Attempting the Bedtime Story

Sophie always has known the age-old bedtime story ritual. We started when she was very young. I have fond memories of reading to her at dusk, immediately following our last nursing session of the day. She always snuggled into us, calm, attentive, happy. Still, reading to her at nap and bedtime are two of my favorite times of the day.

Although I try to get a story time in with the boys a couple times a week (usually while they’re sitting in their Bumbos), I’ve been terribly neglectful when it comes to a true bedtime story.

Andy and I used to do Sophie’s bedtime together. Now, we divvy up the duties. Because Sophie sees so little of Andy during the week (and because she misses him), he does Sophie’s entire bedtime routine—bath, pajamas, stories, milk, teeth brushed, lights off, music on, stars on, poem read, gate up, door cracked, a promise to check-in in 10 minutes. While he’s doing that, I change the boys’ diapers, put them in their pajamas and give them their final bottles of the day downstairs. I burp them, carry them both upstairs, put them in their cribs—sound machine on, lights off, stars on, poem read. (Of course, it’s not as simple as this. As I type this Sophie’s still awake, reading in bed, requiring that we check in on her every 10 minutes and I just spent 20 minutes bouncing Owen on an exercise ball as he was screaming like a banshee keeping James awake.)

So. Last week Andy said we really need to start reading to the boys, every night. And he’s right. Except that reading them a bedtime story is really, really hard. Here’s how it typically goes (with thanks to Mem Fox, for her lovely book, Time for Bed, which I (tried) to read to the boys tonight and which you can (and should) purchase here):

(I’m sitting in a rocking chair in the boys’ room, holding both of them and the book.)

It’s time for bed, little goose, little goose, 
The stars are out and on the loose.

“Boys, look at the book! Do you see the goose? And the cute gosling? And the pretty stars? No, James, you can’t have the book.”

It’s time for bed, little cat, little cat,
So snuggle in tight, that’s right, like that.

“Owen, no, don’t eat the book. James, don’t turn the page yet. Look at the pretty picture!”

It’s time for bed, little calf, little calf, 
What happened today that made you laugh?

“James! Don’t pull your brother’s hair!”

It’s time for bed, little foal, little foal,
I’ll whisper a secret, but don’t tell a soul.

“Owen! Do not poke your brother’s eye like that! That hurts him!”

It’s time for bed, little fish, little fish,
So hold your breath and make a wish.

(I adjust their positions on my lap.)

“OK, see, this is more comfortable, right?”

It’s time for bed, little sheep, little sheep,
The whole wide world is going to sleep.

“James! Owen! Oh my God don’t do that I’m seriously going to drop you! Stop arching like that! Hold still! Seriously, I’m going to …”

(I stand up, barely holding onto either of them, and lower myself to the floor. I reposition them on my lap.)

“OK, let’s try again. It’s safer here.”

It’s time to sleep, little bird, little bird,
So close your eyes, not another word.

“No, don’t crawl way. Please don’t crawl away. Let’s just get through this. Don’t you know lots of smart people go on and on about how important it is to read to you every night so that you become smart like them someday? Here, chew on these while we finish.”

(I hand them puzzle pieces.)

It’s time to sleep, little snake, little snake,

(Both boys are off my lap crawling in different directions. So, I just start reading louder.)

Good gracious me, you’re still awake!

“James, no, no, no, at least stay in the room. No, Owen, don’t start following James.”

It’s time to sleep, little pup, little pup,
If you don’t sleep soon the sun will be up!

(They’re gone. I get up off the floor and find Owen clinging to the edge of the clawfoot tub, where Sophie is taking a bath. She thinks it’s hysterical that Owen is peering over the edge of the tub and her laughing is, in turn, making Owen laugh. James is in Sophie’s bedroom, playing with her dollhouse.)

I give up.

Maybe tomorrow night.

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” —Anna Quindlen