Category Archives: bedtime

Monday night comedy

It’s definitely bedtime, but Mabel is playing at her dollhouse, totally immersed in a scenario that I am not privy to, muttering everyone’s lines and making it all up as she goes along. Usually she likes to keep the TV on in the background so nobody can hear her, but tonight it’s off. I let her play on.

She bounds over to me, the little drama all wrapped up, to announce that she’s hungry. No surprise there, since she barely ate any dinner. I let her take some goldfish crackers, though I’d rather she ate a banana. A banana is not on her list of acceptable options tonight, and we’re out of yogurts.

Dash is done with his homework and has had his bedtime snack. They fall on each other like puppies and I head up the stairs, picking up the basket of clean laundry for folding as I go, hoping that tonight, for once, they’ll follow me. They do, after a fashion, having decided that Mabel is a baby and Dash is her mother and I – oh joy – have been assigned the role of big brother. Such hilarity.

Whatever gets you through the bedtime routine, as my mantra goes when I’m solo-parenting it. My mantra also goes why is this still such an ordeal and aren’t they old enough to just put themselves to bed yet, but nobody answers my queries. This particular game got us all the way into pyjamas and through toothbrushing and bathroom necessities and into Mabel’s bed, where the three of us now sat as she orchestrated the next part.

Her lisping fake baby voice is nothing like the voice she really had as a baby, when she probably spoke a lot more sensibly than she’s doing now, but tonight, for the moment, I’m entertained by her clowning. She produces some baby board books and demands that her “mother” read them. I watch Dash gamely – and relatively fluently, for him – read the sight words. After a couple of books he tries to hand the job off to me, but she’s ready for that – “No! He’s dyswexic! He can’t wead them!” Then he decides to teach her to read, and sounds out “r-e-d” for her in the colors book. She picks up another at random and reads “wed, wed, wed; wed wed wed, weeeeeed”, and gives herself a round of applause. She’s a born comedian, but I’m not sure anyone beyond the immediate family will ever see this show. Maybe you had to be there anyway. I’m somewhat enchanted by the sight of the two of them in fits of giggles, huddled together in cute pyjamas, in perfect accord, in cahoots.

I leave them to it though, as it’s clear no real storytime is going to happen tonight, and go to fold the laundry in my bedroom. I’m about finished when they’ve done with all the hilarity her room affords and they appear at the door. We’re at that point where the fun is about to turn into hysterics. Actually, we may have left that point in the dust ten minutes ago. I push a load of Dash’s folded clothes into his arms and he retreats to his room before Mabel can run in there and lock him out. It’s every man for himself now – she’s about to bounce on my bed where the other clothes are in neat piles, because she knows that that, of all things, will push my buttons and turn me from mild-mannered pushover to rage-filled mother bear. I’m very protective of my folded laundry.

I pull her back to her room by the ankles. She’s still giggling, putting on the baby voice, but my goose is cooked, my hourglass of patience has run out, and it’s time for the fun to end. Time to sleep. I heave myself up again to her bunk and sit against the pillows to one side. Amazingly, she joins me, lies down, lets me pull the duvet over her fluffy new pyjamas.

Ten seconds later she asks me if I know how hard it is to fall asleep when you’re tired but you can’t go to sleep. “That’s because you haven’t tried yet,” I say, exasperated. It’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation. She harrumphs back at me, thrashes her legs demonstratively, wriggles. I hold my ground and close my eyes; let my mind drift – but not too far. I have things to do downstairs, my day can’t be done already. Besides, who knows whether her brother is going to sleep or fashioning paper aeroplanes in his room. At least he’s quiet, I think.

The legs are still. She turns onto her back and yawns. Her breathing changes. A few more minutes and I can go. Picking my way over the foot bumps, the bunched end of the duvet, the red fleece blanket. Down the creaking ladder, out the door where stepping on a floorboard makes her new shelving click unaccountably; it’s okay. I’m home free.

