Here’s a dirty little secret: I long for the type of family bedtime that you see in the movies. You know, the one where the parents read their children a book, kiss them on their freshly-scrubbed foreheads with an “I love you,” and softly shut their kids’ bedroom doors at 7 p.m.
Bedtime at our house looks more like, well, a Vaudeville show. On any given night, my five-year-old son can be found running around the house after his bath (naked except for a towel/cape) yelling, “I’m a flying squirrel! I’m a flying squirrel!” That seems to be the cue for the phone to ring, and for some reason, usually it’s the phone, my husband’s cell phone and then my cell phone, all at once. (My policy is to ignore the phones unless there’s some kind of emergency situation, but the effect of the three rings is something like an espresso shot for my son, who will often start flinging himself off the couch with reckless abandon as soon as he hears them.) When we finally get him settled down, Act I begins: I read him a book, then tell a story, then he gets a hug and kiss from my husband (and most times our boy can wheedle another story out of my husband Joe by saying, “Tell me about when you were little, Daddy.”) Then there’s the intermission: a glass of water followed by a potty break. Act II comes along, the one where we check for monsters in the closet, under the bed and in the next room. (By this time, I feel like the guy who spins the plates on the long sticks while dancing a jig and juggling–at least, I’m as tired as that guy always looks.) Finally, Act III: “The Great Mom-o” answers all the burning questions of the day. My son usually starts off with something related to monsters and being afraid of the dark, and then quickly moves on to other fascinating topics for a five-year-old boy. (Sometimes he gets me, though. Last night I was explaining something about astronauts’ underwear before I caught myself.) By 9 p.m., (OK, 9:30) I finally stumble out of his room, bleary-eyed and confused. That is, if I’m lucky. At least one night a week, I fall asleep while doing the massage/back rub/back scratch phase of the show. I usually then wake up at 3 a.m. in my son’s bed, scrunched up like a cocktail shrimp with my back to the wall. I actually have a kink in my back that I now refer to as “The Bunk Bed Knot.”
You see, try as I might to be consistent, I often fall way short of the mark. I know there’s a reason why they call it “the bedtime routine” but our family just can’t seem to get into the swing of it. And I feel like I should probably get on the ball now, because at this rate, our son will be staying up till 5 a.m. by the time he’s 10. (He already assures me that he wants to be “awake all night, like the skunks and owls” when he grows up. Oh boy.)
I’m wondering if anyone wants to commiserate or knows some good tips on how to stick to a smooth bedtime routine. What works in your house? Because, let’s face it, this act needs to get the hook!
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.