One of my great regrets in life is that I didn’t write that book, “Go the F*ck to Sleep”. I’m not saying I would’ve written it as well as Adam Mansbach wrote it. In fact, mine would have probably lacked that soft, sweet tone that makes his work so well. And the delicate prose which strikes such a wonderful contrast with the refrain, “Go the f*ck to sleep”, would’ve gone more like, “I’m going to put a pillow over your face and suffocate you if you keep this up”, which just isn’t as funny. But… I have the credentials to write this book and it would’ve been very cathartic for me. I might write it anyway. Maybe the knock-off, “Just Eat Your Goddamn Dinner”.
The truth is, our nightmarish nighttime routine is mostly my fault. I lack what some people in the parenting field refer to as ‘an air of authority’. I demand something, get nothing, let it go, ask again, get mad, get nothing, let it go, and then blow up. It’s the blueprint for how not to establish authority in your household.
Here’s generally how our nighttime routine goes:
“George! Get your pajamas on! Hey! George! I’m not going to ask you again. George! Put…on…your…pajamas. I’m going to count to three. One…Two…Therrrrrrr. George, I’m counting to three. There’s going to be big trouble if I get to three and you haven’t started putting on your pajamas. George! Did you hear me?! One…two…therrrr… George! Hey! Ok…fine…THREE! Only one book for you tonight.”
George bursts into tears. “You didn’t say…you didn’t…I didn’t knooooow you were going to take away a boooook.”
He takes a swing.
Hey! Do…not…hit…me. Ok, no books for George tonight.”
Several minutes of wailing.
“Deep breath, honey. Try to think about all the fun things you’re going to do tomorrow.”
“I HATE you!”
Then it’s downstairs for milk. By this time Louisa has usually fallen asleep (I’ve come to believe that George’s nighttime crying is therapeutic for her, calming somehow. That or she’s got some kind of stress-induced narcolepsy.)
Back up with the milk and he says he’s hungry. “You should’ve eaten your dinner.” “I didn’t liiiiike it.” “Well, tough.”
Back downstairs. Back up with an apple and some peanut butter. Back downstairs to cut the skin off the apple. Back upstairs.
“George! Get back in your bed!”
(Nuzzling himself under the covers) “But I never get to sleep in your bed.”
“You can wa…goddamn.” I carry George back to his room and toss him up onto his top bunk. I give him his skinless apple with peanut butter and wait while he eats it. “Ok, goodnight, Georgie” I say.
“Wait”…whimper, cry…”I need to give you a kiss.”
Ugh. The KISS. I’ve come to dread it. It’s not that I don’t like to kiss my kids, I do. I even make sure both George and Louisa give me a peck on the lips before going into school each day. But at nighttime, George gets super freaky. I stand up on Louisa’s bed, my head just about level with his, and try to go in for a quick peck. Wiping his tears he grabs my head with both hands, sits up (while still holding my head), turns his head sideways, opens his eyes wide and goes in for a kiss…I pull my head back as he’s holding his lips on mine. I finally get away. “Ok, night night, Georgie.”
“Wait…I didn’t give you a real kiss…”
“That was a real kiss, Georgie. Trust me.” I climb back down, muttering something about how his mom hasn’t kissed me like that in years.
“Back tickles and then sit in the chair.” He demands.
I remember as a kid asking my dad to tickle my back at bedtime. Bedtime at my mom’s house involved long, feather-light tickles that often involved me turning over on my back to get my stomach tickled. My dad simply rubbed the ends of his fingers on my back and when I’d turn over he’d just pat my head and say goodnight. I used to think he was just being homophobic. Now, when I aggressively rub my nail-bitten finger nubs into George’s back, I realize my dad was just pissed off too. There’s something healing about that.
So, the other day I was hanging out with a new friend’s mom at the new friend’s house while the new friend worked upstairs –because that’s what happens when you decide not to work for a living and take care of kids… you go over to your friend’s house, get introduced to his mom who’s in town, say bye to friend because he needs to go up to his office to work, and you hang with the friend’s kids and the friend’s mom for a few hours in the friend’s house. Anyway, this friend’s mom and I started talking about discipline and children, what works, what doesn’t, etc. I told her about our horrific nighttime routine, sparing few awful details. When I was done she just casually mentioned that her son, the friend, who’s upstairs, we’ll call him Wes, just tells his kids to go to bed and they go. That’s it.
“He just tells them to go to bed?” I asked, tears forming in my eyes.
“He’s very hard on them. All he has to do most of the time is just give them a look.”
I passed through the seven stages of grief in a few silent seconds. Then I just said, “I’d give anything to have a look.”
My look, from what I can by Louisa’s mockery of it, is just sort of sad and squinty.
