Monday, September 17, 2001

For some time now I have been meaning to document the Collins Family Bedtime Routine and tonight an event has spurred me into action.

What was the event, you say? Meeting another parent who has their children ASLEEP by 7:30 pm, that's all.

Our family motto is (and my kids can repeat this from memory): "Bedtime means brush your teeth, read a story, go to bed." Sounds simple, huh? Here we go.

8:00 pm - Bedtime preparation starts with a pre-bedtime first call. All participants are warned that bedtime wind-down will commence in 30 minutes. 8:00 pm is also signifigant in that it is last call for snacks containing chocolate or sugar. Those people that claim that chocolate or sugar cause no affect on children's metabolism are welcome to come to my house and put my two kids to bed after they've had some of this "placebo".

8:25 pm - A second warning is sounded. This is generally acknowledged by distracted nods and "Uh-huh" sounds.

8:30 pm - The actual "get ready for bed" alarm sounds. After the alarm, participants begin to roll their eyes, make exasperated, deep sighs and plead "Why didn't you WARN us? I was *just* going to do _________." (where the blank is some noble task that has nothing to do with getting ready for bed). I use my Stern Dad face to show them that I'm not buying it. Then, with all the enthusiasm of me going to work these days, they mope into the bathroom to argue about who has to brush their teeth first.

"You go first."
"No, you go first."
"No, you!"
"No, YOU!"

I try to be helpful by stepping in and saying "McMonkey, you brushed your teeth first last night. Banana, you can go first tonight."
McMonkey pipes up, "No, I want to brush mine first."
"No, I do!"
"No, me!"

8:40 pm - After the teeth brushing routine I say, "Get your pajamas on." They hear, "Run upstairs and rummage through my drawers, help yourself to my t-shirts and leave your clothes in a pile right beside my dresser."

8:45 pm - With this done, we sit down for the calmest part of the routine, the reading part. I unabashedly admit that I love reading to my kids. I do my best to use funny voices for all the characters. The story's characters are allowed to have different voices, but characters have to have consistent voices night after night (remembering these is sometimes a trick). I have my fun by slowly introducing one of the verboten reading styles by adding accents, intonations, varying volume levels and speeds for the narrator. I slowly increase the severity until I hear from McMonkey the familiar, "Dad, stop it."

9:15-ish - When I'm done my chapter, Banana is usually glassy-eyed enough to mumble out "goodnight" before she is down for good. McMonkey is another story. As she heads for bed from wherever we were reading (normally Banana's room), she starts to negotiate a new sleeping location.

"Dad, can I sleep in the living room tonight?"
"No, you have to stay in your own bed." I say.
"I made a fort in the storage room when I was supposed to be brushing my teeth. Can I sleep there?"
"Can I sleep on the stairs?"
"How about in the van?"
"McMonkey, NO."
"Can I read in bed, then?"
When the request starts to come back to reality, I usually give in. "OK, but just one book."

If Banana isn't asleep at this point, I will hear, "Dad, how come you *always* chat with her? Come chat with me, too." I enjoy this part of the routine. It is a chance to check in with them, find out what they liked (or didn't like) about their day, what's troubling them or making them curious, what their last thoughts are before they crash for the night. It helps prepare them mentally for the next day, and helps me to feel more in touch with them.

9:30 pm - I then retreat to do some cleaning up or other mundane task. Perhaps I'll get to check e-mail, blog a bit, pay some bills, make lunches, or some other domestic stuff.

10:30 pm - I do my own nightly hygene routines, then head for bed myself, only to find Mackenzie in my spot in my bed. I pick her up and carry her to her bed and find the dog in her place. Devon (the dog) growls at me when I shoo her out of the way as if the turned-down sheets and pillow combination was meant for her. I then put Devon out for her final evening pee, keeping an eye on her to make sure she doesn't make her way into the alley for a garbage feast. As she is getting old and her stomach isn't as steady as it used to be, she sleeps in our room on a special blanket on the end of our bed, far away from that carpet downstairs which hasn't yet made it to its first birthday.

10:45 pm - I finally get comfortable in bed, scratch all the little itchy spots, negotiate what constitutes my half of the bed with my sleeping wife and start to drift off myself.

10:55 pm - I hear, "Do you know how the constellation 'Leo' got it's name?"

It's McMonkey. Instead of sleeping, she's been sitting in bed with her books, absorbing science tidbits to simultaneously impress and annoy her sleeping father.

I say, "McMonk, it's late. You and I both need to sleep. Tell me about it at breakfast time."

"OK." She skips out of the room with all the energy of a kid coming in from recess in the middle of the day. I am already dreading trying to wake her in the morning.

3:00 am, but just some nights - Once every couple of weeks, Devon keeps Jenn and I on our toes by waking in the middle of the night and making that lovely, rhythmic snort-and-gasp-dry-heave sound that dogs so love to make. This causes both of us to spring up in bed, disoriented and groggy, and visually search a pitch-black room for a pitch-black dog that sounds like she's about to throw up on something that will need to be drycleaned.

This is how I've learned to survive on six hours of sleep a night. Pardon me if I yawn.

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