In its current iteration, according to my standard of measurement on any given day, my childrens' bedtime routine takes anywhere from six minutes to, oh, say, nine or so hours, depending on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, whether or not one can consider bedtime ever really actually over when a child who has thrown a fit over an evening snack, the order in which books are read, the level to which lights are dimmed, and the exact position of my body while I am singing lullabies, finds his or her way out of the bed I’ve so desperately tried to lure him or her into for so long–ends up sleeping, yes, right next to me in my not-quite-big-enough bed.
This is, I'm both happy and devastated to report, a vast improvement to the bedtime situation in my home; the lowest periods, thankfully, are in my past. I hope. The evenings my then-toddler son would not stay in his bed unless I was sitting in his room until he fell asleep, or directly outside his door scream whispering "SHHHHHHHHHHHH" through gritted teeth until he fell asleep, were harder. And wasn't that multiple-years-long period during which songs from both The Little Mermaid and Frozen crept their way into the mandatory performance of lullabies more annoying than what currently happens, which is watching my youngest operatically mime singing the "normal" lullabies along with me into a pretend microphone? And certainly the time period during which I somehow wound up sleeping in a twin bed with at least two of my children was worse. Worse, even, than the time period during which I somehow wound up sleeping on a fold out couch with at least two of my children.
I know how. Desperation. That's how.
Now that my eldest child requires no more than a goodnight blessing and a hug before he reads himself to sleep--or rather, before he calls out "goodnight" to each individual member of our family until he gets an individual response from each one of us, before he then insists on my appearing outside of his bedroom multiple times to ask questions he has absolutely come up with on the spot--I can feel we're heading in the right direction. And now that my daughters (who share a room that is, though they are only six and seven years old, already entirely covered in clothing and other Important Things that cannot be cleaned up before bedtime) sometimes even like to brush my hair and put lotion on my feet as I read to them (sometimes really great books about adventurous children and sometimes astonishingly bad books about singing mice with school crushes); now that they even take turns reading to me and to each other before getting in bed and requesting kisses to be doled out in just such an order and arguing about which child will receive said kisses in just such an order, I can feel we are headed in the right direction.
And I know this long, drawn out routine is all my fault. I know that. It's the result of some bad decisions my husband and I made a long time ago, when we were novice parents and sleep deprived and desperate. And perhaps we will always actually be novice parents who are frequently sleep deprived and often desperate. But I don't think that's why this routine persists. No, I think it's because during this long, drawn out period I have one goal, and one goal only, which has absolutely nothing in the world to do with making sure these wondrous creatures, my most beloved darling babes, drift off to sleep feeling secure, wrapped in my love, and fully ready for a restorative night. Rather, my goal, by the time a certain point in the evening rolls around and I have snuggled them and talked through the day with them and read to them and managed to stay awake all the while, is to tuck them in and say good night with a kiss and then, without fits or fanfare or questions about belly buttons, escape them for the comforts of my couch where my cherished blanket of the most perfect fabric and weight is waiting for me, where I know I will, when I am finally released to go sit with my husband with our cartons of ice cream, tiny spoons in hand, just be.
Which, of course, isn't as easy as it may sound.
Recently, a dear friend and old roommate reminded me that, when my husband and I first started dating, though I so fondly remember the excitement of our boozy, sweaty evenings of dancing at concerts, the lingering conversations we shared over curated meals in low lit restaurants, and the meandering bike adventures we took through Brooklyn, it was, in fact, our shared passion for ending the day with ice cream that was true backbone of our relationship. Or rather, perhaps a bit more romantically, it was who we became together when, at the end of the day, we sat there, cartons and spoons in hand, to just be.
