The latest installment in a series where I share my massive parenting expertise with fathers everywhere.
Sleep is one of the most precious commodities in the world. Anyone who’s been a parent for 24 hours knows this. In fact, a father-to-be discovers this in the weeks prior to the actual birth, as his increasingly uncomfortable wife spends her nights sighing loudly, tossing violently and taking over the bed with a steady influx of pillows.
But sleep becomes even more valuable once your child is born. Not only your own sleep—which you will track meticulously, as in “All right! I got a whole four-and-a-half hours last night!”—but the sleep habits of your infant, which will become the determining factor in your daily schedule for the next several years.
You will leave evening events early and refuse to venture outside the house anywhere near naptime. You will learn the art of the urgent whisper-shout: “Quiet! The baby is sleeping!” The sound of a ringing phone will make you crazy. All because sleep will become the key to your sanity.
Eventually, though, your child will sleep through the night. This is the Golden Age: when they’re old enough to sleep 10 hours in a row, yet small enough to be contained in a crib. Our daughter is at this age now, and it’s mostly wonderful. Even if she wakes up in the night, she usually amuses herself until she falls back asleep. Occasionally she will amuse herself by trying to pound a hole in the wall adjacent to our bedroom at 3:30 a.m., which is extremely annoying, but otherwise this is a good stage.
But the day will come when you must move your child from a crib to a bed. Once a child experiences this sudden freedom, it can be difficult to convince him to stay in his bed. I have a friend whose son is in this stage, and he recently described their nightly struggles as “like trying to put a terrorist attack to bed.”
Bedtime becomes even trickier as your children learn all the excuses to get out of bed. They have to go to the bathroom; they can’t find their favourite stuffed animal; they’re hungry and thirsty; their room is too hot/too cold/too dark/too light/too smelly. Sometimes they get really creative: Oscar told us last night that “I’m dangerous, and dangerous people don’t have to go to bed.” (Also on his list of beings who don’t need sleep: superheroes, garbagemen, and Egyptians.)
It’s a constant parade to eke out a few more minutes of being awake. But we need them to be asleep. Because we need time to not be around them. Also, if they do not sleep they will be cranky tomorrow. And that will make US cranky. And it’s not like they’ll make up for staying up late by sleeping in the next morning. As I explained in an earlier post, https://thelucasadventures.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/family-astrophysics/the opposite is usually true.
So the battle for bedtime can be one of the most maddening parts of the day. At our house, it’s also the time of day when everyone goes bonkers. Just putting on pajamas usually takes my boys 15 minutes and 17 Stern Parental Warnings to Hurry Up and Just Get Dressed Already. Maybe it’s different with girls, but our oldest boys can’t even get changed in the same room without a hearty round of naked wrestling, followed by naked acrobatics and naked show-and-tell. Oscar, in particular, is firmly entrenched in the phase known as I Have a Penis and it’s Fantastic! He refers to it as “your best friend.” As in, “Hey Daddy, wanna see your best friend?” I’m trying to explain to him that flashing is inappropriate, but I often have a very hard time keeping a straight face. (My wife has no idea what to do with any of this.)
But if you can survive the build-up, bedtime doesn’t have to be a total nightmare. Sometimes it’s the best part of the day. It’s when I often end up having my most meaningful conversations with my kids. We learn new words and tell stories. Our bedtime stories are epic—we have a whole cast of good guys and villains and people who switch sides sometimes. Half the time we end up laughing hysterically, which doesn’t really help them settle down and fall asleep, but it’s still fun. I love the look of growing delight on Oscar’s face when he knows one of our hapless bad guys is about to fall into the Swamp of Guts—and then the moment when the punchline hits and he collapses in a puddle of laughter. If only I didn’t have to put him back to bed six more times in the next hour, it would be the perfect way to end a day.