My parents love to talk about how they used to let my sister and me stay up to watch Johnny Carson from a very young age. Not that we were actually watching The Tonight Show, but that we were just amusing ourselves playing on the floor or reading until we passed out in the family room and our dad carried us to bed.
Apparently they did this not because they wanted to expose us to inappropriate media while we were still in preschool, but because we refused to go to sleep in our cribs, and later in our beds, and it was easier to let us stay up than endure the wailing. And according to their memories, once they let us come downstairs and hang out, we just did our own thing, content to play without demanding anything of them.
Decades later, my husband and my brother-in-law both frequently face the thankless task of trying to pry me and my sister off of our respective couches where we have fallen asleep, not even necessarily in front of the television, which neither of us has much time to watch anymore, but just in the family room, because going upstairs to bed seems overwhelming. Or maybe we just want to stay downstairs where the action is, even if that action is just our husbands transfixed by their respective laptops, doing schoolwork or work work or occasionally reading tech or sports blogs.
You can see I have never been good at going to bed. I have always been a night owl, since I was a mere owlet. Morning is not my thing, but I’ve always been amazingly productive between 9pm and 1am.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that my kids are not good at going to bed either. Randy too, is a night owl, and we have never been very good at convincing each other to reform, despite many attempts. Especially when you have to get up early and your kids will probably wake you up during the night, you should really go to bed at a reasonable hour. But…
Nighttime is when all the fun stuff happens! And when your kids are hard to get to bed, you feel like doing a victory dance when they are finally asleep, even if it’s 10 or 11pm. And The Daily Show is on! Or everything you’ve ever DVRd since your kids were born! And there are books to be read and Facebook to be checked and who knows what else. And in my husband’s case in recent months, endless homework to be done!
Whether it’s a genetic predisposition toward partying after dark, or insidious bad habits, or general inertia because staying awake is easier to do than going to sleep when you’re already so good at being awake, I think our kids are just not good at going to bed because we’re not good at going to bed. Unfortunately (for them, I suppose), we have not subscribed to my parents’ approach, primarily because we revel in our precious few hours of grown-up time, and also because our children have so far not demonstrated an ability to stay up late entertaining themselves. We need a break. Evidently my parents never needed a break. We moved out eventually.
Zoe drags out bedtime interminably. There are always so many decisions to be made about what stories or chapters to read, who will read them, and for how long. Zeke just cries until his request for a change of venue is granted. Truthfully, though, bedtime is often sweet and fun. Reading with Zoe can be delightful, and sometimes at bedtime she tells us important things. And after a day of chasing after an exuberant little monkey boy, feeling him melt into slumber brings utter relief. Then creeping down the stairs to claim a place on the couch, where the only noise is the hum of the dryer and the whirr of the dishwasher, we say a little prayer of thanks. And now we can stay up late doing whatever we want.
Maybe someday they will end up down here watching Stephen Colbert host the late show, or reading, while we doze off on the couch. Maybe they will have to nudge us, saying, “hey guys it’s time for bed!” But until then, we will enjoy our grown-up time, making our own grown-up decisions and mistakes, all by ourselves.