In the bath.
I don’t mean to belabour it, but what is it about bedtime that makes me crazy?
Tightrope Mama wrote a wonderful piece, “Why Are We Rushing” that has helped me oodles, slowed me down, and calmed my panic at getting my kid off to dreamy time, which is generally never before nine. Even if she’s up before seven. Even if she doesn’t nap. Even if she has a terrible cold (which I seem to be ducking). Even if we start the bath early, and all of these things are true tonight.
On the bed.
Sir Dick Facetimes in. How can I refuse them? Despite the gauntlet I know I am about to run: hair brushing, teeth brushing (gah, don’t even talk to me about it), stories, music, singing, despite the hour, it’s “Daddy!” who is away so often; all year practically. So in the middle of all this here he comes, Skyping in from the city, waving the cast on his broken wrist around, working up another comedy routine.
She’s shouting at him through the little glass screen, “Mom!” “MOM!”
He’s saying, “Wha!” and makes a face. Like, “Who me? I’m not your mudda.”
He says to her, “Billy, is that you?”
She says, “Naaahhhhhhh.”
“Billy! Come on, that’s you, isn’t it?”
“I’m not BILLY!”
Hysteria. Press repeat. Five thousand times. Dear Lord, I’m giggling along and falling asleep at the same time. It is possible. Then:
“Mommy, I peed the bed!”
“Good-bye, Sir Dick.”
Finger to the red bar.
“You peed the fucking bed? You peed the fucking bed?”
“I peed the fucking bed! I peed the FUCKING BED!!”
The moment has arrived. She finally said “Fuck.” With absolute clarity I understand that no matter how I want to believe she still doesn’t understand or decipher half the things I say, she does. It’s kind of funny. I make the bed. Normally I cannot make a bed around her; the idea of ducking under the sheets as they fall is just too tempting for her.
Onwards with teeth brushing. Let me say this is my least favourite and most problematic moment of motherhood. I resort to threatening to sit on her. Put her in the prone position or whatever. This usually gets her to open her mouth. But tonight, before we get to this, charmingly, my three-year-old daughter throws a book at me.
I really really break.
I have the advice of the angels at part-time daycare in my head: re-direct. Take her to another place. Read her a book to calm her down. And then talk to her about how we don’t use our hands for hitting.
Which I have done SEVERAL TIMES TODAY.
I chastise: “You hit me! It hurt! It’s wrong!”
I threaten: “I am turning off the light and closing that door and putting the guard on it and you can go to sleep by yourself tonight!”
Every night I lie on the bed and fall asleep with my child, even at this late age. I decided I would do this forever when we were pretending at bedtime that she was the mommy and I was the baby and she put me to bed and said good-night and I said, “Don’t leave!” and she said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back,” just before she closed the door. The moment she closed the door I felt…bereft…alone…frightened… I wanted her back so badly… There was something in it and I just…I decided I would always fall asleep with her. Period. From this moment on.
Well, not tonight.
And then I do something terrible. A fact that I am afraid to reveal: before I walk out on her, I go over to the bed, tell her to let me brush her teeth. She refuses, screws up her face, laughs, and I do it. I “prone” her. Meaning I sort of sit on her, clamp her arms to her sides with my knees. I come through with the threat. I disempower her physically, she opens her mouth, cries terribly, shockingly, silently, and I gently quickly barely brush her teeth… It takes literally seconds but it devastates her, me, and breaks every rule in the book. Then I get out of there.
I put the door handle guard on. I leave. I trudge downstairs and throw all the pee-soaked bedding in the washing machine while she cries upstairs. It is a weak and sad cry, not the hysterical screams of a baby being sleep-trained. (Which I’ve done, several times.)
I return up the stairs. I scream at myself in my head to stop it. To calm down. I take a breath. I open the door. I look at her. She hasn’t left her bed.
She’s looking at me. In the decipherable dark.
I go to her. I sit at the bottom of her bed. I say something she can’t understand. I say something I can’t understand. I try again. I say something she can maybe comprehend about her being little and it’s hard because she wants things but she’s too little and big big people are telling her what to do (are forcing themselves on her). I lie down next to her.
I say, “Most mommies don’t lie with their babies until they fall asleep. Did you know that?”
“Do you know why I fall asleep with you every night?”
“Because I want you to feel safe. I want you to feel loved. Do you know what I mean?”
She shakes her head “no” in that heartbreaking way they do when they are trying so hard to understand. She says:
“I don’t like it when you sit on me.”
Her face pulls down. Shattered glass. I say:
“I don’t like it when you throw a book at me.”
I take her finger and wipe away a tear on my cheek.
“Maybe we could both be kinder? Be gentler? Maybe we could take care of each other better?”
“I won’t sit on you anymore. I promise.”
“How about tomorrow we go to the store and you can pick out a new toothbrush?”
“You mean like a pink one?”
“Any kind you want.”
I reach for the calamine. I put it on her mosquito bite. I rub her back. I lie with her and she falls asleep.
And my nose starts running. So much for ducking the cold.
[image: bed by by Dagmar Vyhnalkova]