads. Sometimes bedtime happens this way for us. Not often.
Each of our kids gets a story at bedtime. They never pick a good one, they pick the longest one.
And the little one wants to “help read” her book. So, let’s see. It takes her about six minutes to sound out each word, and so if the book is one hundred words, well, I don’t specialize in math but I am telling you that I am stuck in that room FOREVER. It feels like I will be reading that book with Amma until I die. And I know I’m supposed to be SUPPORTING her reading. I mean it’s good – this is good stuff, this wanting to read. I was a reading teacher, I know this is GOOD stuff about which I am supposed to be EXCITED. But for me, exhaustion trumps excitement every single time. And I can’t help but notice that the ONLY TIME SHE CARES THIS MUCH ABOUT READING IT HERSELF IS AT BEDTIME. When she can hold me hostage and stay up six minutes later with every sounded-out-word. And so while I’m supposed to be thinking sweet thoughts, all I can think is: OH MY GOD. I AM GOING TO DIE. I AM GOING TO JUMP RIGHT OUT OF MY SKIN. YOU SUCK AT READING. YOU SUCK YOU SUCK YOU SUCK. PLEASE GOD. PLEASE MAKE THIS BOOK..just..just …DISAPPEAR so I can take my victory lap. I DESERVE MY VICTORY LAP!
But No. Nope. No help from above. So it goes on. And on. “S….o…….soooooooooo t-h- e….tuuuuu—-huuuuuu—-eeeeeeeeee?” says Amma. I am held hostage for forty five minutes. When she is finally done. I decide that after that debacle there is NO WAY that the Universe also expects me to sing the “song” that is also part of her “bedtime routine.” I say goodnight and pray she’ll forget.
But they never forget. They PRETEND to forget ONLY so that they have another excuse to pop out of their rooms and remind you of what you forgot.
So three minutes later, when I think I’m in the clear, here comes my littlest mole. “You forgot my song,” she says. And I stare at her for a long second and admit to myself two things.
1. She is unbelievably cute and precious and one day I will miss these visits, especially when she starts sneaking out of her room to party with her friends instead of to find me to sing to her.
2. Doesn’t matter. I’m going to lose it.
And so I sing her song. But I sing it like an insane person. Eyes wide, teeth clenched, just a little too loud. No sweetness. Like a robot. “You. Are. My. Sun. SHINE. My. Only. Sun. SHINE. I sing it like there are implied curse words between every lyric.
And then. Then I am done. It is time. I am a Freedom Fighter and I have fought long and hard for my OWN FREEDOM and it is here. Now is the time I raise my mommy arms in the air and breathe deeply and eat cookies alone. My hand is on the child’s door knob. I can see I can feel I can hear I can TASTE those couch cushions. And then. Amma speaks again. I freeze.
Mooooooommy. Tell me about God.
NO. SHE DIDN’T. OH NO, SHE DIDN’T.
WHY DOES EVERY KID BECOME A FREAKING THEOLOGIAN AND NATURALIST AND INQUIRING MIND ABOUT WORLD ISSUES AT BEDTIME???? I THINK WE KNOW WHY. Oh, yes. I think we know why. Because there is a secret right of passage we don’t know about. When they are babies, some older kid at the playground sneaks a book into their strollers called “BEDTIME HOSTAGE QUESTIONS: A Treasury of Inquiries Yo Mama Will Feel Too Guilty Not To Answer.” On the back cover it reads: “Guaranteed to buy you 10 extra minutes each night or your money back.”
But I know the drill. I KNOW THIS DRILL. AND I LOVE GOD, SURE. I love teaching kids about God- I’m a freaking Sunday School teacher for Christ’s sake (literally). BUT GOD LOVES ME, TOO. AND GOD WANTS ME ON THE COUCH NOW SO EVERYONE IN MY HOUSE CAN LIVE TO DIE ANOTHER DAY.
And so I look back at Amma and say-“Honey, I’d love to talk to you about God. If you are still interested tomorrow during YOUR TV TIME WE WILL CHAT. HOW ‘BOUT THAT?” ON YOUR TIME, SISTER. Ba- BAM. HOW YOU LIKE ME, NOW- AMMA????
She gets it. She finally goes to sleep. They know when mommy’s done. When I start gesturing like a cage fighter instead of a mama, they know it’s time. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective. I am Glinda the Good Witch until 7:45 and then at 7:46 it’s nothing but green faces, warts, cackles, and threats. And often that’s the best I can do.
So last night as I waited for Craig to whack the last mole – I half listened to the bedroom doors re-open and the typical mole-y excuses – “I can’t sleep because my elbow hurts!” “I need ICE COLD water, not reg-a-lar water” “My closet doors are open.” There’s an elephant shadow on my window.” Whack- Whack-Whack- Whack. Nothing new. The moles are not too creative tonight, I thought . But then – I hear a door open and one appears to say to poor Craig- mallet in hand- sitting against the wall in the hallway – “I can’t sleep because my finger smells because I keep scratching my bottom.”
Hmm. Not bad, I thought, and I giggled, because it’s funny when it’s not your turn. Craig says, “Okay. Go wash your hand.” I hear the water run, hallway waddling, child returns to her room. Two minutes later, door re-opens, child-mole re-appears. “My finger still….” “GO WASH YOUR HAND AGAIN,” Craig says with that very even, controlled tone that indicates the Whack -a-Mole machine is about to BUST. Water starts, child- mole slowly creeps back to her room. A minute later, door re-opens. Mole child says, “My finger still…” THEN STOP SCRATCHING YOUR BUTT. AND STOP SMELLING YOUR FINGER! OR PUT IT UNDER YOUR PILLOW. HOLD YOUR BREATH. WHATEVER IT TAKES. JUST GO. TO. SLEEP!
Mole child gets it. She is out of quarters. Daddy’s broke. Machine is done for the day.
No more doors open.
Craig comes downstairs.
He joins me with tea and House of Cards for our victory lap. He’s asleep within ten minutes.
All Moles Wacked. Me and my cookies and quiet. Glinda is back.
Carry On, Warriors.
The Worst Bedtime Family in the History of the Whole Entire Universe
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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