Putting the girls to bed is a wonderful part of our parenting routine and offers unique opportunities to connect with them after the end of a long day. It can also be an exasperating time that seems to stretch out forever as the girls dither, stare at themselves in the mirror, mess around and generally seek to slow-roll the process…keeping me and Amy from our important adult work downstairs, blogging about how much we love our children! I was thinking this week how the songs I sing with each of them have changed over the years and how this kind of maps onto our evolution as parents, and the different personalities of the girls. This is mine own story, as Amy’s highly desired bedtimes with the girls are more intense, lengthy and on-key. Bedtime reading lists will have to be tackled later.
Set list: Brahms’ Lullaby, “He is God” (Bahá’í prayer), Oseh Shalom (Jewish prayer), Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, The itsy bitsy spider, Michael row your boat ashore, I’ve been working on the railroad…and more
From out of the Lactic Era, when all was formless crying, goo goo and nursing, the great division of the waking and sleeping worlds (really, the child’s bedroom and the parents’ bedroom) happened at about 13 months when Amy heroically weaned A. and I started having a nightly bedtime routine with her. In those early years I remember just endless singing as part of our somewhat terrified efforts to make sleep happen. For sure, the author of the recent hit book “Go the F to Sleep” has to be referring to his first child, because I look back and think, why did we make ourselves and A. prisoners of these elaborate rituals, which can’t have done much to abbreviate her embittered crying and jumping up and down? Writing this has reminded me of Dr. Weissbluth (known to us as Doctor Sleepypants) and the midnight hours spent poring through those pages looking for wisdom, or ideally silence. I think the worst example of first-time parents willing to do anything was when A. was two–maybe even three!–and I had a session of singing “Michael row your boat ashore” with her in my arms while doing lunges. I got a decent burn but did not, in the end, induce sleep.
What strikes me looking at the song list here is that it shows how pretty early on we adopted at least one or two key songs from each of our religions that both Amy and I would sing at bedtime. Singing the “Sh’ma” is an occasion for me to think about my so-so performance as a Jew and hope for the best for Eretz Israel and the girls. With A. there is often a final burst of processing from the day’s action just before singing, and the repetition of these core songs acts as a cue or gives her permission to snuggle up and relax. As she gets older there is a somewhat weird divide between her surprisingly grown-up waking concerns and her lingering primal desire to have these bedtime moments with us, which makes me appreciative of however much longer I have to do the night night routine.
Set list: “Good night M.,” He is God, Sh’ma, I’ve been working on the railroad, and silence
Miss M’s bedtime routine was formed under different circumstances. As the second baby she knew the gentle squashings of her big sister and also had parents who couldn’t just drop everything to do squat thrusts with a squalling child in the hopes that she would pipe down and go to sleep. We lived in a chilly flat at Cambridge University when she was about 9-12 months old and, for better or for worse, were separated from her crib and her little double-wrapped form by several layers of doors and cement walls. So the Dr. Sleepypants method was almost redundant because we just didn’t hear the crying–probably the most soundproofed in terms of wakey-child noise of anywhere we have lived.
I suddenly lost a lot of the hearing in my left ear last year, and while I eventually got a good bit back and now am basically fine, it was a very scary week or so. I remember lying in M’s bed, as always with that ear on her side, and wondering if I would ever hear her snurfling breaths and other little noises again. These moments with the girls in the dark allow strong feelings of all kinds to emerge and be considered, making the routine but loving singing itself kind of an “om” that is part of a mental and emotional routine that can send you way out into unexpected corners of your history.
These days, while M. does appreciate the singing, she goes her own way at bedtime, as in most things vis-a-viz her sisters. She always asks me to just lie with her quietly after the songs are done and as she gets closer to sleep. And then, after I say “I love you” and creep toward the door, unless she is out cold snoring comes the request, “Can you ask Mommy to come in?” We joke that the girls are like Six-Dinner Sid, the cat who fools a whole neighborhood into thinking he’s theirs and gets 6x the food, affection and night nights.
Set list: Brahms’ Lullaby, He is God, Shema, and Twinkle in an emergency
For her first 14 months, E’s bedroom was a frigid little cubicle overlooking a beautiful lemon tree and, unfortunately, a yard where “Buddy,” our horrible neighbor’s abused dog, lived in squalor with several other dogs and barked 24-7. You know how it is with third children…the parents know the bounds of their own parenting ineptitude and that probably nothing will do serious damage.
Whether it is nature or nurture’s work, E has turned out to have a very matter-of-fact approach to bedtime, which nicely coincides with our totally adoring approach to putting her to bed that nonetheless takes into account that there is a good 60-90 minutes more after lights out for E. before the big girls are asleep. She is very verbal and likes to check off all the steps involved: what kind of pajamas she is wearing, what book to read (always asks for two, rarely granted), whether “Flauta” (her ridiculous dog-pony inflated toy) is comfy, and whether she is cozy enough in her blankets. When she got into a big girl twin bed like her sisters about a year ago she was just in heaven, and still gives herself up to lying in bed with total abandon. E. has learned from day one that she has a major challenge in getting her parents’ attention as the littlest sister, and happily has landed lately upon one very effective strategy. Periodically throughout the day, and pretty often as I am finishing up songs, saying good night and getting out the door to finish the dishes, she will say “Daddy? I love you.” These psychological wiles will get you everywhere, girl.