In my family, there’s nothing easy about bedtime. In cahoots with a work-weary husband I try to herd our kids to bed, starting at 8 p.m. every night. Most nights I cannot admit success until after 10 p.m., but some nights the go-to-sleep battles continue relentlessly until 11 p.m. It’s a ritual that’s exasperating, frustrating and ceaseless, and the only certainty is that each night, it will begin anew.
As I write this, one child is hysterical in her bedroom, wailing in a drama of her own creation. “I have the worst brother ever,” she yells loudly, not a trace of sleepiness in her voice.
“I’m not in the mood to deal with this tonight,” my spouse mutters angrily. But deal with it we must, because in our house, this is bedtime. All three battle-filled hours of it.
So when I get a night all to myself, away from the cacophony of chaos, I grab the opportunity. How decadent, I think to myself, to read a book uninterrupted, to not have to boss or cajole anyone into brushing their teeth, to have a long bath all to myself, considering only my needs. I can’t remember what it feels like to have a quiet night that doesn’t involve breaking up feuds or delivering threats of punishment.
Yet, the moment the reprieve begins, it feels entirely wrong to be away. How foolish to think it’s still possible, 12 years into parenthood, to enjoy such solitude when your nights are usually so full of life and distraction. I find myself missing the sound of children’s voices, the bedtime kisses and I-love-yous, the fears and apprehensions that surface so ferociously at night. With silence but for the ticking clocks, I yearn for the busyness that is my life and duty, the urgency of my kids’ need for love, understanding and comfort. I miss that one final kiss goodnight, that close, tight, warm embrace and the feeling of my husband’s foot, entwined in mine, as together we succumb to fatigue – often before the battle with the kids has even ended.
My solitary bath is cut short from boredom, and my book is flung aside, a depressing tale of misery and illness. By 9:30 p.m., I am lonely and heart sore, far from where I need to be and counting the hours until I’m back with my family.
It’s not until you’re away from the chaos that you feel clearly how deeply and profoundly it is a part of you. I’m reminded how wonderful it is to be needed by my family and how precious are those tender goodnight hugs and kisses – even when they come with a relentless nightly battle.