A quick check on the boy, who was in fact lying quietly with his light off. Hope I didn’t wake him up. Night night sleep tight close the door.

Nine-thirty and I’m out. Not bad going for a Monday night.



A very small Japanese businessman

Last night I put Mabel to bed. I read chapter two of Harry Potter and tucked her in and kissed her good night and clambered down off her loft bed that she has recently inherited from her brother and went downstairs, congratulating myself on how she can fall asleep on her own now. I put the kettle on and looked for the chocolate hob nobs.

The noise of the kettle stopped me from hearing the thud and the patter, but after a couple of minutes I was stirring a mug of instant decaf and realised I was hearing one extra voice upstairs where B was reading Sherlock Holmes to Dash.

I went back upstairs, where Mabel was making herself a nuisance, of course, not just sitting down quietly to listen to Doctor Watson’s Victorian meanderings. She wailed. She protested. She said she had to have a thumb war with Daddy before she could leave the room. Daddy said he would have a thumb war in her room, but that was not to be borne. She was summarily ejected.

She collapsed in a heap on the carpet in the hallway. Logic was long gone. Nothing was reasonable. Nothing could be ever okay. I brought her into her room, but her heels were dug into the floor ahead of her all the way. “I can’t touch my be-e-e-e-e-d.”

“Okay. You can lie down on the rug instead.”

Sometimes she’s like a Japanese businessman. I mean, she just can’t lose face. She has to believe that she won, or that I didn’t win, no matter how twisted the logic of the end result may be. So she lay down on the fluffy purple rug in her bedroom, and I put her red fleece blanket over her and a pillow under her head.

“The problem is, I’m not ti-i-i-i-erd.”

“I know.” I sat on the rug at her head, but she wouldn’t let me stroke her hair.

About three minutes later I stood up and left the room. She stayed there on the floor until I came up to bed an hour later and moved her to her bed. This morning she told me that she hadn’t fallen asleep all night. Only twice.

Once for five hours and once for four, I’d say.

Mabel in pyjamas

Bedtime sucks

The kids needed an early night. Mabel had taken forever to go to sleep last night, and Dash had been late too, and was pretty tired from some big, serious, second-grade tests today and yesterday. (He got extra time for the reading, which was good.)

So at 7.50pm, there I was sitting on Mabel’s bed; toilet gone to, teeth brushed, no more snacks required. I read a chapter of her book. She was a baby tiger who needed to pounce on her bed. Pounce, pounce, pounce, she went, one way and the other. I stopped reading. I was dismissed.

I went into the hallway. She followed to pounce out there. I put her back in her room. She played hopscotch on the rug while I sat on the bed. I left the room. She played hopscotch on the carpet in the hall. I put her back in her room. She put on her silver party shoes, dumped everything from the floor on the bed, and tapdanced on the hardwoods.

I sat in my room and wondered how long this was going to go on. I’m telling myself it’s the half-year thing, because she’ll be five and a half next week; but realistically, who knows? She goes through phases of easy bedtimes and harder ones, and when bedtime is hard she sleeps till 7.30 the next morning, whereas when it’s easy she’s up at 6.00, so mostly it’s just a case of which end of the day we’d rather have it.

Eventually she called me back in and was ready to lie down and have me tell her a story. She was asleep before the fairy godmother had arrived; it was ten to ten.

I think I’ll go to bed now. Tomorrow is another day. Bedtime sucks.


Little house, big woods

Mabel is just at that point where some nights she’ll enjoy a chapter book, but other times she wants to stick to something old and familiar with lots of pictures. We read the first two Narnia books and got stuck on the third; we read Charlie but she got bored with the Great Glass Elevator. I follow her lead for bedtime reading. There’s plenty of time to get to the good stuff.

Last week in the thrift store I happened to briefly browse the books, wondering if I could pick up the first Harry Potter to have on the shelf for Dash, whenever we deem him ready or he decides to read it himself (I own them all, in hardback, of course, but it seems volumes 1-5 are in Dublin just now). I didn’t find it, but I did spot a copy of Little House in the Big Woods. I checked the inside to make sure it was the first of the series, and then I bought it.

