Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pick a Book

All of the parenting magazines and books talk about the "witching hour"- that time between after school/work and dinner, when moms are busy trying to get something nutritious on the table that her kids will actually eat and kids are busy employing every trick they know to becoming difficult, hungry, scheming, attention seeking time suckers. Or is that just my house?

In our home we have a few more "witching" hours. Sometimes they are hard to pin down- what was a peaceful transition yesterday is now difficult today. One that isn't hard to pin down is our bedtime witching hour. More often than not our persevering preschooler turns bedtime into the most dreaded time of day for everyone in the house.

Bedtime approaches and I head upstairs with my youngest son. I try to get him to go up with my sweet husband but I know that isn't going to happen. I get frustrated as I look around the downstairs, my eyes taking in the dinner dishes on the kitchen table, the left over dinner on the stove, the laundry basket full of clean clothes needing folded, the super six year old needing a watchful eye over his homework efforts. It will all have to wait, because me getting out of this bedtime is just not going to happen.

We head upstairs. My little guy stops at the top of the stairs, lays down, blocking my path. I stand on the top step, cajoling him into moving on towards his room. My voice is sweet and calm while my brain is screaming, screaming, "Why do you do this every night? Just walk to your room!"


We make it as far as the bathroom, where we negotiate the exact amount of toothpaste you will accept on one of your many toothbrushes. Perhaps we have already spent precious minutes looking for just the right toothbrush to suite your tooth brushing needs this evening. You put your toothbrush down and climb up onto the sink to get a drink. There is no stopping you- you will drink just as much, or as little, water as you need to before moving on to sit on the potty. You trip as you take off your pants and fall over onto the floor. Now that you are on the floor you roll around, meowing like a cat. Finally, after I pet your head a few times, you get up and finish in the bathroom.

I pick up you up and swing you onto my hip before leaving the bathroom. If I don't there is a good chance that you will turn the wrong way out of the bathroom and head into our bedroom, where you will bounce up and down on the bed as I try to catch you, my blood beginning to boil. No big deal, you say? Sure. But do it every single night, do it on the nights you are in a great mood and on the nights you are exhausted. Do it on the nights your older son is crying downstairs because you said you would play Uno with him but now are trapped in this room watching your other son slowly rip your heart out. Do it every. single. day. Then tell me it is no big deal.

We make it to your room where I wrestle you into a new pull up and pajamas- maybe. "Pick out a book", I say, hopeful that you will do this. You sort through every book in your toy box. Not finding what you are looking for you open the small blue suitcase with the green airplane on it where you keep your "travelling books". You tell me your story about how you are going on an airplane and you are bringing all of these books with you for me to read to you on the plane. I smile. I know this story by heart. I like that I am in it, and that you want me by your side on this pretend plane trip. As you sort through your books I think to myself how much easier it would be if you would just put your books in the low shelf attached to your bed; you refuse to allow anything to enter into this large space just in case you need to hide there from a bad guy. I don't know why you are worried about this or what has caused it to take up space in your mind, but it is there, and there is no assuring you that you are safe here. You need that shelf open, ready to hide your tiny little body. So the books are on the floor, and in the toy box, and falling out of that small suitcase.

Minutes pass as I watch you sort through your books, carefully looking over the covers and then discarding each book. Finally you bring me a book. "Climb up here by me", I say. You run around the bed a few times, yelling about how you can't find a way up. I point out the numerous places where you can climb up. You close your eyes, while still running, now telling me that you can't see the bed. Eventually, with your eyes closed, you run into the wall, crumpling to the floor in tears. I scoop you up and sit you in my lap, rocking you and making soothing noises. My mind is screaming, "Stop running with your eyes closed and you won't get hurt!". My mind is screaming. My voice is soothing. I think I might be splitting into two here.

Just as quick as the tears came they are gone and we finally start to read. Two sentences in you start talking. I try to continue, finally giving up, setting the book aside as you roll around on your bed, chattering away. A few moments later you throw the book at me, wondering loudly why I stopped reading. I show you our hand signal for "quiet", trying to remind you to lower your always too loud voice. You start talking more loudly. Stuffed animals and pillows come flying towards me and as I bend and weave to dodge them I see you flying at me, holding out a pillow as though you plan to smother me. You don't, of course. You do land on my head, though, pushing the pillow into my face.

I stand up, calmly explaining that I am going to step out of your room for a moment until you calm down. You immediately freak out, asking me to stay. My heart breaks. I want to stay, but I know you will not stop. I want to go, because you are driving me crazy right here in this moment. As I leave your room I can sense your presence behind me, I can feel your finger tips as they graze my back and leg, trying to grab hold of me. Oh, how I wish you would grab hold of me, with your total heart, and your full brain. How I wish you could calm the thoughts down enough to fully relax in our relationship. I walk out of your room, pulling the door shut behind me. I talk to you the entire time, letting you know that I am not leaving, that I just need a moment, that I will be right back. I hold your door shut as you bang on it and rattle the handle. You and I would make a spectacular horror movie.

Wearily I release my hold on the door knob and you come barrelling out, hitting me, angry. I scoop you up and carry you back into your room. "Pick a book.", I say, hopeful that you will do this. I show you the big green ball and you smile as I roll it up and down your back. I push down hard, giving you the deep pressure you crave. I can see it is working. You look through your book as your brain begins to quiet. Your eyes grow heavy. I relax. These few minutes are so precious to me. I can be in the moment, fully with you, and my heart nearly breaks from the love it holds for you. I push the guilt away. The guilt from my earlier feelings, when you were pushing me to the edge. "How could I be mad at him?", I think to myself. "Look at how far he has come. At what he can now do. He is an angel, this boy."

You catch me by surprise when you suddenly rise up, pushing the green ball off your back and causing the book to fall to the floor. Stuffed animals are flying and your little body is bouncing on the bed. I am splitting in two again. I stand up, knowing if I stay this will go on all night. I walk out of your room, the tears already forming in my eyes as you start to cry for me. I pass my husband, who is coming in to rescue me. "One night. I just want one night of being a normal family.", I say, probably sarcastically, to my husband.

I go downstairs to the living room and sink into the sofa. This nightly emotional roller coaster is exhausting. These bedtimes take both both my son and I to great heights and deep dark lows.  My super six year old materializes in front me, as if from nowhere. He climbs into my lap, his long body relaxing into me. I kiss his head and hug his shoulders, thankful for this easy relationship. We sit quietly, watching his bedtime show together. Through the baby monitor on the table next to me I hear my sweet husband speaking in quiet tones to our youngest son. "Pick a book.", he says.

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