Not creating a bedtime monster
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.