Not cre­at­ing a bed­time mon­ster

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Bed­time. Chil­dren dread it, protest­ing and kick­ing, re­sist­ing un­til they col­lapse. And adults? We long for it like the first cool breeze af­ter a sti­fling sum­mer.

As kids, my sis­ter and I could run like wild badgers, hoot­ing and get­ting into what­ever mis­chief we wanted — un­til it was time for sleep. Wher­ever we were, what­ever we were do­ing, my fa­ther’s low voice would sound the alarm promptly at 9:30 p.m.: “Bed­time!”

It was a rum­ble, a fa­mil­iar ca­dence — and it made us crazy. Like most chil­dren, Katie and I wanted to get all sug­ared up and act like fools un­til the wee hours of the morn­ing. Noth­ing makes a child sassier than be­ing told to sleep.

As we got older, “bed­time” be­came more of a “go lay down and read” sort of hour. My par­ents weren’t strict about lights-out, but they did re­quire us to sim­mer down and get off the phone with squeal­ing friends by 9 p.m. My mom has al­ways left for her city job be­fore dawn, so the Snider home be­came a quiet zone.

In my twen­ties, I set­tled into the chaotic, ir­reg­u­lar bed­times of col­lege stu­dents and shift work­ers. Some­times I left my book­store job at mid­night, went home to heat a frozen din­ner and stud­ied un­til 2 a.m. If I couldn’t shut my brain off, I watched episodes of “The Of­fice” or “Grey’s Anatomy” un­til I got drowsy — or tried to read.

Read­ing worked too well, though. It’s al­ways re­laxed me, taken me out of my own prob­lems and wor­ries — usu­ally great! But dur­ing col­lege, when I rarely read for plea­sure, books just knocked me out. Af­ter get­ting hope­lessly be­hind in a Bri­tish lit­er­a­ture class, I once had to tape my eye­balls open to get through Mary Shel­ley’s “Franken­stein” be­fore a morn­ing dis­cus­sion.

Just kid­ding — about the tape, any­way. Af­ter im­mers­ing my­self so com­pletely in that story, I dreamt of Dr. Franken­stein and his mon­ster for weeks.

For decades be­fore my son’s ar­rival, when I was tired? I could go to bed. It was no more com­pli­cated than that. Some­times I had to work or stay up to fin­ish a project — but once my head hit the pil­low, noth­ing would dis­turb me un­til that morn­ing alarm.

So late nights were man­age­able. If I had a rough evening and still had to get mov­ing, I would just crash early the next night. You know: to re­cover.

But with a baby? There is no re­cov­er­ing. No crash­ing. No mak­ing up for the hours of lost sleep that turn you into a zom­bie-per­son. Even with Spencer and I al­ter­nat­ing overnight shifts, I was only ever half-asleep; there’s no ig­nor­ing the plain­tive wail of a new­born at 2 a.m.

Thank­fully, by last fall, Oliver was sleep­ing sev­eral hours at a stretch. By Christ­mas, he was sleep­ing all night. He does still wake some­times at 1 or 2 a.m., es­pe­cially while teething, but is usu­ally easy to set­tle. Now, at 13 months, the kid likes his rou­tines.

Ol­lie went from an in­fant with his days and nights mixed up — sleep­ing all day, kick­ing around all night — to a child who be­gins his nightly rit­u­als of yawn­ing and eye-rub­bing at 7:30 p.m.

And so we have en­tered the lat­est phase in the John­son house­hold: the Se­ri­ous Bed­time.

In my pre-par­ent life, I’ll ad­mit to scoff­ing at the mil­i­tant sleep sched­ules my friends kept for their kids. When they had to dip out of a party at 7 p.m. to get Ju­nior home for bed, I saw it as be­ing hard-nosed and grumpy. Couldn’t they stay up a lit­tle later — just once? For a spe­cial oc­ca­sion? I mean, let the kid live a lit­tle. Ha. Oliver’s 8 p.m. bed­time is sa­cred — to all of us. Let­ting Ol­lie stay up to play or binge-watch “The Mup­pets” only leads to one thing: an ir­ri­ta­ble, frus­trated child. Spencer and I are both the Drs. Franken­stein, cre­at­ing a cherub-cheeked mon­ster.

It’s hard, though. Feel­ing guilty that we didn’t get much time with Oliver af­ter work, Spencer and I used to try keep­ing him up later . . . un­til we paid the price. An Ol­lie up past 8:30 is an an­gry Ol­lie — and once he gets over­tired, he doesn’t want to sleep at all.

Ev­ery night is now an at­tempt to beat the clock, so to speak: to get him in bed when he’s drowsy, but not ex­hausted. One leads to pos­i­tive re­sults (a full night’s rest); the other is an overnight prison sen­tence.

When Oliver does tucker out, bed­time is awe­some — for all of us. I wind up us­ing that hour or two af­ter­ward to catch up on . . . well, what­ever. What­ever I want. Sure, it usu­ally in­volves clean­ing up din­ner from three hours ago, wash­ing bot­tles or cob­bling to­gether left­overs for to­mor­row’s lunch. Su­per ex­cit­ing stuff.

But the quiet af­ter 8 p.m., with a baby snooz­ing softly and the tele­vi­sion to our­selves? That’s a lux­ury — the calm af­ter a busy, churn­ing storm. That’s my time to recharge. I don’t take it for granted.

Es­pe­cially as Oliver starts teething again.

Send help. And a latte.

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