Bedtime routines are important in our house. I mean, bedtime routines for our children. I wish I could say I also have awesome bedtime routines for myself, and I get a great amount of sleep and have a wonderful life–or something close to that. The reality is that I crash in bed when I can finally make it there. But because bedtime routines are important I try to make sure the children have a good one, even if I can’t manage the same for myself.
The reality of life right now is that any day I am at work is a day when the kids scarcely see their daddy. I leave for work shortly after they have awakened (or shortly before they do on a rare day) and then I get home in time for supper (or shortly before on a good day). At their current age it is just about time to get ready for bed when supper is over. This can make interaction with the kids on a work day feel like “Good morning, and good night” with life absent in between.
I could say that the days I am off from work will have to suffice for time with the children. But I concluded that such a decision wouldn’t line up with the kind of life I wanted to have with my family. So we have set up a bedtime routine which makes life a little more than “Good morning and good night.” I really enjoy this time with the kids, but it does come with a cost. I have effectively no time at all to do anything that I want for myself on work days during the week, and at bedtime I have to rise to the occasion of interacting with the kids in a healthy way when I am feeling so tired I would really rather not put up with anything or anybody. That is some honesty, but with the hardness admitted I still I have no doubts that it is worth it. And I am thankful.
The routine starts with teeth brushing and using the toilet, though we are trying with the new year to work in a habit of leading the kids through the process of cleaning up the house before teeth brushing. This is the step which could take something akin to a million years of the boys were left to their own devices.
Once the bathroom routine is finished it is time to pick out the books to read and get pajamas on. After everybody is all ready for bed we can start the story reading. In theory there is one story for Tadhg to pick and one story for Pip to pick. In practice Pip is not yet of age to enjoy having an actual story read to him so for right now usually Tadhg picks one and I pick another and maybe Pip listens a bit.
Both boys get some snuggle time with Mommy. Pip gets his while I read to Tadhg, and Tadhg gets his time with Mommy when I am singing to Pip. Both boys get approximately three songs each from me. Pip goes down first and then I finish up with Tadhg.
Besides the two stories picked out, I also read a passage from the Bible to them and have a short discussion before we move on to prayers. It is not a time of extensive deep interaction with the kids, but it is a time when we are all being still and they know they have our undivided attention. It is also a short bit of each day where I have an opportunity to share what is most important to me in life, and for them to share what is going on inside their heads.
It is a delight to me to hear what is going on inside Tadhg’s head when we talk, and he constantly impresses me with how his thought process is developing. I sometimes want to have a little journal of his utterances so that in later years I can remember how his mind first began to unfurl.
One recent night when I asked him what he wanted to pray to God about he said, “I want to pray about dying.” He is not yet quite three years old but death has entered his consciousness as not a good thing. So we talked a bit about God and dying and Jesus and then we prayed. Except, as a perfectionist Tadhg still feels he is not able to do the praying thing good enough so in the end he says what he wants to pray about but then always tells me that I should do the praying.
I was a child wracked by fears. They were fears calmed only in part by my parents, but however insufficient they were to dispel the terrors I saw in a wild and uncontrolled world their words and presence were about the only anchor I knew. So it was really important to me to have parents who heard and spoke into my fears, even if they were powerless to defeat them. I know I can’t make Tadhg’s fear of dying go away, or any other fear for that matter. He knows I can kill coyotes and bears and probably just about any other creature in his opinion, but there are plenty of times I might not be around when the beasts come. So even his perception of my might in this arena is only a partial comfort. And then there is the rest of the world.
He is just a little boy, but he has a smart little boy’s keen grasp on the limits of his father. He is not entirely sure that I always drive at an appropriate speed, and he is not entirely comfortable with my use of power tools, for just two examples. So he grasps without it being explained that I do not have the greater power of keeping life from death. He already knows I am insufficient, and he is only three. But I told him that nobody in the whole world will die until God is ready for them to die. I told him in simpler words that life is not chaos and we are not forgotten by the one who holds our life in his hands no matter how fearful or confusing life might feel.
Later in the week he mused to his mommy that we were not dead today because God did not want us to die.
We read books. All kinds of books. Books about Pony Pony Huckabuck and the year of popcorn. We read every book by Virginia Lee Burton that we can find, and study them with the utmost seriousness. We read a lot of books by Bill Peet. We read Trouble for Trumpets more times than I would care for so late at night (and in it learn about periscopes and submarines and all sorts of other things–some real and some fantastical). And in the Bible we read about the kings of Israel and wars and Jesus and dying. There is a lot of dying in the Bible if you ever stop to consider it. And after we are done with all the reading and praying and singing, the last is a kiss good night. For now I leave the Christmas lights on which are strung up around the room and I tell Tadhg I will come back later to switch them off.
When I come back later they are sprawled in their beds in a tangle of blankets and stuffed animals. They sleep with the rest of children, the envy of all adults. The bedtime routine can feel exhausting sometimes, but it is sweet also. I am an anchor to them, and give the end of their day a security and surety that I know few have.
But also there is a hint of melancholy in my thoughts. I know how fast time goes. The days die, time passes. Little boys do not stay little so very long. Soon enough their nights will be their own as they start the process of spinning out of my orbit. Soon enough, all that we will have will be the memories.
We are all afraid of losing things. Little boys are afraid and daddies, too. We all need to remember that nothing is lost in the hand of the One who holds all things–not mommies and daddies, or little boys who grow up. And bedtime routines are good for as long as they last.