A few weeks after my son was born, I made up a lullaby that I’d sing before putting him to bed. Back then, getting my son into his crib was a simple matter of swapping his diaper for a new one and belting out a two-minute song before calling it a night (yep, we were very fortunate). But somehow, over the past two years our bedtime routine has evolved from a quick pajama change and lullaby into a 45-minute extravaganza complete with stories, videos, and many, many songs. And it just seems to be growing by the day.
Here’s how things will typically go down: First, my son will run around his room like a maniac as I attempt to grab hold of him and lift him onto his changing table. From there, he’ll wiggle and squirm as I desperately work to get his pajamas on. After he’s clothed, we’ll head to the bathroom to brush his teeth, which often takes longer than necessary thanks to my son’s desire to touch absolutely everything on the counter before finally opening wide.
But once his pajamas are on and his teeth are brushed, the real fun begins. It starts with a story from a collection of books we store crib-side. Ever since he was about 1.5, we started giving our son the privilege of selecting his bedtime story himself. What this now means is that he’ll pick up every book on the pile before choosing one–and then once we settle into our rocking chair to read it, he’ll invariably bolt off my lap, insisting that he made the wrong book choice. If I don’t let him switch, a fit will most likely ensue, so I usually allow him one book swap before putting my foot down.
Once the story is read, it’s time for a video. For this I blame my husband (love you, honey), who one night got the brilliant idea to play our son a short video on his phone in an attempt to calm him down before getting put in his crib. Often, one video will not be enough, so my son will usually beg for another before we move on to the next segment of our nighttime routine: songs.
Not to be confused with my son’s lullaby, “songs” involves anywhere from one to five tunes that run the gamut from classics like “The Wheels on the Bus” to 1980s cartoon themes. Of course, my child gets to pick out what I sing, and when he fails to come up with a title on his own, it’s up to me to suggest something for him to yay or nay. He’ll frequently veto my first seven or eight offerings before finally landing on something acceptable. And of course just getting to that point takes work, because before we select our songs, we need to settle on the number of songs to be sung. Usually I’ll start by offering two songs, and most nights my son will counter with “I want 10.” Typically we’ll meet in the middle.
Once the songs are over, we recite a short rhyme. Then I sing him the aforementioned lullaby, which is followed by a group hug that’s shared with my husband, lots of kisses, and a last-minute battle to get him to lie down before we finally say “good night” and leave the room.
Clearly I’m not kidding when I say it takes 45 minutes to put my child to bed, and oh yeah, that’s when he doesn’t need a bath. When he does, our routine easily tops the hour mark. We obviously need to do something to cut things down, for our sake as well as our son’s (the later he goes to bed, the less sleep he gets). My husband insists that I just put my foot down and start eliminating things like the book and song selection process, or at the very least limit our son to a single song before his lullaby, but in many ways, I’m just not sure I’m ready.
See, when I share stories about our ridiculous nighttime routine, I almost always attribute it to our son and his indecisiveness/expert negotiating skills. But one evening not so long ago, as I threw out a good two dozen song titles before finally demanding that my child just choose one already, I realized that most nights, it’s not just my son who’s stalling. I’m stalling too.
So I’m coming clean: A big part of the problem is me. It’s me wanting to hold onto every moment of this toddler stage, where he’s old enough to ask for a hug but not so old that he thinks hugging his mommy is a drag. It’s me wanting to give him one more good night kiss, one more “I love you,” and one more reassuring smile that lets him know how utterly adored he is.
Breaking my son of his nighttime habits is going to take some work; but breaking myself of mine is going to involve a gigantic emotional overhaul that, frankly, I’m not sure I’m equipped for. Logic dictates that eventually that 45-minute extravaganza will have to be, at a minimum, cut in half. But for now, I’m going to savor those extra toddler moments for as long as I can.