Everyone has a parenting kryptonite — that one area that, despite their best intentions and earnest attempts at improvement, remains their one true parenting weakness.
Mine is bedtime.
Since Rob works late nights, bedtime responsibilities generally fall under my command, which is unfortunate for everybody involved. I can make it through entire days of whining, crying, screaming, tantrums, teething, explosive diarrhea, vomiting, Nick Jr., spills, messes, and all-out thermonuclear war. But once I say those magic words — “It’s bedime, girls!” — that’s when it happens. You know that part in Thriller where the girl’s all like, “Michael?” and when the camera zooms in on him, he turns around and OH SHIT he’s not cool First-Date Michael Jackson anymore; now he’s Zombie Michael Jackson, and then you start crying and wonder why you thought you wouldn’t get scared of Zombie Michael Jackson this time when you get scared of him every single time?
That’s basically how bedtime starts in our house. Like the middle of the Thriller video.
I think the reason why I am so short-tempered with them at bedtime is my constant underlying feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ll think I have things figured out, have a good routine in place, cracked the Da Vinci fucking Code of bedtime, and then shit just blows up in my face. Before I know it, it’s well past midnight, Bella is still jumping on the bed, Phaedra is staring at me with no sleep in sight, and Surrey, who, bless her heart, gives us her final “peace out!” way before her crazy sisters even think about heading upstairs to bed, has woken up from all the commotion.
Sometime between the second and third reading of the crappy children’s book version of the latest Tinker Bell movie, my brain starts whispering crazy thoughts:
You know this could go on forever, right?
For real? I don’t want it to go on forever. I kind of want it to end in the next ten minutes.
I know. You have lots of things to get done, like checking your email and watching TV.
Exactly. What should I do? These kids are really busting my balls right now.
Try yelling at them to LAY DOWN AND GO TO SLEEP! That will help them calm down and get sleepy.
Hey, that’s a great idea! Quick question, though — since I’ve been ignoring Bella’s constant chatter, jumping, and pinching for the past twenty minutes, do you think there’s a chance that I might accidentally explode and be harsher than I should be?
Naaaaaaah bro, you’re good. I’m sure she’ll listen the first time you tell her.
Cool. Oh, and one more thing — Phaedra’s not really into loud voices, and she likes her sister. Is it going to upset her to see me yell at her sister?
Dude, are you high? No way. Just get this shit under control, and everything will be OK.
So I immediately begin using tactics that I fully believe will work, even though they are the complete opposite of what will actually work. I try things that I would never do during the daytime. I get pushy and nit-picky with Phaedra, which only makes her more indecisive and want to stall longer. Yelling and using harsh tones with Bella works about 0% of the time during the daytime, so why do I think it will work at bedtime, when she’s at her absolute worst?
Here’s why: because I’m at my absolute worst as well. The worst thing about bedtime is that it’s bedtime. We’re all exhausted, tired, and cranky, but only two of us want to solve this problem by actually laying down in a bed and going to sleep. The other two don’t make the “tired = sleep” connection. They try to solve their tiredness by trying to push through some sort of no-sleep wall, seemingly believing that if you can just stay awake long enough, there’s some sort of reset function that will let you not feel tired anymore without that pesky sleeping thing (Phaedra), or by shifting into overdrive, throwing their body into a constant state of movement and sound, until their body short-circuits (read: starts screaming loudly and repetitively) and finally collapses (Bella). Neither of these strategies are really conducive to a good bedtime routine.
So I get angry. Because I WANT TO GO TO SLEEP. NOW.
Like I said before, when I’m tired and at my worst, I have a hard time remembering that all these poor babies want is me. However, when there’s three tired, cranky babies that each want their tired, cranky mom all to themselves, it’s bound to cause some friction sometimes. Friction that makes me want to wake them back up about two minutes after the last one finally passes out and apologize for all that yelling I did. Give them big hugs and remind them how much I love them, how I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, that I screw up a lot, that it’s not their fault.
But I never do that, because that would be fucking crazy.