Bedtime with young kids can be pretty special. By the time you’ve given them a bedtime snack, cleaned up the snack, brushed their teeth, caught them eating another snack, brushed their teeth again, put them in (ideally, but not necessarily) clean pajamas, read them a book, sung them a song, read them another book, sung another song, said a prayer, kissed them goodnight, you’re well beyond ready to move on with your evening. Oftentimes, I am getting home from a long day of work just about the time this delightful ritual begins. I’m hungry, I’m tired, I’m desperate to just relax and find some time for myself and not be needed for just five freaking minutes. Many times, my attitude is not much better than this guy’s.
To be sure, the routine described above is lengthy and grueling, but if it ends there, it’s going to be okay. There is still time to eat something, watch something, read something, talk, maybe sneak in a workout or get some things done around the house before it all starts over again the next day. Unfortunately, this rarely marks the actual end of the ordeal; many times, it is only the beginning.
Such was the case last night. We went through the whole process, and while it worked for 2 out of 3, we had a holdout. And it was clear from his body language, his attitude, and the tears running down his cheeks that he was not going down without a fight.
Frequently, at this moment, it takes every ounce of patience and resolve I have not to just completely unleash the fury of my bad day/week (career?) on whomever is stubbornly standing between me and my few precious moments of evening bliss. I will confess, I am not always 100% successful at maintaining a handle on this fury. Thankfully, last night was different.
Part of this is guilt. Two weekends ago, they were playing outdoor movies at Crown Center. It was the last night we could attend, and we thought it would be fun for the whole family. The movie playing was Jaws. For anyone who has seen it, or seen it again recently, the special effects are pretty low budget, even laughable at times. It’s rated PG. How bad could it be?
But we forget. I know I forget. Forgot. I probably didn’t see Jaws for the first time until I was a few years older than he is now. But it is still the source of all my ocean/deep-water anxiety. I swim in the ocean without any hesitation, recognizing that the chances of getting eaten by a shark are, statistically, lower than a lot of other dangers I face on a much more regular basis. But I still feel a tingle in my legs whenever I am out in really deep water, where you can’t see the bottom. Like I can feel something watching, coming closer, thinking about taking a bite. Jaws freaked me out when I was a kid; I don’t know why I had any reason to believe it wouldn’t have the same impact on him.
Now, he’s scared to take a bath or get too near a toilet or really any source of water bigger than a drinking glass because, well, you never know. Even where there is no water, he has developed an equally healthy fear of zombies. Because as every four-year-old knows, if the sharks don’t get you, the zombies will.
So here I was, exhausted, with a frightened, inconsolable four-year-old boy, and while a big percentage of me wanted to just put him in his room, lock the door, and be done with it, I decided to try a different tactic.
I carried him up the stairs, laid him in his bed, and sang him his favorite song. Then, rubbing his back, and neck, and forehead, I sang it again. And again. He kept insisting that he was not tired and was not going to sleep and the sharks were going to get him. I soothingly told him that he was safe, that we loved him, that there were no sharks for miles, and miles, and miles.
I sang him a different song. I sang him all his favorites. I sang him all the songs I remember my mom singing me when I was a kid. And my dad. I sang him every song I could think of. Slowly, slowly, his eyes started to droop, then open, then droop again. His breathing evened out. His eyes closed and stayed closed. I kept singing and rubbing his back, touching his hair, looking at this beautiful boy. I don’t know where he came from, still can’t get my head around the fact that he is mine, that this little human being is my responsibility, a part of me, a separate human life that I am responsible for.
It’s hard not to feel like I am doing a terrible job much of the time, gone too much, too stressed and easily angered and bored when I am around. As a parent I fail more than I succeed. But I am very thankful that I made the effort to take a breath, to take a step back, and let myself experience this moment. Because they are few and far between, fewer and farther between the more time goes by and the older my kids get. But this little moment felt like a victory; a beautiful, small but meaningful victory. I’m glad I took the time.