The Bedtime Wars

Fighting the good fight for a night’s sleep

Originally published September 02, 2011

Bedtime Wars

It’s an idyllic scene. The family, having all eaten a calm dinner together, finishes eating within minutes of each other. Mommy and Daddy clean up while the children wait patiently to be released from their high chairs. Once they’re out, hands and faces are cleaned, teeth are brushed, and trays are cleared. The girls head to their bedroom, are changed into overnight diapers and pajamas, and then they are ready for the stories and songs that constitute their bedtime ritual. Nice picture, yes? Alas, it’s a complete fantasy.

In reality, it goes something like this: I strive to have dinner on the table by 6 p.m. This is sometimes tricky, since I am working full time and don’t always have dinner ready when I walk in the door. But assuming I’ve gotten dinner out on time, Michael and I coax the girls to come to the dining room. Muffin usually climbs right into her high chair; Squeaker frequently wants to play longer or drags whatever she is playing with into the dining room with her. On the nights we convince her to get into her chair, we then have to contend with the girls’ insistence that only one specific tray will do. It’s a good day when they each insist on a different tray. When they both insist on the same tray, usually by whining loudly, some trickery is required. Dinner is then put on trays, and with luck they eat it (and with no luck they insist on something else—often macaroni and cheese—that may or may not be in the refrigerator).

Muffin eats at a pace that usually means she’s done eating around 6:30 p.m. Michael then takes her to the kids’ room and he changes her diaper. The battle over who will be the one to dress Muffin in her pajamas (a parent or Muffin) is waged. Muffin insists she wants to put on her own pajamas; the fact that she doesn’t know the front from the back of either her tops or bottoms is irrelevant to her. Then, finally, she is ready for books and songs. There are nights, however, that Muffin has other plans, such as having to clean every speck of food and residue off her dinner tray, her chair, and anywhere else she can think of.

Meanwhile, Squeaker is enhancing her reputation as the Queen of the Delaying Tactic. If she isn’t eating corn by closely inspecting each kernel one at a time, she is finding ways to play with her food, her fork, and her bowl to prolong dinner as much as possible. It is not unusual for her to still be eating while Muffin has completed her pre-bed process. Michael sometimes reads Muffin an extra story or two while we wait for Squeaker to deign to declare herself “all done.” Then we clean her hands and face, brush her teeth, and fight the pajama fight with her. Once both girls are finally ready for bed, it is time for songs and stories. We usually start with a song and then, until very recently, Michael would read as many books to the girls as Muffin and Squeaker could convince him to read aloud. Within the past week or so, however, Squeaker has decided that it was vital that I read her books while I sit on the floor and she sits between my legs, so that has become part of our routine. Also, they have been trying to get us to stop singing their special songs, under what we guess is the erroneous assumption that without a song, they won’t be required to go to bed.

After a couple of books, there’s another song, then more books, and then a last song. We pick up the girls, give them cuddles and head kisses, encourage them to kiss each other good night, and then put them in their cribs. At this point, one would think, we’d be done. But, again, reality differs. A baby doll is missing its hat. It had its hat before Muffin went into her crib, but now the hat is mysteriously off and has appeared magically in Muffin’s hand. And now Squeaker’s baby doll has also magically lost its hat.

There are bears that must be found, penguins to acknowledge, and balls and random toys that one of the girls has brought into the bedroom that must be removed. Finally, we zip the girls’ crib tents, turn on their noise machine, tell them we love them and will see them in the morning, turn out the light, and leave the room. Usually there are a couple minutes of crying but then the girls go to sleep. Michael and I take a couple of minutes to relax before preparing things for the morning, when we know we are likely to face similar battles.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2011 by Brookline Patch.

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