Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Bedtime Routine

By now everyone is likely familiar with the hilarious children's story book Go The Fuck To Sleep. For some reason people who know me constantly direct me to the book and Samuel L Jackson's reading of the book. Hmm.


The reality is that by the end of the day of dealing with children you crave silence, solitude and some time without someone asking something of you. Beyond that, it might be nice to have an actual conversation with your spouse without being interrupted. Mind you, those conversations are usually tactical discussions about the children and managing their behaviours, menus, or schedules. Sometimes a discussion about something not related to your kids pops up - those are nice moments and you treasure them because they are so rare.

It's gotten pretty pathetic that much of my interaction/information sharing with my wife comes via cc'd emails or in awkward moments when a neighbour tells me something about what my wife (or even I am up to):

"So, that was a hilarious story Carolyn told me about being trapped on the elevator at work the other day."
"What are you talking about? Carolyn wasn't trapped on any elevator"
"Oh, sorry, not sure who I'm thinking about".

And then, about a week later, I mention to my wife in passing about the weird way gossip travels - for instance:

"Christina told me that you were trapped on an elevator at work. I mean, how did that get started?" "Oh. I was. Didn't I tell you that? I was sure I had."

We have a saying now, "We don't talk, we're married." It's funny because it's true. Ha ha.

There used to be a time (when we had fewer and younger children) when we would have a small life raft of time between their finally going to sleep and our bedtime. As we have grown increasingly exhausted (and our children older and more demanding), that time has shrunk to almost nothing. Our bedtime routines, begun in youthful and new parent enthusiasm and naivitee, are always in danger of consuming us.

For instance, in the giddy rapture of new fatherhood I made up a series of "special songs" for my eldest (and at the time, only child) which I would sing to him along with other songs I knew (which when I began mostly consisted of the Gilligan's Island and Mary Tyler Moore theme songs) after reading a score of storybooks. Equity demanded the same consideration for my second and third boys. What begins as a wonderful bonding time with your children can easily becomes more of a time of bondage (not in the 50 Shades of Grey meaning, sickos). As I now I have three boys, even divided by two parents, it breaks down to nearly a two hour bedtime routine with songs and stories and so much more (Polka Dot Door reference) for all three. I sometimes feel like a struggling singer songwriter facing a hostile crowd who reject my song choices and bark out demands. I have yet had to have to perform Freebird but it's only a matter of time.

I've had to scale back the bedtime performance time and again as it naturally tends to become more ornate, complicated and baroque. Sort of a Punk rock reaction to overblown Prog rock excesses. No more last minute requests for water allowed. No more trips to the toy box to get that critical stuffie. Only two songs. Only two books. No more pyrotechnic light shows complete with masks and props. Back to basics.

Even with extreme vigilance at keeping the time in check, there have been evenings when, exhausted and trying to get through the last story with the last kid, I enter into a waking dream state and start to read and say things which make no sense. Trippy stuff that confuses and exasperates my kids:

"There's no green rapping elephant in this book, Daddy!"

This usually ends with me passing out, drooling, beside them. Waking up with a start hours later, I stagger into the hall often to find my wife similarly blundering out of another bedroom where she had passed out.

All that said, it can be a great experience to introduce your kids to favourite books of yours as a kid and to discover new ones that you can share. Some of them lend a different meaning to the phrase Bedtime Routine in that you develop an almost classic vaudeville comedy routine with certain jokes and songs and books. Those are great moments.

As a dad who wonders often if this parent thing is a zero sum game designed solely to reveal my failings and weaknesses, I do hold onto those moments where I feel we've created something genuinely fun and cool together. One of the unexpected side-effects of being an involved and home-based dad that I enjoy most are those moments when I would be reading a picture book with one of my boys and, upon seeing a picture of what is supposed to be a mother animal and her cubs, my son points out excitedly:

"Look, it's a daddy and his babies".

That rocks me to sleep, I can tell you.

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