In my head bedtimes are blissful in other people’s houses. The children have a lovely bath, where they splash their bubbles, but not so much that all the walls are soaking wet, then happily get themselves into their pyjamas. Everyone has cuddles and then get read a bedtime story. Kisses all round, then lights off, parents head downstairs, pour a glass of wine and then sit and chat about their days before finally going to bed themselves several hours later. I know this isn’t the reality for lots of people but surely there are some people out there? Surely?
This is definitely not what bedtime is like in our house. For a start there is no bath. Our kids tend to get bathed once a week unless they’re exceptionally dirty, and then their baths are normally during the daytime. I fundamentally believe that children are supposed to be a little bit grubby, plus it really irritates my boy’s skin. So instead, once I finally insist that it’s bedtime, we head upstairs and they play Party Parade. I have no idea how this particular game started, but it essentially consists of the two of them bouncing/running around the bed, crashing into each other, whilst singing the Catchphrase music (sorry for anyone too young to remember this!) My son may not be able to talk yet but he can do the Catchphrase music perfectly. Occasionally it may be the Tetris music instead if they’re feeling particularly hyper.
I realise that bedtime should be a beautiful, calming experience, all about winding down from the excitement of the day. I really do try. I do. I turn all the lights down low, speak in a calm manner, politely remind them that it’s time to get ready for bed, but it inevitably ends with me trying to catch each of them and grapple them into their pyjamas. On really bad nights I declare they can get ready for bed by themselves and head downstairs, shutting the baby gate behind me. This results in my daughter becoming completely hysterical and my son trying to abseil over the banisters. Finally, pyjamas on, we begin the bribing/emotional blackmail/shouting involved in getting them to sit on the toilet and brush their teeth.
Once they finally get into bed it gets a little bit lovely again, as we cuddle and read stories and the toddler has a feed, and we talk about how much we love each other and that we’ll see each other in the morning. I feel a little less guilty momentarily about the grappling and the shouting and calm is restored.
Once lights are off we all lie down, me feeding the toddler, her in her bed right next to us. It seems to be a universal fact that one of them will be asleep instantly, their soft snores sounding like pure heaven. However, it is also almost universally true that the other one will then wriggle and squirm and sigh and generally not be asleep for at least another half an hour, but often up to two, whilst I have to lie there in silence and pitch darkness, praying for their breathing to slow and calm and then the glorious first little snore which means they have finally succumbed. There will be multiple false alarms before this, where I am really sure they must be asleep by now, but then there will be more wriggling and my hopes are dashed.
I’m sure lots of you will be wondering why I need to stay, lying there in the dark and silence for all those hours, night after night. What a monumental waste of my life. It’s not even like I manage to use that time to have deep thoughts about the universe, just my mind racing and racing and racing with hundreds of totally disjointed thoughts which seem to take on a slightly hallucinatory nature the longer bedtime takes. However, even after five years of attachment parenting, of being the most supportive, reassuring parents possible, my daughter is still terrified at the slightest thought of being left alone, even with her brother next to her, she needs either me or her Daddy there too. At even the suggestion of us not being there she becomes a sobbing wreck, and that is not how I want her sleep to come, from crying to sleep by herself, feeling scared and alone. So I lie there, sometimes enjoying the quiet, often feeling a little resentful.
Once I’m sure they are both asleep I’ll text my husband, who will come and join me in bed for a little telly on the laptop, usually crime drama on iplayer, the only TV I get to watch for myself these days. I would be fine leaving the boy to sleep by himself, but still worry about the terror I would cause if my daughter awoke from a dream to find us gone, even if just downstairs, and that worry keeps me with her, and has done every single evening for five years now, except when I’m working and then my husband goes through this same routine by himself.
I do love the idea of having my evenings back. It sounds heavenly the idea of sitting on the sofa with TV and wine and chat with my husband. And I’m sure we will one day. My daughter talks lots about when she’s bigger she’ll have her own room and seems excited at the idea. Just not sure how much bigger she will need to be! But right now she needs me, so here I am, next to her as she snores once again.