Good night? Good luck.

The long day's journey into bedtime.

[THUMP]

Sigh.

[creak] [thud thud thud thud thud thud thud thud]

“Daddy…”

Why are you back up.

“… I’m not comfortable in my bed.”

That’s because you’re not in your bed. You’re in the living room talking to me.

“Can you tuck me in?”

I’ve tucked you in three times already.

“But can you tuck me in again?”

Sigh.


Bedtime in our house is at 8pm. Of course, this exists less as a reality and more a theoretical concept, a sort of North Star for positioning ourselves within the night: Almost Bedtime, It’s Bedtime, It’s Way Past Bedtime. 8pm is little more than one of those specious city-issued curfews, a point after which I can declare my children’s assembly unlawful and demand they disperse.

By the time 8pm actually rolls around, negotiations have been underway for hours.

We can watch one show, and then we’ll read some books.

No, we’re only going to read three chapters tonight.

Fine, four chapters.

No, no more shows.

No, you can’t have a snack.

Once the children have actually been cleaned, dressed, and sufficiently mollified as to get in their beds, it’s probably 8:15 or 8:20, but at that point the dance has only just begun. I have two young children, and the next phase is the whack-a-mole phase, where as soon as one child is captured and returned to their bed, the other has broken containment with a fresh set of demands.

“I need a new water cup. This one doesn’t taste right.”

“I heard a noise in my room.”

“I need another stuffed animal in bed.”

“I just needed to tell you something.”

What?

“I… um… I don’t remember.”

Go back to bed.

My patience quickly flags, and the tone of my parenting quickly changes in concert, as immortalized in this still-very-true tweet I sent at forty minutes past eight o’ clock three years ago:

Parenting is a full-time job, people say, not incorrectly. Even full-time jobs have an expected end to their workday, though. At a certain point past the 8pm hour, I begin to view my children in the same light as the oblivious customers still lingering past closing time at the Best Buy I once worked at—the ones who’ve failed to notice that the security gate is rolled halfway down, and continue browsing while I unsubtly attempt to vacuum around their feet. Management won’t allow me to tell you explicitly that we are closed, sir or ma’am, but rest assured: we are closed, and your presence is no longer welcome here.

“I’m not tired!”, an obviously-quite-weary voice will protest, betraying its cause.

It sure seems like you are.

“My legs hurt!”

Sleep is terrific for that, you know.

“Why do grown-ups get to stay up late and I don’t? That’s not fair!”

If you’d like to start helping with the mortgage payments, we can talk about fairness. I assure you you’re getting the better end of our arrangement.

“I’m alone in my room!”

This last one has become my daughter’s weapon of choice recently, and I’ve tried a number of ways to address it. I’ve noted, not incorrectly, that she’s lucky to have her own bedroom, and that she’s slept alone in it every night since she was five months old. I’ve attempted to point out that her stuffed animals, who during lawful waking hours appear to be fully anthropomorphized into real, living things, are with her. I’ve explained that her mother and I are sitting a mere short length of hallway away, something she should be well aware of from her repeated visits to us. In the last week or so, I’ve even inadvertently locked myself into a routine of setting up her official security detail, a carefully chosen A-Team of five or six stuffed animals, each strategically positioned to watch her door and protect her with their own set of particular skills.

[my voice increasingly tired] and so rainbow monkey is the wild card, every team like this has to have a wild card. you don’t know [yawns] you don’t know what this dude is gonna do, he’s crazy

“He’s not crazy! Don’t say that!”

right no not really he’s an integral part of the team, he’s just misunderstood


It’s exhausting to go through this routine each and every night. I can see each move telegraphed in advance, but I remain powerless to stop them. I know that a few moments of silence and two tucked-in kids doesn’t necessarily mean the end of my duties, that a request isn’t soon coming for fresh water or a lamp turned on or a noise examined or a door opened a little bit more or a bed checked under one more time. A big portion of my evening disappears, an evening in which I’d foolishly hoped to squeeze in a little reading or writing or a workout or simply a little relaxation, things that drop off a little more with each request. I find myself wishing they’d just go to sleep when I first ask, that they’d ask every question they need answered before I walk out the door, and not return to ask it ten minutes later.

A few weeks ago, my wife’s sister and brother visited, and we sat around the fire pit, catching up after a long year apart. They’re a bit older than us, and their kids are off to college now. As the kids’ portion of the night wound down and the 8pm hour loomed, I got them into their pajamas and prepared to say goodnight to their aunt and uncle before bed. Without me realizing, my son grabbed a stack of books, and brought them out to my brother-in-law, who gamely agreed to read the whole stack.

As we finally shuffled the kids off to bed, I apologized for his unexpected deputization in the bedtime operation, and he laughed.

“Are you kidding me? I haven’t gotten to do a bedtime story in years. I missed that so much.”

It’s exhausting to be a parent of small children, your needs always coming second to theirs. There’s almost never a chance to truly clock out, to exhale, to be confident that your responsibilities are over for the night.

Someday they will be, though: someday the kids won’t want another hug, won’t have another question that only I can answer, won’t have a problem that only I can solve with a little creative ad-libbing. I will miss those moments far more than I ever missed the peace and quiet I thought I was looking for in all of these long bedtime struggles.

The night is long. And it will be over far too soon.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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