Every night is the same: dinner, usually dessert, cleanup, and 30 minutes of child-created debauchery.
Each evening has the potential to be OK, but dinner sets the tone, and the tone is always loud. My three kids are 9 and 6 — the 6-year-olds are twins. They have the manners of feral animals no matter how hard I have tried to correct, teach, threaten, or ignore them. Developmentally I suppose they are right on cue, but Jesus take the wheel. The poop and fart jokes, actual farts, and gross noises don’t end when dinner is done. It’s almost like dinnertime creates the snowball that is about to be released down a hill, causing an avalanche of wildness.
I am the village and village occupants who are destroyed on the path to bedtime. Yet even though we do it every night when bedtime rolls around, it’s like my kids have never heard of such awful forms of torture.
First of all, nothing signals hunger like the announcement of bedtime. My kids are not hungry at the 10-minute warning or the 5-minute notice that lets them know it is almost time for bed. Serendipitously, their stomachs tell them they must have a snack the moment it is time to march up the stairs. Lest they don’t have the strength to carry their stuffies or put on their pajamas, they use their last burst of energy to open the pantry and tear open a granola bar while I am telling them to grab what they need and go. I feel like Jake from Jake and the Never Land Pirates who tells his mates to “grab ‘em and go!” when finding gold doubloons. This is not a treasure hunt, though. This is a fight, a match of wits and endurance.
Getting upstairs is almost as hard as getting into bed. Did everyone get their vitamins?
Are you done checking that one last thing?
Are you done with that “one” last task that you declared would only take a “sec” yet?
Are you trying to make my head explode?
Once the last child is upstairs for the final time (because what fun would it be to just do as you’re told and stay upstairs?), the real rodeo begins. Again, none of what needs to happen next should come as a surprise to my children. Yet …
Pajamas? What pajamas?
Why do I need clean underwear?
Why do I have to brush my teeth? I’m tiiiiiiiiiirrrrred!
I didn’t know the toothpaste would come out that fast!
Oh. My. God. There is spit on the mirror, toothpaste on the toilet, and a trail of dirty clothes from the bathroom to the bedroom.
But, finally, it’s done. My wild animals are snuggled in their beds, and it’s time to read stories together. And just when I take a deep breath and remember that this quiet and sweet time is one of the best parts of my day with my kids, one of them farts. Then magically they all pass gas — one of my kids farts so much and without shame, and her blasts are the catalyst to giggles, complaints of poor air quality, and more fits of laughter. Like Shrek says, “Better out than in,” but maybe I can look into probiotics or something.
Once we all settle down again, someone pulls off their socks and wafts stinky foot odor throughout the room. They put their heads on my chest, but their heads are stinky, too, because laughing made them hot and they have started to sweat, and, of course, they need to remove the pajamas that took 20 minutes to get on. As I bang my own head in frustration, I notice something smells like urine and realize I forgot to wash sheets and a blanket after a pull-up leaked the night before. Gah! Why does bedtime have to be so smelly?
Why does bedtime have to be so hard?
As I contemplate this, someone drags their feet and too-long toenails across my shin or plays with the hair on my air or feels the need to pick my nose. I am all set, kids. They have procrastinated, and I have nagged. They have defied all the limits of my patience. My kids have thrown the stone, and I am Sisyphus, pushing it back up the bedtime hill each night.
And as much as the bedtime process seems novel to my children each night, I seem to be just as naive, because after all of the frustration, yelling, threats, giggles, and horrible smells, I relish the quiet that comes once I start to read stories. The moments of agony fade away as their breathing becomes heavier and we all settle into the warmth and safety of covers and each other.
Darn you, bedtime.