The Dark Hours
My wife and I call it the “dark hours”: the hours that keep from 5pm until bed time around 8ish. I’m convinced something happens to young children during this time of the day: something unexplainable, like an invisible mist that blows through their bodies causing them to behave in a way that stimulates trouble and headaches for parents.
We have a four and two year old. You’d think we could manage them as we’re not outnumbered. But once the dark hours set in we are unmatched and keeping these two young children happy and cooperative becomes a bit like trying to put out a wild forest fire.
We have three simple goals:
- Play/Read together
- Eat dinner together
- Go to sleep about the same time each night implementing the same routine.
Over the last 3 months we’ve been somewhat consistent achieving these goals. Are they a model of success? By no means. But there are habits being formed and we are getting better. As hard as it is to admit, I’ve definitely been on the better end of taking care of these two. Somehow I’ve managed to duck out of the last goal, by far the hardest of all three. It has been mostly because my young girls want mama to put them to bed, not dad. Fair enough, I say. My wife, not so much. She thinks otherwise and recently she’s caught on to this discrepancy.
We’ve just spent a week together in Colorado without the kids and we drafted some new goals. I’m not sure how, but I agreed to a fierce and lofty one that I’m beginning to pay the price for. It must have been the vodka.
We settled on alternating nights to share the load of putting the girls to sleep. Once it was in writing, no big deal I thought. Man was I wrong.
My first night up went like this:
Mama finished reading the book, we recited our affirmations, we said, “thank-you Jesus for all you do” and then I firmly began to take my place of authority:
“Ok girls mama is going to go do some work now and daddy is going to go night night with you.”
One might have thought my two year old fell on a cactus. Her lips began to quiver, she rolled out of bed onto her feet then began to scream:
“No, no daddy. Mommy. Mommy!”
Mom had already closed the door. She wanted nothing to do with it like a hit and run criminal. I looked at my four year old to solicit some help. She smiled then buried her head into her pillow as if to say, “welcome to the jungle big boy.”
My two year old is a temperamental ticking time bomb, so I wagered softly and carefully.
“Daisy, you can have daddy lie down with you or Lily lie down with you, but mommy has to do work now.”
She continued her onslaught.
I repeated my deal. No relief. I resisted. I kept quiet, hugging my four year old for support.
Silence. I’d won. Daisy was asleep. Now for Lily. I leaned in closer to see if she was out. Deep breathing. Yes, this wasn’t so bad. And then, as if God himself sent an angel to humble me:
“Ok. I want Lily. Lily come sleep with me.”
Daisy was still awake.
“Lily is sleeping, Daisy. Close your eyes. Go night night.”
And before the scream rose to meet Lily’s sleeping ears I calmed it.
“Ok Daisy. Ok. Lily will come down. Shhh.”
I tried to pick up Lily gently without waking her up. But she did. Of course.
“Lily, Daisy wants you to go night night with her. Please go down and sleep with her.”
And now it was Lily’s turn to open the floodgates.
“No daddy. No I don’t want to sleep with Daisy.”
Daisy immediately erupted into tears and sadness. Lily was on the ground with her hands in the air screaming at the top of her register. I half thought mom would come into rescue me. Such foolish optimism. My two crying children were now as close to falling asleep as a New York City subway to peace.
I clenched my fists, breathed deeply, then proceeded as though I was perfectly in control of the situation.
“Lily, if you lie down with Daisy I’ll give you a treat in the morning.”
Boom. Lily was on the mattress with Daisy before I could finish my bribe.
“Ok girls now it’s time to go to sleep. Close your eyes. Go night night.”
I lay awake to every sound for about 30 minutes hoping and praying that deep sleep had become of them. They were bundled inside each other’s arms, their stomachs moving up and down as though to the beat of a slow marching drum. I took no thought of vanity so to undo this magic.
Now for my escape. I listened to the rhythm of the sound machine, and noted when it was at its loudest. I moved according to its volume, like a sniper trying to escape enemy territory. My feet fell gently onto the wooden floor in perfect cadence with the volume of the sound machine. I opened the door and quickly, quietly closed it so that the bathroom light wouldn’t catch their eyes. I let out a sigh of deep relief. I’d made it.
“How’d it go?” Her smile was as great as it was on our wedding day.
“Not bad, I guess.”
“You’re not a very good liar are you?”
“You got me. But guess what?”
“It’s your turn tomorrow night.”