7:30 p.m.: “OK, Elle, it’s time for bed.” She collects books, changing her mind three or four times before deciding on the final pick. She chooses pajamas, deliberate to the point of pointlessness about her bedtime attire.
7:45 p.m.: “Elle, I think you’re finished brushing your teeth.” She has been standing at the mirror making faces for five minutes, a toothbrush occasionally entering her mouth.
“I’m not done yet.” The toothbrush reenters her mouth.
7:48 p.m.: “OK, Elle, your teeth are clean. Let’s go potty.”
“I need to floss.”
7:50 p.m.: “Elle, put the floss in the trashcan.”
“I’m not done yet.”
7:51 p.m.: “Elle, floss doesn’t belong in your hair. Put it in the trashcan.” Reluctantly, floss goes into the trashcan.
7:59 p.m.: “Are you finished now?” The question is moot. The longer a small child sits on the toilet, the closer she is to peeing again.
8:02 p.m.: Elle gets off the toilet. But it’s only to rearrange the stepstool beneath her feet. She swears she’s not quite finished and clamors back onto the pot.
8:07 p.m.: She gets off the toilet.
8:09 p.m.: We read a book.
8:11 p.m.: We read another book.
8:15 p.m.: We read another book.
8:20 p.m.: I tell her we’re done reading books. Then we read another book.
8:22 p.m.: I tell her we’re really done reading books. She goes into her crib. (About six months ago, we attempted to make the move to a big-girl bed. For five nights straight, Craig and I fell asleep to the sound of Elle slinking around in the dark whispering to herself. On night six, we agreed that listening to our toddler clamoring about and whispering was disconcerting and we re-erected her crib.)
8:25 p.m.: Elle needs a drink of water.
8:35 p.m.: Elle needs her stuffed animal. No, not that stuffed animal. Not that one either. That one!
8:45 p.m.: We hear, “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” We ignore it.
8:48 p.m.: We hear, “Daddy? Daddy? Daddy?” We ignore it.
8:52 p.m.: We hear, “Mommy? Daddy?” We ignore it.
8:55 p.m.: We hear, “MOMMY!” I ask her if she needs something. She says, “I need you.” I say, “Why?” She says, “Because I need you.” I say, “What for?” She says, “Come sit with me for a little bit.” I say, “It’s really late and you need to go to sleep now.”
9 p.m.: We hear, “DADDY! I need you.” Craig asks what for. Elle says, “Come sit with me for a little bit.”
9 – 9:10 p.m.: Craig sits with Elle for a little bit.
9:11 p.m.: Elle starts to cry. Craig tells her it’s really late, everyone has to go to sleep. She stops crying.
9:25 p.m.: Craig asks me if I think she’s asleep. I creep to the end of the hallway, and I hear her whispering to herself. We marvel at the fact that she hasn’t given up yet.
9:35 p.m.: Elle starts crying again. I ask Craig what we should do. We decide to ignore her.
9:40 p.m.: Elle stops crying.
9:45 p.m.: “Mommy, I see you! I see you through the crack in the door!” Damn.
9:55 p.m.: We hear, “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” I shout, “ELLE! IT’S REALLY LATE AND YOU NEED TO GO TO SLEEP.” Then I say; “Do you know why you have to go to sleep? Little girls grow when they sleep. If you don’t go to sleep, you won’t grow.” “Then I won’t fit into my beautiful shoes?”
“That’s right, if you don’t go to sleep, you’ll never fit into the beautiful shoes your Amma sent you.”
9:56 p.m.: I feel guilty, lying to my daughter, but at least it shut her up. I climb into bed.
10 p.m.: “Mommy?”
10:02 p.m.: “Mommy?”
10:03 pm.: “Mommy?” “WHAT!” “I need my blanket over me.” I get out of bed. “This is the last time, Elodie.” I tuck her in. I climb back into bed.
10:15 p.m.: “Mommy?” I put the pillow over my head, willing Elle to at least be quiet, if she isn’t going to go to sleep. Then I hear; “I need to go potty.” Damn.
This bedtime absurdity must be the result of a lack of rigidity on our part, right? When Elle was a baby, I simply couldn’t bring myself to let her cry herself to sleep (which is the recommendation of some child-rearing experts, who claim that a child must learn to self-soothe and thus shouldn’t be walked or rocked or sung to sleep – which were, of course, all of the things I did in sleep-deprived desperation to get my first child to fall asleep). So I took full responsibility for my daughter’s bedtime behavior, believing that my child’s faults were my fault.
Then Emmeline was born.
I didn’t arm myself with instructive materials aimed at teaching me how to teach my infant how to put herself to sleep. Craig and I didn’t change much of anything in our parental way of doing things when Emme arrived. Call it second-child laziness. So I was sure it was just a fluke that, at eight weeks old, Emme slept through the night for the first time. This is just a stroke of temporary luck, I told myself, when at three months old I realized that if I put her in her crib, she would gurgle and goo-ga herself to sleep in five or ten minutes.
But this marvelous phase has not ended. Emme sleeps through the night regularly. It still seems unnatural and shocking to me, but all I have to do is put the baby in her crib at 8 p.m. every night and, wonder of wonders, she just falls asleep.
Last night, I stood in my pajamas in the living room, cup of tea in my hand, and pondered this paradox with my husband. How could one child be so difficult to put to bed, and the other so easy?
“It’s like you and I,” he pointed out.
Craig the night owl was just ramping up for his late-night flurry of activity – online poker, emails, even cleaning the kitchen isn’t out of the realm of what my husband will do to wind himself down to eventually be able to go to bed. Meanwhile, I couldn’t wait to slip between the covers and fall fast asleep.
It was one of those ah-haa moments.
“Elle is definitely your daughter at bedtime,” I told him.
“And Emme is yours,” he agreed.