I have been going crazy at bed time around here. Some nights the whole process is so frustrating that I am in tears. The kids mess around. They play with each other. They play chase with the Baby. They smear toothpaste all over the bathroom and break the teeth off of my hair cutting comb. What should take minutes takes at least an hour and then some. I feel like I have to stand over them waving a stick while they slowly inch their tiny frames from one task to the next or they will escape and scatter again and return to the silliness and time frittering that is their regular unsupervised modus operandi. By the time they are in bed I am emotionally exhausted from dealing with the naughtiness, the tears, the sheer mental energy it takes to try and force small independent beings to do something that they don't want to do.
Saturday night was a very low point in our bedtime history. I had to discipline the Girl for going off task several times. The Boy was loud and obnoxious, distracting to everyone else and the Girl was crying into her pillow as I turned out the light and started to sing. I lay down next to her only to have the Baby climb jealously over her and push her way in between us while they both screamed bloody murder. They were restless and fractious as I sang, they bounced around and off the walls during prayers and my voice, body and energy were spent. So I prayed as they listened that I would learn a better way to do things, that they would learn to get ready for bed fast and that our nights would be more peaceful.
The next night, without having really given it much further thought throughout the day I suddenly found myself saying, "It is bed time at 8:00. You have 15 minutes to get yourselves completely ready. That means your pajamas are on, your clothes are put away, your teeth are flossed and brushed and you are laying in your beds by the time it is 8:oo. It is your responsibility. Anyone not ready for bed in time will be disciplined for disobedience, and then every 5 minutes after until they are ready. If you are ready by 8:00 I will read you a story out of that big book that has the long old fashioned stories in it that we don't usually seem to have time to sit and read through together. And...whoever is ready first gets to choose the story."
And then I cleaned up in the kitchen and cleared the table.
The Boy shot through his evening routine faster than I even thought possible. He was lying in bed in less than 5 minutes. The Girl dawdled, and chatted, and went into talk to him while flossing. I bit my lip. I stopped myself 100 times or more in that 15 minute interval from reminding, nagging or cajoling. I did not rescue her from the consequences of her choices, and 8:00 came and she was not ready. And then there were tears. And then she wailed for the whole 5 minutes as she brushed her teeth alone in the bathroom and I read the Boy the story he chose. She got to hear the tale end of it.
They both started up again with the interrupting and talking and moving around during the singing so I told them I would leave the next time either of them started up. I didn't finish singing that night. More tears. I did give hugs before I left though, face wet from rubbing against their salty tears.
We tried it again the next night. The Girl was ready in time, but the Boy still got to choose the story. They were quiet during the singing.
Tonight, we tried it again. The Boy elected to practice a new song on the piano for a few minutes while the Girls ran to finish first tonight. And she did. I stood on the patio chatting with a neighbor. At quarter to eight I checked on them and they were both ready and the Girl was triumphantly choosing her story for me to read. There has been more peace in our house at bed time than there has been for months. And even with the reading they are still getting to sleep earlier.
And once again I remember something that it was very hard for me to learn at one point, and I still tend to forget from day to day. The only one I have control over is myself. The only choice I have is how I will respond to a situation that presents itself. Even, or especially, very small children cannot be compelled to do something without me sacrificing a great deal of my time and energy and essentially doing it for them. That's another option I have, but I didn't realize I was choosing that, and I was resenting the energy it cost me.
In the last few days, as I allow them again the freedom to choose on their own how the evening will go, and I step back and say clearly , "This is what I will, and won't do. Now let the chips fall where they may." There is much more air in our house it seems. There is space to breath again in the evenings because I am not crushing us all with the weight of my expectations, and my vise grip on the way things are done.
I wonder why it took me so long to remember that this is the way people are, and that this is the only really viable approach to our relationships to other people. Then I realize that it was because I have been focused on myself and how I feel about this and it has kept me from seeing the larger picture. It has kept me from seeing my children as little people, rather than burdensome drains on my evening schedule. It has kept me from looking beyond myself for a solution. It has blinded me to my goal as a parent of producing autonomous independent people who can act decisively and independently in their own daily lives. This exclusive self focus has robbed me of the joy that is possible in even the bed time routine and the time that could be spent snuggled with children making happy memories instead of solidifying an image of me with my shrew voice in their little heads.
I only took a little, gentle reminder to get my eyes off of myself and look up and around. To look at what is good. And yet, the change is so dramatic that I shall have to find a way to remember more often.