My dad had a look. He’d clench his teeth and suck the air in between them.
We didn’t mock his look.
I should mention that our nights weren’t always torn to shreds by a small child in cute pajamas. It used to be that 7:30 would roll around and Kate or I would offer the the other the choice: “Do you want to clean the kitchen or put the kids to bed?” Only just a few months ago, this was an evenly weighted proposition. I’d usually pick the kitchen because I’d spent all day with the kids and was sick of them –though, of course, I’d play the martyr and say something like, “you should probably spend some time with kids, I’ll take care of the kitchen”.
These days, however, it goes a little differently. The clock strikes 7:30 and Kate will take my hand, look at me with the saddest, tiredest eyes she can muster and beg me…”Will you put the kids to bed? Please? Pleeease? I’m so tired.” And I just look at her and smile. “You’re crazy. No way in hell”. It goes on like this. By the end of the discussion, Kate will have offered up several hundred dollars and/or the next three straight weekends of getting up with the kids (which I know now to refuse because come Saturday morning she’ll just make the same offer and it’ll go on and on like that). Sometimes, if Kate’s truly desperate, she’ll offer sex. I guess somewhere deep down she still wants to believe that I’m a man with man-like wants and that at the end of the day, my wifely duties haven’t completely neutered me. It’s a little sad. So I usually respond with something like, “No thanks, you’re too fat.” Depending on how tired she is, this joke will go over either ok or not very well at all.
But the deal-making itself has gotten out of hand in our household. Yesterday, I asked George if he’d go to Home Depot with me. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: Georgie, will you come to Home Depot with me?
George: Can I watch a tv show afterwards?
Me: At some point after, yes, you can watch a tv show.
George: Right after.
Me: I don’t know. Maybe.
George: Even if I’m bad.
George: Even if I’m naughty.
Me: What? No.
George: Then no.
I know this is not right. I’m not so far gone that I don’t hear the 1950’s dad voice in my head: “I’m your father, you do what I tell you. You can’t just say no to me.” But that voice is very soft.
Me: “I’ll let you play a game on my phone on the way.”
George: “And on the way back.”
And that’s usually when Don Draper pops back into my head and tells me I’m a sackless waste of man space.
Then the homo commie hippie dad in me usually responds with something like, “Well, Don, your son, if you even had one, probably wouldn’t want to be friends with you if you acted like that.”
Don stares at him, takes a long drag from his filterless cigarette and just shakes his head.
Or, here’s a typical back-and-forth with Louisa. I’m trying to get her to go pee because she holds it in way past the painful point and it makes her act totally insane:
Me: Go pee and I’ll give you gummy bunnies.
Louisa: Give me gummy bunnies and I’ll go pee.
Every so often I’ll pull the old, “…because I’m your father and I TOLD you to.” But I don’t think this has really worked for anyone since 1953. Maybe for Wes. For me, I tend to just get blank stares. I’m waiting for Louisa to come back with “…well, I’m your daughter and I said no.” It’s well within her range.
Lately, I’ve been going back and forth between blaming nature and nurture. In the “nurture” column I suppose you could cite the “blueprint” above as well as my inability to enforce anything (The dogs aren’t allowed on the couches –here’s Greeley minutes after Kate has left for work)…
But in the “nature” column I submit two rather convincing arguments:
1. From when George first started talking till only about a year ago, both George and Louisa called me Ben. I always corrected them sweetly, “honey, please call me Daddy”, but they still found Ben for fitting. When other parents started laughing at me, I tried harder to get them to call me daddy, this time appealing to their empathetic sides…
Me: “You two are the only two people in the whoie world who can call me daddy (except sometimes mommy but that’s different). All I ever wanted when I was growing up was to be a dad and to hear someone in some little voice say, “daddy?…” So, will you pleeeease call me Daddy?
George: Ok, Ben.
They were clearly born this way.
2. My kids have clever, devious brains that often outsmart my best efforts at enforcing rules. Example. A couple weeks ago I walked into the kids’ room to find them putting their Spiderman and Princess Band-aids all over their bodies. I raised my voice: “These are NOT stickers. They cost a lot of money and you guys are just wasting them.” I got serious. “That’s it, regular band-aids from now on.” Then, a few days ago we were in the grocery store and George and Louisa caught sight of some more cartoon Band-aids. “I promise promise promise we’ll only use them when we get hurt.” I relented, bought the Cars 2 and Hello Kitty Band-aids. Later that day, I’m in the TV room next to the kitchen and hear Louisa whispering “Not too too hard…Owwwwa.” I walk in and find George holding a large knife over Louisa’s arm. “What are you DOING?!?” “She told me to,” George says. “We’re just making a cut so we can use the Band-Aids, that’s all.”
See? TOO SMART!
Later that day…