You know how you tuck your kid into bed, say “good night” and then walk out the door? Me either. How did the process of getting a child into a bed become a 45-minute ritual requiring an intermission and a concession stand? We are simply no match for our children– two stall-master-black-belts who suddenly find Mommy and Daddy RIVETING just before bedtime. (Send. Help.) Here’s how it breaks down . . .
If it’s a bath night (i.e., one of the equinoxes) Jacob has a bath and gets into his pajamas. Then he chooses a video to watch. Dan or I tell him to turn it off after about twenty minutes. Okay, FINE, forty. (Don’t judge. We have a lot of dishes to wash.) This process takes another five minutes. And involves multiple reminders. Which gradually become louder. (And more irritated.) Finally, Jacob shuts off the video. And then throws himself dramatically back on the couch while whining about the unfairness of it all. (WHY. DO. WE. TORTURE. HIM?) Finally, we all march upstairs.
March might not be the right word. Somewhere between the living room couch and the stairs Jacob decides he’s some sort of animal. A dog. A penguin. A seal. So, he crawls, waddles or swims toward the stairs. Lately Jacob has been a monkey. According to Jacob, monkeys only say two things: “Ooo ooo aah aah”, when they are “saying something funny” and “ooo ooo ooo ooo” when they are trying to learn about the world. How do monkeys learn? Apparently they say, “ooo ooo ooo ooo” while pointing at random objects. And insist that we name them. IT’S DELIGHTFUL. Especially after the first half hour.
Me: Yes, monkey, that’s a chair. That’s the wall. That’s the floor. That’s the railing. That’s what holds up the railing.
Jacob: Ooo ooo ooo??
Me: I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT SPECIFIC PART OF THE RAILING IS CALLED. Maybe that’s enough learning for tonight, monkey.
Jacob (deflated, eyes downcast): ooo ooo ooooo.
Before you call me out for stifling his creativity, consider that this human-to-monkey tutorial is taking place after I have been awake for approximately 64 hours. (Don’t do the math, trust me– my kids get up at an ungodly hour). It’s a miracle if I can name the children. Forget about the parts of the railing. (“Baluster” by the way. YES, I looked it up.)
Jacob (30 seconds later): Ooo ooo ooo?
Me: Door. Potty. Toothbrush . . .
Anyway, eventually we make it upstairs. And it’s time to brush teeth. Jacob does a decent job. Emma is a different story. In her defense, she is not yet two and only recently acquired teeth. But what she lacks in skill, she makes up for in enthusiasm. She is OBSESSED with tooth brushing. (Read: she likes to eat toothpaste.) As soon as we say, “Time to get ready for bed!” Emma bolts for the stairs squeaking, “Teeth! Teeth!” She scrambles up the stairs on all fours. And then looks up desperately at the medicine cabinet until I present her with her Elmo toothbrush and a hit of toothpaste. Chomp. Chomp. Slurp. AAAaaaah. That’s the stuff. If I can wrestle the toothbrush away from her a few teeth MIGHT actually get brushed. By this time, Jacob is usually done and spitting out his toothpaste in the sink. Emma walks to the sink. Stands eye level with the cabinet beneath it. And spits at it. Aggressively. Twice. Done and done.
We all tromp down to Emma’s room. And then it’s time to say goodnight to her. Not for me, of course. HELLS, NO. That won’t happen for another half-hour. Jacob and Dan give her hugs and kisses. Then she chases them down the hall for another round. At this point, I carry her off to her room as she waves over my shoulder Queen-style. (Or so I assume.) Meanwhile, Dan reads bedtime stories to Jacob in his room.
Emma and I settle into her glider for some “soothing lullabies”. What this really means is that Emma barks out song requests like an army officer and I sing horribly off-key (as usual).
Me: Happy birthday?
Me: Who should we sing it to?
Me: Happy birthday to Miss Joanne, Happy birthday to Miss Joanne . . . ”
Emma: NO! ‘AINE.
Me: Oh, sorry. Happy birthday to Aunt Elaine, Happy birthday to Aunt Elaine . . .
(Subtext: FOR THE LOVE OF G-D, MOMMY. LISTEN. TO. MY. WORDS.)
Me: Happy Birthday to Miss Kristen, Happy birthday to Miss Kristen . . .
Me: Happy biiiiiirthday, Miss Kristen. Happy birthday to . . .
After about fifteen minutes of this “wind down ritual” I put Emma into her crib. And continue singing. I see her body start to relax. I sing a few more bars quietly. And, then just as I’m about to head out the door . . .
Me: Happy birthday, Miss Joanne. Happy birthday, Miss Joanne . . .
YES. I. AM. A. SUCKER.
A few minutes later Dan comes in to close the deal. (More on that later.) I head down the hall to Jacob’s room.
I turn off the light. And sit on Jacob’s bed.
Me: Jacob, who do you want to talk to tonight– George or Henry?
Me (voicing Jacob’s stuffed bear Henry): Jacob you would NOT believe the day I have had . . .
I’m not proud of this. But I will admit to it. I then spend the next ten minutes telling Jacob about what Henry did at bear preschool. It often bares striking resemblance to what Jacob did at school. Am I trying to use the bear to help Jacob process his day and impart a few life lessons? SURE, let’s go with that. (It sounds A LOT better than: I’m too damn lazy to come up with an alternate bear reality.) Jacob listens intently. And occasionally corrects some of the details.
Henry the Bear: . . . then during free choice time I played in the math and science area . . .
Jacob: Don’t you mean that you played in BLOCK AREA?
Oh, right. Block area. After Henry has spilled his guts, it is time for hugs and kisses. TWENTY of them. (My advice, people: don’t teach your children to count. No good can come of it.) Then, FINALLY, I say, “Goodnight Jacob. I love you. Get a good night’s sleep. I’ll send Daddy in to give you one more hug and kiss”. That last bit is a vestige from the days when Dan would come in and sit next to Jacob until he fell asleep. Nowadays, Dan just waltzes in, kisses Jacob, refuses to give in to about five unreasonable requests, and then waltzes out.
By this time, Emma is usually asleep. I always assumed that, while I was in Jacob’s room, Dan was going through the same rigmarole with Emma that I do. But more effectively. And then, a few days ago, he told me this:
Dan: Here’s what I do. I just get her calmed down in her crib. Then sit in the glider. And play dead.
Me: Play dead?!?
Dan: Okay . . . I fall asleep.
Cue look of annoyance.
Dan (shrugging): Look, she doesn’t expect much from me. Your problem is you make this too hard.