I remember Little House on the Prairie very well. One of the strongest TV memories of my childhood is the way the little girls ran and rolled down the hill in the opening credits; I’m pretty sure I spent years scrutinizing them and deciding which one was the same size as I was at that particular moment. I remember Pa Ingalls with his fine head of hair, and the girls’ petticoats, and mean Nancy with her blue dress and her preposterous golden ringlets. (Those characters set the stage for my interpretation of the Anne books, I realise now, even though the landscape must have been vastly different. The clothes might have been roughly right.)

However, I’ve never read the books. They didn’t seem to be Irish staples the way they are here, though I know some, maybe many, people there will have read them. I don’t think they were on the bookshelves when I was spending my book tokens or browsing the library, because I’m sure I would have picked them up. Maybe they were under biography rather than fiction, where I would not have looked.

So Mabel and I are just about to finish this first of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and I must say it’s been an education. Mabel likes it because the little girl is five, like her, and has a doll, like her. But she listens intently to the long descriptions of a life I can only begin to imagine, and examines the pictures, and takes it all in even as I’m trying hard to understand what particular part of pioneer life is being described now. We’ve learned about slaughtering pigs, and how to make sausages, and how to make straw hats, and that you have to kill a calf for the rennet to make cheese, and tonight we learned about the threshing machine that literally harnessed eight horses for the “horsepower.” At least, I learned that. I think Mabel may have dropped off before I got to that bit.

I almost feel as if reading this should have been a requirement of my naturalization ceremony. It’s given me an appreciation and understanding of life for the country’s earlier inhabitants that was a total blank slate for me before. And of course, this is a very happy memoir that barely scratches the surface of what things were really like; I know the books get harder and darker, and I don’t think we’ll be rushing headlong through the rest of the series as soon as we’re done with this one.

For one thing, I think I want to pre-screen them for myself.

Our copy of Little House in the Big Woods

Saturday night

– Let’s have a sleepover!

– We want a sleepover!

– Okay, you can have a sleepover, since it’s Saturday. But Dash has to do his reading first.

– I’ll read to her!

– He’ll read to me!

– Okay, up you go, then.


– First I‘ll read to you. I know all the words in this one.

She starts to read Red Hat Green Hat.


– I’ll go up and see what they’re doing.

Dash is trying to thread a giant IKEA fake flower through his sister’s hair.

– That’s not reading. But your hair is lovely.

– I’m styling her for the doggy show.

– Woof woof.

– Right. So you’re not reading to her, then? You can play for ten minutes and then you have to come and do your reading. I’m setting the timer, okay?

– Okay.

I go up again. They’re tying their legs together with a piece of ribbon.

– This is for the three-legged race. We have to have a three-legged race.

– Okay, race to downstairs, and then Mabel has to come back up while Dash does his reading.

Long pause at the top of the stairs as the ribbon comes untied and must be tied again. I help, eventually. Then I go down and designate the finish line.

– Yay! You won the race. Right, upstairs with you, Mabel, I’ll give you a piggyback. There’s your book, Dash.

Mabel insists on tying her legs together so she can have a two-legged race back upstairs. I help her hobble thus up the stairs, bring her to bed, read two chapters of her book. Dash comes up, having read his chapter.

– What about our sleepover? We’re still having a sleepover.

– But I want to have it in my bed.

– Your bed’s too small. You have to come into my room. [Dash has a small loft bed with a spare mattress on the bottom, so it’s like a set of low bunk beds.]

– But I’m scared on the bottom of your bed. It’s dark and strange.

– But I don’t fit in your bed. I know, you can be in the top of my bed and I’ll be in the bottom.

– Okay.

Mabel goes into his room, with duvet and stuffed toy and doll, and installs herself in the top bunk. Dash brushes his teeth and puts on pyjamas.

