If you don’t have — or don’t yet have — children, you might be forgiven for imagining bedtime to be the glorious point in the day when parents get their lives back, when nursery-rhyme earworms, temper tantrums and the general toddler detritus that coats the home are gleefully banished, and alcohol, grown-up television and blissful, adult silence make their triumphant return.
But you’d be wrong again. If you’re not careful, bedtime can quickly spiral out of your control, and demands for one more story or one more song can turn the nightly ritual into something of a marathon.
Bedtime, you see, is really a misnomer. In our house, for example, it includes bath time, towel-off time, growl like a dinosaur time, hair-drying time, hair-brushing time, put-on-sunglasses-and-have-an- impromptu-dance-party time, toothbrush time, cup-of-milk-time, story time, second- and third-story time, song time, bed time, wait-for-dad-to-leave time, climb-out-of- bed-and-stand-at- the-top-of-the-stairs-until-mom-comes-up time, and, finally, second bedtime. Every so often, the wee one will crawl out of bed again, resulting in third and even fourth bedtimes.
For parents, this does not a relaxing evening make. If you’re lucky, you’ll get through half a movie or a single episode of whatever program everyone else binge-watched months ago, followed by maybe 20 minutes on that book you’ve been slogging through.
It some ways, it’s too late for me. But for the uninitiated and the soon-to-be-initiated, I offer a few DOs and DON’Ts to help you keep process as brief as possible.
DO place a firm limit on the number of stories you’ll read and stick to it. Develop a zany excuse if necessary. For a while, I was holding firm at three stories per night for my 2-year-old daughter, and could even get by with two if one of them was particularly long, like some of the more mature Dr. Seuss stories or an entire Frog and Toad collection. But lately, she’s been asking for as many as four books per night and she knows that while I may be immovable when she asks for another cookie, when she asks for another story I’ll fold like an origami lawn chair.
DON’T do anything during bedtime you don’t want to do every night for months. Once, on a whim, I picked up one of my daughter’s stuffed animals and had it give her a kiss on the cheek. This delighted her so much it became part of the ritual for months, even as the number of animals on her bed grew and grew. Soon I was providing good-night kisses from two pandas, a monkey, a hippo, a mouse, a rat, some sort of doll made from an orange washcloth, up to two bunnies, a brown bear, a polar bear, a turtle, a dachshund and a rotating cast of second-string animal friends that are occasionally and arbitrarily promoted to co-sleeping status. Now it’s like the Queen’s receiving line. Me and my bright ideas.
DO speak in soft, slow tones throughout the process. You may want to hurry up and get out of there, but your haste will be counter-productive. The child will take cues from you and too swift or energetic a reading can perk up the child and lead to requests for more stories. This also means avoiding books that compel you to read faster, such as Dr. Seuss’s tongue-twisting treatise Fox in Socks (Tweedle Beetles, man. Get me every time).
DON’T stop to think about how much you’re actually enjoying this time with your child. Because, you are. Of course you are. But that way lies madness, and you’ll be no closer to finishing your book or finding out who’ll finally be ruling Westeros when the game is finished.