There is one major challenge that I face each day: putting the kids to bed. I look forward to it because sometimes that is the only chance I get to spend quality time with them just reading a book or talking, and because once they are asleep then I can relax on the couch with a bottle of champagne and binge watch episodes of Weeds on Netflix. With my daughter, I have battled the bedtime ritual since she first crawled out of her crib at fourteen months old. I remember finding her standing in the hall and then closing and frantically rubbing my eyes, hoping that when I opened them again she would be gone, but it didn’t work. She was real. She was out. She was awake. That was five years ago. She has only gotten stronger and more determined since, while I am only getting lazier and more decrepit. My daughter will use any excuse she can think of to get out of her bed. She has to go to the bathroom. She heard a noise. She had a nightmare. I walk her back to her room, tuck her into the covers, and whisper, “You can’t have a nightmare until you actually go to sleep.”
If they offered an advanced degree in effectively and easily putting children to bed, I would enroll immediately, even if working towards the degree took years of intense training and cost millions of dollars in tuition. They don’t offer this degree, though, for the same reason they don’t offer degrees in time travel or relating to your mother-in-law because these skills cannot be taught. Nobody knows how to do this—or if it is even possible—even people who have kids that go to bed easily and on command are probably just lucky enough to have kids with severe narcolepsy. I can see this as a trait we could pick from a genetic menu. I would like a male child with blue eyes, a high IQ, and a sleep disorder. If you are still trying to find the perfect mate for procreation and you find someone who falls asleep during your first dinner date and then sleeps for eight to ten hours straight, you should never let that person go. Especially if you are a woman because once you have kids many men develop sleep disorders anyway, so you might as well cash in on the congenital version and get your money’s worth. If you do not have children and you have a male partner who bolts awake ready to protect and serve when a branch falls on the soft grass three houses down, you will be constantly surprised at how he can so easily sleep through a child screaming in the room right down the hall.
Being a parent, it seems completely normal to hear footsteps running towards my room in the middle of the night. It is also normal to wake up and find someone standing next to the bed staring at me. If I woke up and there was a murderer in my room instead of one of my kids, I would probably be relieved. That would be a lot less work for me. My kids need me to be in charge, even at three a.m. They wet their bed. They are afraid of zombies. They can only go back to sleep while kicking me in the spleen. Most of my overnight parenting involves me acting really annoyed. My son will come in crying and shivering to tell me he peed in the bed, and I will just make a loud huffy sigh. Then I wander into his room, like a blind drunk person, and he follows me. I throw him some dry underwear and somehow change his sheets without really opening either of my eyes. Then I grab his shoulders, lead him back to his bed, push him towards a sleeping position, pull the sheets up, and wander back to my room. Then I suddenly feel wide awake, and I lay there for the next three hours worrying about whether or not I wrote down that we are out of soy sauce on my grocery list—all the way in the other room.
At the exact second that I drift back to sleep, my daughter dashes in and crawls over me, kneeing me in the face. Right when we both get resituated, she asks if I can get her some milk. “No,” I say with my eyes still closed. Then she starts to cry about how she is so thirsty. “Fine!” I scream. At night I am like the DMV clerk of parenting. I am not being paid enough to pretend like I want to be there. Then when I get back with her milk, she is sound asleep and has completely taken over my spot in the bed. I try to slide her over, but she is like a body of water, always taking up whatever space is presented. The more I push her away the more she somehow spreads out so I have even less room available than I started with. I just lay down in the two inch space she left on the edge, propped up on my side like a two-by-four. I sigh loudly and then the alarm goes off.