– But I want to cuddle with you.

– Okay, you can cuddle with me.

Dash gets into the top bunk with her, which is exactly the same size as Mabel’s bed that he wouldn’t sleep in because it was too narrow for two. But never mind that. Daddy reads them a chapter of Dash’s bedtime book.

Not thirty seconds after Daddy leaves the room with the two of them snuggled up in Dash’s top bunk, Mabel follows him downstairs at speed.

– Mummy, I need to go to the bathroom.

– Okay. Come on.

– And then I want to go to sleep in my bed.

– Right.

Poor Dash. Another foiled sleepover. Maybe next weekend.


Negotiations (no love songs)

You do this too, don’t you? Child says “I want to do blah,” but you want child to do blee. So you say “First you do blee and then you can do blah.” That’s how it works, right?

Maybe this will work better with a concrete example:

Me: Time to brush your teeth.
Mabel: Read me a story.
Me: First we’ll brush your teeth, and then I’ll read you a story.

But then she turns the tables on me.

Mabel: No. First, read me a story, and then I’ll brush my teeth.

And so it goes. The thing is, I can’t really come up with a convincing reason why we should do it my way round every time. Where’s the justice in that? “Because I’m the parent” is tempting but unconvincing, in spite of its undeniable truth. “Because I want to go downstairs and watch Sherlock before I turn into a pumpkin” will likewise win me no accolades from my tough audience.

And I feel like I should give her a chance to prove herself and agree to try it her way. Except that I don’t trust her as far as I can throw her (I mean, I could throw her, but I generally restrain myself) so I’m pretty much 100% certain that she’s going to renege on this deal.

But I need to show her that I do trust her, so sometimes I go along with it. And then – surprise! – she turns out to have been bluffing and I’m left without a leg to stand on and another story down and teeth no nearer brushed.

I’m clearly doing something wrong here.

Injustices perpetrated upon her

Miss Mabel is having trouble with bedtime at the moment. The biggest problem with bedtime is that it’s not fair.

Nothing about bedtime is fair, but in particular the fact that she has to wash her hands and brush her teeth is not fair. It’s not fair that she has to brush her teeth because now, after all those books I read her, she’s hungry.

And it’s not fair that there are strawberries in the freezer and she can’t have any because all I’m giving her is a waffle. It’s particularly not fair that I won’t read her book upon book before she brushes her teeth and it’s not fair that when she finally does brush them, she still doesn’t want to.

It’s not fair that she has to get up again and go and wash her hands because she didn’t wash them earlier but she knows she has to wash them. (Note that I did not say she had to. At this stage, I really didn’t give a monkey’s uncle what she did so long as she lay down and shut up.) It’s also extremely not fair that her hands get wet when she washes them because it takes so long to dry them and that’s just not fair.

Sweet child, you need to save some of this not fair for when you’re a teenager, because then you’re really going to need it.

Mabel looking grumpy

End of an Ergo

I’m giving you a little break so you can catch up on all my past posts, and all the other things going on around the Internet, whatever they may be. At least, apparently that’s what I’m doing. But in the meantime, a few bullets to get me out of this bloggy doldrum:

