Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bittersweet Bedtime Stories

With seventeen years of mommyhood under my belt, I can proudly say I've spent countless hours reading to my children the coveted "bedtime story". And I enjoyed it, oh, I lived for it, in their earliest years - that sweet opportunity to bring the literary world to their snuggly little beds. Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, Tickle, Tickle, the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle Series, Amelia Bedelia, numerous Sesame Street characters, Franklin, Froggy, the Berenstain Bears, Peter and the Starcatchers series.....all were staples of my kids' bedtimes until....well, until. Until they grew too old, or too independent, or too...SOMETHING and it ended in much the same way weaning or potty training takes place, slowly, gradually until one day it just IS and you can barely remember what was once before.

I so loved reading to my kids. I'm pretty sure I got just as much out of it as they did, because, let's face it, I enjoyed reading the funny parts "just so" to make them laugh, and the sweet parts in a voice so saccharine, it was practically a requirement to follow up with some serious snuggling. Bedtime stories were a chance to reconnect after a hectic or harried day, to just lay down and "be" with each child.

Sure, there were some logistical problems - for example, multiple children. That presented a challenge once my first two were grown into middle elementary school and I had a toddler son. Suddenly "baby" stories were frowned upon in favor of "chapter books", and the desire to read "on their own" made bedtime stories fewer and farther between. Fade to black. And it was done. Still, I had the youngest to read to, and he loved it! It was as much a requirement for sleep as Candy Cane Man, the cheap stuffed toy soldier his dad won him from The Claw game at a tacky restaurant. And it was our chance to connect and have alone time.

Then, I was blessed with the addition of a stepdaughter just a year older. How to read to both? Simple solution - each parent would read to their biological child at night. Oh, but then, what about bonding? Should we switch it up? No, they preferred it that way and they got "their" time with their "own" parent each night. All well and good. Until The Book. The one that talked about - gasp - the CHANGES that would be taking place during that hazy era called puberty. A DAD couldn't read a book like that to a DAUGHTER. So, once again, I became a mom stretched in two different directions, because it just would not do to have stepdad read the rest of the book we already started to the boy! I tried to stagger the times, stick to a schedule, but the inevitable happened and one child would be shortchanged each night in favor of everyone getting to sleep on time.

So, the stories dwindled and so did our bedtime routine. The tucking in, the turning on of music (still lullabyes, long past babyhood), the closing the closet door, the nightlight, the drink....the allure soon wore to downright frustration as I struggled to stay awake for all of the rituals when I found that upon laying down to read, I often dozed off and woke only to the smack of the book hitting me in the face! Now, it became a chore...and the sweetness of it all was erased by exhaustion and the desire to put my feet up and read my OWN book before bed.

My son would still prefer I read to him. And do the "bedtime" routine. And tuck him in tight. But there's a certain sweet freedom in kissing him goodnight while I'm still engaged in dishes or computer time or cleaning up downstairs and knowing all of the kids can go upstairs and put themselves to bed now. I know they don't all go to sleep immediately and certainly they stay up too late and are tired in the morning but I know the natural consequences will teach them the "right" way for them better than I can.

And I can go to bed before them now.... a foreign concept so far-fetched just a few years ago. I can saunter upstairs, don my pajamas, slip into my snuggly bed and read myself a bedtime story. And since I'm an adult and so well-schooled as to bedtime routines, I remember to bring my snack and drink with me! Then, I sink into the blissful peace of my snack, my cold milk, my book and the knowledge that my kids are settling down on their own, and perhaps, just maybe...reading their own bedtime stories.

1 comment:

jeff said...

And it's about time:)