Getting Bedtime Routines “Just Right”

How crazy is this? It’s 8:45pm. At this very moment my plan was to sit down after putting the kids to bed and write a blog article about how awesome it is to snuggle with your kids at the end of the day and tell them bedtime stories as they fall asleep in the dark. What is actually happening right now is that my kids are screaming and wailing in their bedroom after being dragged forcibly off to bed because they ignored about an hour’s worth of “ten minutes to bedtime” warnings.

Does this happen to you?

The experts all recommend that keeping a consistent routine around bedtime is key to healthy sleep habits. So, ever since we had to go through the Ferber method to sleep train our son the routine has been: Get into pajamas. Brush teeth. Read bedtime stories. Go to sleep.

This is a pretty good routine, when it works, which is about 5% of the time.

Unfortunately what also seems to be part of the routine is an hour-long postlude of: child comes out of his room, child finagles his way into our bed and goofs around until Mom carries him back to his bed. Then he calls for water. Then he has to go potty (go figure). Then he wants socks put on him. Then he wants the closet door closed. And so on.

This is why the routine somehow extended to include Mommy sitting on the floor in the dark making up stories. After doing this for a few months I thought, “Hey, I should record these.” But for some reason, when I have the recorder turned on the stories are always super lame.

So now, if I get through the bedtime routine and have a good feeling about the story I just told, I go and quickly type up at least the gist of it before I go to bed. This doesn’t always work, because the process of getting my son to relax enough to fall asleep seems to work far better on me than on him. Oh well.

When I first started telling stories to my kids I was too nervous to try to come up with anything on my own, so I went through Goldilocks and the Three Bears over and over again. Now that my son is used to getting bespoke stories, when I trot out Goldilocks he insists that he be inserted into the story, which sounds something like this:

“Once upon a time there was a little house in the middle of the forest. In it lived a papa bear, a mama bear and a baby bear.”

“And Zaza.”

“Yes, and a Zaza bear.”

“No, Zaza is not a bear, he’s just a boy.”

“Right, a baby bear and a boy named Zaza, who was visiting from the neighbor’s house. One morning, Mama Bear made oatmeal for breakfast (I don’t say porridge because I like to take the opportunity to sell the idea of eating oatmeal for breakfast) and spooned it out into three bowls.”

“Four bowls. There’s one for Zaza, too.”

“Yes, four bowls. Then Mama Bear said, ‘This is too hot to eat right now, let’s all go for a walk in the forest while we wait for it to cool.'”

(At this point in the story I tend to get a little sidetracked wondering if that is really how it goes. It can’t possibly take that long for oatmeal, or porridge, for that matter, to cool down if it’s already in a bowl. Maybe it’s supposed to be that they go for a walk while it is simmering? But then, how does Goldilocks happen upon the bowls all sitting on the table, ready to go? This bothers me every time.)

“Mama, read it!” (Zaza often forgets the difference between reading a story and telling a story.)

“Oh, right. So the bears and Zaza went for a walk in the forest. Not long after they went away, along came a girl with long golden ringlets. Her name was Goldilocks, and she was a very nosy girl who had never been taught very good manners.”

And so on, you know the rest. On some occasions, I’ve turned the story around and told it from Goldilocks’ point of view. “What an adorable little cottage! I wonder who lives inside it? It must be just as cute on the inside as it is on the outside!”

But I like it best when she is a a ditsy villain who has no respect for other people’s property and clearly doesn’t give a damn about how her actions might make other people feel, like this:

“Then Goldilocks rocked so hard in the little chair that it gave a loud ‘CRACK!’ and broke, and Goldilocks fell right on her butt.

‘Oops, my bad!’ said Goldilocks getting up and stepping clear of the broken chair. ‘I wonder what is upstairs?'”

The coolest thing about this story is getting your kid to understand the concept of “just right,” as in, “It’s not too hot, not too cold, it’s juuust right.” My son really, really, gets this now. It worked wonders for situations like getting into the bathtub, taking that first bite of dinner, etc.

As for the bedtime routine, we get by.

I can’t maintain a rigid stance for very long, and my son knows it. After about ten minutes of wailing, I generally find some excuse to have to go into their room like putting laundry away. Then I let myself get pulled into a back and forth debate about staying in bed vs. not staying in bed which generally ends with me offering to sit with him for “5 minutes.”

Then I plop down on the floor.

“Tell me a go-asleep story.”