  • I dusted off and gussied up my resume (which mostly meant changing all the fonts so they looked less 2004 and more 2013 to my non-graphic-designer eye; maybe it just made the whole thing look different to me and therefore as if it must have new information even though it doesn’t, much) and sent it to someone who expressed an interest. So that was nice. I will now proceed to freak out about all the free time I don’t have even though nothing has happened yet.
  • We had visitors, which was lovely and gave my deeply ingrained Internet addiction a little break. I’m also re-reading the His Dark Materials trilogy, which is exciting enough to get me away from the computer from time to time.
  • I have given away, sorted out, and designated for donation the last of the baby clothes. Even more finally, I am selling the Ergo. (And the Moby, if anyone wants it.) I put them on a local mailing list yesterday afternoon and by 6pm I had three offers for the Ergo. I think it will be taken today. I used it daily for, I’d say, four years in total, and apart from some fading it’s in perfect condition, not a stitch out of place. Those things are built to last, and if you’re looking for a baby carrier I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Baby-wearing on a bus with an Ergo and a toddler
Oh, Ergo. The fun times we had.
  • By which I mean that the baby train has left and I am not on it and I’m finally fine with that. (Disclaimer here so that writing this sentence does not immediately cause me to accidentally conceive. We do not intend to procreate any further, that’s all.)
  • Bedtime has taken a turn for the worse. It’s not fun. I do not like chasing Mabel around the street in her nightgown after stories because she’s not tired (except she is, so much) and as a result her second-favourite Barbie is now reposing in the recycling bin. I suppose I’ll take it out, but it’s the first time I’ve actually been forced to take such a drastic step. Or lost my temper enough to go through with it, I suppose.
  • I hope it’s a phase, because the rest of my life isn’t looking much like a good time if it’s not.

Milestones, tangentially

I am solo-parenting right now because B is at a conference in Denver. The night before he left, bedtime was horrible and went on for hours, and I was a bit worried about the state of my sanity if trying to go it alone for five nights in a row, but the next morning I stocked up on dollar-store bribes and so far we’re doing well. When he comes home then we’ll have the problem of trying to continue the peaceful bedtimes without bribes, but I’m prepared to cross that bridge when I come to it. This is known as willful ignorance, or ostrich parenting. (I shall write a book and rake in the profits.)

In my bid to exhaust the children, leading to easier bedtimes, I had to take them swimming today. Whereupon Dash swam underwater (with goggles), which I’m pretty sure I don’t remember him doing before, and Mabel took her first ever strokes without wearing a floatie or keeping a toe on the bottom. At not quite four and a half, she beats her brother by a little over six months, her mother by more than three years, and her father by some enormous amount. I need to find my milestones list* and add this.

The reason bedtimes are harder again at the moment – I realise I haven’t told you this – is because I don’t nurse Mabel to sleep any more. Not ever. (I know, she’s only almost 4.5. Don’t think I hadn’t noticed.) Not even in dire circumstances like having nobody to spell me when telling her stories for hours on end. I don’t nurse her back to sleep in the middle of the night either, and she’s sleeping much better (sometimes) (andIdidn’tsaythatpleasedon’tsmiteme) and slept for ten hours straight last night. Alone, in her own bed. Other nights she wakes up twice and then again at 5.15, but she doesn’t get any booboo until 6am, when it’s waking-up boob rather than going back to sleep boob. (Okay, if she happens to nod off again and we all get some extra shut-eye until 7.45 I’m not going to quibble. But mostly, it’s waking up.)

Then we rode our bikes to the playground at Dash’s school – which is very close but was a novelty for two out of the three of us – and Mabel swung all the way along the monkey bars for the first time too. I think her arms will be aching tomorrow.

The weather this weekend was exactly perfect and the way it should be and I want to marry it and have its babies. If it could just stay this way until, maybe, at least July, that would be ideal, thanks.

Blossom, blossom, everywhere

*My milestones list. Don’t you have one? It’s like a baby book, except it’s just a page from a notebook that I started writing on a long time ago and somehow have managed not to lose. I had a baby book once, but it was too nice to write in, so I gave it away.


A few weeks ago I volunteered at the elementary school’s Scholastic book sale, to help the younger children note down which books they wanted their parents to shell out for and stop the older ones making off with the keychain minifigs attached to the front of a few most-sought-after volumes. In between deluges, I perused the small selection of books aimed at the parents and teachers: a slow-cooker cookbook, a multi-columned calendar that claimed to solve all my problems, and some books about how to raise readers.

