Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Momma's Little Helper

I loathe bedtime. Not mine - the kids'. Specifically, Finn: he fights bedtime with every weapon his 4 year old brain can dream up. He performs a nighttime filibuster that would shame even the most seasoned politician.

It started about eight months ago. Prior to this our simple routine consisted of brushing teeth, climbing into bed, reading a story followed by a kiss and a hug and then he'd settle in to sleep. Little by little, he introduced new elements into our bedtime ritual. First it was the addition of a back scratch, then he needed a sip of "fresh" water. He would track each element like a hawk - if I forgot one step he would pad downstairs, saying "you fahgot my backskatch, Momma."

Then he began a bizarre verbal exchange before I turned out the light and left the room. One night, as I was leaving to go downstairs, he shouted "MOMMA! Lipstick and makeup!!" I was understandably confused by this, but he tearfully explained I'm supposed to say whatever he says back to him. I dutifully reply "Lipstick and makeup!" before turning out the light. It seemed a small price to pay to get him to go to sleep.

But the beast grew. A couple of weeks later, giving him his back scratch, he says, "Please give me an 'itch' backskatch first, Momma, then a tickle one." More tears, until I figured out he wants me to actually scratch his back, followed by a light tickle with my fingers. Before I knew it, our bedtime ritual was almost half an hour long: brush teeth, climb into bed, read a story, a sip of fresh water, an itch backscratch, a tickle backscratch, kisses and hugs, and a cheerful exchange of "Lipstick and makeup!" before I creep downstairs and hope for the best.

For the past month, even with a flawlessly executed bedtime ritual, he just won't go to sleep. He comes downstairs several times, saying he is hungry, he heard a noise, he isn't tired or his water wasn't "fresh enough". He would get into bed at 7:30pm, and wouldn't actually go to sleep until close to 10pm. I look forward to the kids' bedtime like a madwoman, aching for those two or three hours of peace and quiet like a junkie waiting for a score. I am, quite simply, completely out of patience by the end of the day and it gets ugly. Greta endures all of this quietly from her perch on the top bunk.

I have tried everything I can think of to stop this craziness, and nothing deters him. I finally got him to the point where he wouldn't come downstairs anymore, but he just upped his game. He lies in his bed yelling for me.

"MOMMA!" he yells. "I just need to tell you one more thing!"

"WHAT! WHAT IS IT? YOU NEED TO GO TO BED!" I yell back from the bottom of the stairs.

"I just wanted to say I love you, Momma!" he says, completely disarming me. I know I'm being manipulated, and it works every freaking time.

"I love you too, Finn. NOW GO TO BED!"

Twenty minutes later, just when I think he might actually be sleeping, he yells to me again.

"I weally, weally need you Momma! PWEASE!"

I have learned that if I ignore this, he can keep it up for a good twenty minutes. This keeps Greta awake, so I tromp upstairs, furious.


He is peering at me over the top of his covers. "I wanted to tell you you're a good Momma," he says with an impish gleam in his eyes.

I've had it. Something in me snaps. I'm forty years old, I'm supposed to be in charge, and I can't take it for one more second. I'm silently counting to ten so I won't explode, and fantasizing about duct taping him to the bed when Greta sighs and leans over from the top bunk. She looks meaningfully at Finn.

"Santa is watching," she says. "If you don't go to sleep you'll get coal for Christmas."

His eyes get wide. "Oh yeah, I fahgot about Santa," he says. "G'night Momma." He rolls onto his side and closes his eyes.

"Goodnight, Mom" says Greta, with a big grin.

I walk downstairs, muttering to myself: and Cupid on Valentine's Day, then the Easter Bunny... I can get all the way to APRIL...


  1. It's always funny to read your posts- we're at the same point here too! Kjell has always been great about going to bed, but now he's either fooling around or coming downstairs for at least an hour every night! Arrgggh! it IS frustrating! Kjell gets a sticker on his chart for staying in bed all night, and threatening to take one away has been the best thing that keeps him in his bed. Some days are definitely better than others! Raiya is pretty patient, but since they also share a room, I sometimes worry about him keeping her up too.

  2. Ugh. And ugh again.

    Things have gotten better for us in the last week since we cut out the toddler's naps (he's 3), and he can't stay awake much longer, but a typical bedtime routine for us last 45 minute to an hour. Before losing naps, it was a lot like your description above - except that we had to stay in the room with him til he fell asleep or he'd come out screaming and crying that he was scared or lonely.

    (I'm trying to tell myself that I should savor this for when he's 15 and the big struggle is getting him OUT of bed in the morning. So far the pep talk isn't doing much)

  3. I too long for bedtime every day starting when school gets out. We have one that goes to bed w/ one quick story and one that turns the light out after us some nights. (tho he has strict instructions on staying in his room after 8:30, which he ignores 50% of the time). Persevere, and hopefully this phase will pass.

    p.s. do you think he is not tired? Would a slightly later bedtime fix this problem?

  4. From another "bedtime junkie"...totally there with ya, girl.

  5. That is hysterical! I love how Greta continues to save the day! I know how you feel on the bed front. My older daughter used to have me read her two stories, give her a sip of water, scratch her back while singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, snuggles, & then verbal chess for 2-3 minutes while trying to hold my temper in check and get the hell out of her room. I need those 2-3 hours of quiet and I feel like she's intruding on my time by delaying her much needed sleep.

  6. I laughed so loud on this one--been through that one! My husband is the sucker who allows the 45 minute routine--which stinks when he goes out of town. I have succumbed to letting her sleep with me, and then I just roll away from her and go to sleep!

  7. Oh, bedtime can be the WORST! Good luck with your little one!

  8. Bedtime is the bane of my existence! My four year old wants me to rub her back until she goes to sleep (wouldn't it be nice to have someone do that for me!). My seven year old would stay up until 1 am if we let him. He usually falls asleep EXHAUSTED in the middle of a sentence. We are trying to inch his bedtime earlier every night, but right now I spend from suppertime to 9:30 busy with baths and getting them to sleep. Of course, I have to work on not carrying the guilt for their screwed up bedtimes. My husband let them all sleep in the room with him (for good reason!) while I was away in treatment. But you're right, Tzipporah, I'm trying to savor this time as well. At least I know where they are at night. All too soon, I will be lying away and praying that they come home safely.

  9. By the way, Greta is an absolute GENIUS!

  10. Greta Rocks!

    Bedtimes can be hard. We have a little Jack-in-the-box here too. What works for her is usually a sad story of how tired she will be in the morning that ends up with how she misses watching a favourite show or something because she's fallen asleep at the wrong time. Two word references to the story work as reminders. Also adding more activity to the day usually results in good sleeps. Maybe a picture book to look at on his own after the bedtime routine shortened version?

    Good luck!

  11. It sounds like Greta is your holiday saving grace...I still chuckle about the halloween costume jam she got you out of...btw, with Nick we used a kitchen timer..that way the timer was the 'bad guy' who announced that it was time for the ritual to end. It worked for about 3 weeks until Nick thought up some very logical sounding reason for why we shouldn't let a mere kitchen clock dictate our lives. When they are 4 and they've outsmarted you, you know you're in trouble.