I am convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that one of the greatest books ever written is the whimsical, “Go the F*ck to Sleep,” written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes. There may be no book that better encapsulates the pure essence of parenthood the way this book does. That essence being that your unconditional love for your children will be unwittingly tested by them over and over and over again. The irony in that being that most of the time it will be something as simple and necessary as sleep that will test your patience to the core.
I’m on Toddler #4 so bedtime has been a nightly ritual of trials, tribulations, and moral victories for longer than I can even remember. Gone are the memories of a night where I would just settle in after dinner and just zone out or actually get something productive done between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. For the last 15 or so years my evenings have been filled with forcing people of various ages to brush their teeth, barking the same orders to the same people as if they are actually deaf, and of course chasing a naked toddler around my house like some warped version of the old Roadrunner cartoons. (With me being the Wile E. Coyote character every time out, complete with tripping over some strategically placed toy or just getting winded because I’m lazy and out of shape.) In fact my now nine-year old was so proficient as a toddler at escaping from the bathroom in various stages of undress that we named it “Nakey Escapes” and we had to capitulate into making a nightly game out of it in order for him to actually get in the tub, lest he resemble the Pigpen character from the Peanuts comics. You know that adage about loving someone so much that you have to let them go at some point…probably so you don’t strangle them… Yeah, it was something like that.
Mansbach’s book is filled with lyrical poetry that truly captures the essence of bedtime in a house with small children. You just want them to rest. You want them to stop being cranky, little people who break down at bizarre things like which parent is allowed to take their shoes off and who has to keep them on…because that somehow matters to a three-year old when they are trying to fall asleep. What? But eventually you reach that point where enough is enough. No more books, no more glasses of water, no more games, just please lie down, close your eyes and do what nature intended. (The one and only place where I disagree with Mansbach is the bathroom trips. Kids, you go ahead and take as many of those as you need because, frankly, I’m done with changing out pee-covered sheets in the middle of the night. All set with that, thanks.) The best line in his book reads, “How come you can do all this other great shit but you can’t lie the fuck down and sleep?” if that doesn’t sum it all up so perfectly I don’t know what does.
Although the book revolves around toddlers and younger children, older children are not immune to the anti-sleep epidemic. Teenagers by nature are night owls. They are growing older and exploring boundaries and limits that are slowly rolling back for them. One of those boundaries is just how late they can get away with staying up. The consequence to that though is just how cranky older children can be the following morning when their lack of sleep catches up to them. Meanwhile, the twelve and nine year old children in my house like to spend the evening playing the “Not It” game. “Who is taking the first shower?” “Not it!” “Who is brushing their teeth?” “Not it!” “Who is helping me clean up this living room before bed?” “Not it!” That last question, by the way, is the only one that gets them to actually run off to their room in a timely manner. Shocking, I know.
Everyone tells you that when you have an infant, sleeping is just some cool thing non-parents do. It’s a pipe-dream filled with zombie-like parents who never knew they could miss a bed or a pillow as much as they do in those sleepless moments. You spend nine months bracing yourself accordingly for it. But no one, and I mean no one, warns you that for the rest of your foreseeable life bedtime will be more of a struggle than it should ever have to be. Well, I’m here to tell you the struggle is real and in certain respects it’s never-ending. So if you have children some day (or currently do) enjoy those random nights when your sweet, little darling passes out on the couch or snuggling in your arms. But for God’s sake don’t move them because you’ll never get them back to sleep. Trust me when I say the “fake nap” has ruined more nights than I care to count. (Oh, wait you’re waking me? Awesome. I feel so refreshed after that nap. Let’s rock…)
For this post we are tying in a track from Slayer called “At Dawn They Sleep” because I am now convinced this song is about bedtime with small children involved.