Mostly, I shun parenting books these days, having had my fill when Dash was a baby and I was still convinced that somebody, somewhere, had had this model before and had helpfully published the manual. Once I figured out that this wasn’t going to happen, I became bitter and cynical and decided to take all my advice from trusted figures and random strangers on the Internet instead, because that seemed much less stressful. But as the kids get older, we’re moving into new territory, and since I really do want to raise readers – after all, I was one, and I thought it was great – I leafed through this particular tome with some amount of interest.

A heading caught my eye – something about why children should be reading (or have read to them) chapter books. Why should they, I wondered? Apparently it’s ideal for helping train their memories to recall what’s gone before and predict what might come after – all the skills they need for analytical reading later on. All righty, then. But I had tried starting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Dash a year or so ago, and he just hadn’t had the attention span. I’d mostly forgotten about it since, and our library haul continued to be a stream of not-too-long, nicely illustrated picture books that would keep the attention of both 6- and 4-year-old, as well as one or two mind-bendingly tedious Dora or Diego books and maybe a Star Wars easy reader to entice Dash to practice.

But most nights now, Mabel goes straight to bed before Dash’s storytime – I try to do some reading with her around lunchtime instead. So keeping the four-year-old’s interest doesn’t really need to be in the mix. And having seen the piece about chapter books, one night a couple of weeks ago when I was doing bedtime by myself, I asked Dash if he’d like us to start Charlotte’s Web.

“Is that the one about the spider?” he asked.
“Yes. Do you know about it?”
“I know what happens. The spider dies at the end. Daddy told me.”

Okay. I’m not sure how, but for some reason the denoument of the children’s classic had slipped out on the way to school one morning. Dash didn’t mind, and was willing to start the book anyway. (I think it’s easier for him if the stress of the unknown is tempered a bit.) I opened the paperback copy that I had picked up second-hand some time in the dim and distant past when I was ten or eleven. (Or younger: I think I remember my Dad reading it to me and doing the voices. So maybe I was seven.) The pages are yellowed and a bit crispy, and the cover has been so creased that it’s smoothly wrinkled all over, but it’s perfectly functional. There are line drawings every few pages, which helps the novice chapter-book reader.

All the same, I was surprised when Dash was still listening at the end of the first chapter, which to my mind was not all that thrilling and contained some puzzling references. I remember being a little mystified by the school bus, since we didn’t have those in Ireland – not that that’s a problem for Dash – and finding the brother’s name, Avery, very odd. The mid-century rural American setting was almost as unfamiliar to Dash’s ears as it had been to my suburban Irish ones thirty years earlier, but he didn’t seem to mind. I quizzed him gently at the end of each part to make sure he was following along, and with some prompting it seemed he had gleaned the main points. So we continued.

I read it for two nights and then his Dad took over. Dash started telling me what was going on in the farmyard every day. From my place beside Mabel, as she dropped off, I could hear B in Dash’s room doing the voices just the way my Dad used to – the goose and the rat and Mister Zuckermann and everyone else.

They finished Charlotte a few nights ago and started straight into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the copy I’d had the foresight to bring, with its sequel, from my bedroom bookshelves in Dublin one or two trips ago. (My bedroom remains, for now, just as it always was, and functions as a handy library for my Dad, who picks up some obscure required literature from my English degree every now and then and milks it for every drop of Victorian wisdom. Nobody looks at all the books that are my real treasures: the small shelf of young-adult fiction right beside the bed. I’m keeping them all for Mabel.)

Charlie proved so exciting that B had to read six chapters on the first night. Dash didn’t want to go to sleep that night, begging to find out what was going to happen next:

“Just tell me, Mummy, does he get to go to the chocolate factory?”
“Listen. It’s a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Do you think it’s all about how a boy called Charlie didn’t get to go to a chocolate factory?”
“Oh. Good point. …. But does he get to go?”

I put his mind at ease on that point and he finally went to bed.

Can you imagine what the suspense will be like when we start with Harry Potter? And how soon can we do that, do you think? I have the box set (UK editions, of course) at home, and I can bring it over any time…