When I first become a mom, it seemed like the most important thing in the world was getting my baby to sleep. I probably got a little pathological about it, reading endless books about sleep and stressing mightily about short naps, night-wakings and overall amounts of sleep. I asked other moms on message boards about it and listened voraciously as the moms in my playgroups discussed sleep strategies and detailed successes and failures in achieving a good night’s sleeps.
The lesson I took away from it all? There are a million schools of thought when it comes to sleep but the one thing everyone agrees on is the importance of a bedtime routine.
When my husband and I instituted a bedtime routine for our son C, it was probably just as much a crutch for us in our desperation to do something right for our baby as it was a restful routine for him. We may not have known much, but we could do a bath and a story with the best of them! And it was effective! The quiet rhythm of bath, story and final feeding often put me to sleep as well as our son.
Now that my baby is a toddler, our bedtime routine has evolved a bit and grown into a pretty fun family activity. As working parents, we don’t get as much time with our son as we might really like and bedtime has turned into a warm patch of quality time every day. It’s also a showcase for his little personality and can be a comedy show of pretty epic proportions. But no matter what he throws our way, we have a roadmap in front of us showing the way to bed.
We start the routine with milk and 30 minutes of a favorite television show. It’s the initial wind-down phase, which is critical in transitioning our small maniac from playing trains and ordering the cat around to sitting quietly and admitting that it doesn’t have to fast and loud to be good. I’d like to be able to paint an idyllic picture of a small boy snuggled up between his parent on the couch while we all sing along to Sesame Street but the reality is more like Sesame Street is playing in the background while we repeatedly warn our son not to jump on the couch.
After tv, comes bath time. C. is big enough now to help with preparing the bath which means he leans precariously over the tub and helps swirl the water around to maximize the volume of bubbles in the bath. Bath is the provenance of Daddy and it’s a time of bubble blowing, boat racing, duckie dunking and general hilarity.
After bath comes an epic battle to get our child into a diaper and jammies (Jammies are not to be confused with pjs. Pjs are three sets of last summer’s cotton pajamas that function as a lovey in our house. Jammies are the pajamas my son actually wears). This is the beginning of one of the crown jewels in the repertoire of toddler behavior: Stalling. C. will literally run in circles, naked but for a yellow towel with a duck hood hanging from his head, laughing and saying “I dun WAN jammies!” and trying to hide by climbing on my back. He’s usually still damp and slick at this point so trying to wrestle him into a diaper is like trying to hug a greased pig. A greased pig who has very strong opinions about the monkey jammies versus the firetruck jammies.
Once we’ve got C into his jammies, the real stalling action can start. For some reason, he figured out to ask for a drink of water before we start stories. I have no idea how he learned to do that. Maybe during a conference call with other toddlers on how to prolong bedtime? Wherever he learned it, he’ll announce ”I wan wa-der!” and run out of the room in the direction of the kitchen where I go to get him some water. I suspect he’s more interested in the escape from the bedroom than the beverage. Once I herd him back into his room, the threat of dehydration abated, we let him pick out some stories. C. knows stories are the last hurrah so he makes the most of it. He climbs into our laps on the little loveseat in his room and asks for endless repeats of his many books about trains, trucks, and airplanes, punctuated by quick jogs across the room to retrieve binkies and pjs for optimal story-time snuggles.
Finally, finally, it’s time for bed. Time to turn out the light and settle down for good. But our boy has one last weapon in his arsenal. Before I can get him to his crib he always pulls out the Big Gun. He throws himself across my lap and says “Cuddle, Mommy!”
And Mommy cuddles. Because how can I not?
Eventually, we get our fill of the cuddles and the light goes out on another day. And C doesn’t fight it when he finally lays his head down for the night. I like to think it’s because we’ve given him a routine with enough flexibility that he knows he can have a glass of water, or giggle about being naked, or get an extra cuddle with Mommy if he wants it but enough consistency that he knows that going to bed at the end is non-negotiable.
And I hope that he knows that we’ll do it all over again every night and that I’ll always give him his cuddles.