I hate bedtime

I love climbing into bed myself, especially if I'm freshly bathed and the sheets are clean and I've gotten a good workout early in day. Oh lord. Heaven.

But I HATE putting my daughters to bed. Don't get me wrong, it's not because I'm sad to be parted from their company. By bedtime, I am done, done, done with three year old and 18 month old shenanigans. DONE.

Unfortunately, the worst of them are just about to begin.

Part of what goes wrong, I think, is that I'm always lulled by the bedtime routine. We get cleaned up. We brush our teeth. We get a glass of water. We talk quietly about all the highlights (and sometimes the lowlights) of the day. We dim the lights and read three books slowly and softly. I sing a lullaby. I tell them I love them. I kiss them goodnight and wish them sweet dreams. Honestly, by the time I'm leaving the room I'm just about sleeping on my feet.

The bedtime routine does not have that effect on my daughters. At least not lately.

The door closes and the younger one howls. Sometimes the older one coos to her, sometimes she says very sternly, "Dee! Lie Down! Be quiet!" If this sounds helpful, well, you're forgiven for not anticipating that as soon as the Dee DOES quiet down, Kay climbs into Dee's bed. If it weren't for the pause between Dee's settling and Kay's climbing in, I might miss it, since as soon as Kay's in, the wailing resumes. Or, worse, mutual giggling and gabbing ensues.

Worse, because -- while cute from a distance -- this reliably means that it will be another 1-2 hours before they both settle down again -- left to their own devices, which will not stay convival, no matter how sweetly it begins. It also means a minimum of another half hour of direct intervention. And did I mention that by the time I've left the room the first time, another 30 minutes of trying to keep it all together and calm enough to lull them back down is a little beyond me.

Of course, most nights I don't do this alone. "Second shift!" comes on at this point, and Daddy is usually fresh and ready for the job by some miracle for which I only understand enough to be deeply grateful.

As I am currently traveling far from home with both girls, solo -- because I'm arrogant and stupid and somehow convinced myself despite all of the warnings that it'd all be okay -- there is no second shift. Strange house, strange routines -- strange germs (did I mention we all have gruesome summer chest colds?) -- and though they mean well, my dad and step-mom are mere mortals. They're not Daddy. They aren't miracle makers. It falls to me. It falls to me. And I'm no miracle maker, either.

Tonight I lost my temper when I found Kay in Dee's bed. I dropped her onto her own bed and yelled at her for being so inconsiderate to me, to her sister, to her grandparents. She's three. Now, if you are a kind and compassionate soul, you might think to yourself, "Hey, now, Phoebe, give yourself a break. Just because she's only three doesn't mean she's not being inconsiderate." Bless you.

But here's a tip: yelling at your child about what a little jerk they can be (my words were nicer) and then slamming the door with the endnote, "now go to sleep!" doesn't work. It doesn't put three year olds -- or 18 month olds, apparently -- on the sleepytime dream boat. (With apologies to Anne Lamott who said it first and better.)

When I returned a few minutes later, slightly more composed, opening the door to two wailing children, I managed to resemble something more comforting. Enough so that Dee was contented with a gentle patting on the back, and Kay was able to compose herself sufficiently to say without tears or whining, and in fact, quite calmly and sternly: "Mama, I do not like it when you yell at me. I do not like it when you are angry at me. Do you understand me?"

"Yes," I managed to reply, both without laughing. Or crying.

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