By now my husband and I have seemingly endless, intricate, individual relationship strands binding us together. Some of these are the kinds of thrilling, magnificent, emotional, magnetic, dramatically looping ties one imagines sharing with one's partner when one watches a certain number of romantic comedies in one's youth. And just as many of them are the kinds of banal, mundane, hum-drum knots that drag us from day to day. We are each-other's best friends and lovers and confidants and cheerleaders and sounding boards just as much as we are each-other's annoyances and exasperations and frustrations and yes, even the home of each-other's disappointments. And we choose this every single day. My husband is the one with whom I want to examine and question and explore life as we live it together. It is his incense I want to wrinkle my nose at unpleasantly and the existential questions he asks me at the most inopportune moments I want frazzling me while I cook dinner no one will eat. And it's all deeply good, but often it's hard and sometimes it's scary and a lot of the time I feel like a kid pretending I know what the hell I'm doing out here in my life as a wife and a mother who is in charge of making sure three human beings get enough sleep, to say nothing of how much sleep I’m getting or not! So by the time we find ourselves communing at the end of the day–mulling over what’s happened in the world and in our days, who we are and what we’re doing, who we want to be and what we want to be doing–we really must have ice cream in our hands.
Also, a lot of the time we just watch TV while we eat our ice cream. TV is really important to us, too.
I hear there will come a time when I miss being asked, after I have already said goodnight for the fourth time, whether a person can reach their eyeball if they stick their finger far enough up their nose or whether lizards have nipples; I will reach a day when I miss being called back into a bedroom after I have left it for the fifth time, to be told that one child or the other has decided upon a blended future profession and can’t wait another moment to tell me (veterinarian and rockstar), and of course, that I'll long for my children to wake me twenty minutes after I have fallen asleep to tell me they just cannot possibly sleep without being able to look at my face. The people who tell me these things obviously have older children. They are the same people who smiled at me with pity and envy both as my toddler children tantrumed on the floor of the grocery store, while benignly, if not helpfully, reminding me to enjoy every minute because it all goes by so fast.
And it does. It goes by fast.
I trace the loops of my relationship with my husband, the arcs of our family's creation and movement forward, through the memories of the couches we sat on together eating ice cream. It was an old brown couch, purchased used and carried with difficulty up the slope in Brooklyn to my then-boyfriend's studio apartment where we ate Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Therapy together. A winning combination of textures. It was on a surprisingly comfortable futon-like thing we schlepped as fiancees in a rental car from the one Ikea in Israel to our apartment in Jerusalem exactly 67 steps up that we munched those decadent Magnum bars, the caramel dripping down our chins. It was on the dull brown couch we bought when we moved together back to Brooklyn, the one with the matching chair that made us feel so grown up, that we discovered what we called Shabbat ice cream, the astonishingly expensive and absolutely perfect Jeni's Darkest Chocolate, the expense of which was for special occasions only. That flavor saw me through my first two pregnancies and was our son's first taste of ice cream. He reached for the spoon over and over again. In our DC rowhouse rental on our mass of a gray couch we were introduced to Graeter's French Pot mint ice cream with that satiny chocolate ribbon, where we went from being a family of four to knowing we'd be a family of five. Now, in our DC condo, we have a blue, L-shaped couch and less and less time to sit on it, just the two of us, at the end of the day. In the morning our children wrestle on it, in the afternoon they read and draw. I'm always fixing the pillows and re-folding the blankets. I've traded chocolate for the joys of fruit ice creams. Jeni's is no longer a sacred expense and we routinely have the joyous Brambleberry Crisp in the freezer. Our children peek in the trash can some mornings and laugh with each-other when they see a finished carton. Recently, we discovered strawberry mochi ice cream, though have yet to identify a favorite brand; Trader Joe’s is in the running. On Fridays, our children stack all the cartons of ice cream we have on the counter and examine their options before choosing their two servings. On the best days, we have hot fudge to accompany their Shabbat treat. They eat it at the table or the counter; they're not old enough yet to be trusted with ice cream on the couch.
One day we won't put our children to bed at all; maybe we'll even put ourselves to bed before they head to their rooms. It's hard to imagine and we have no idea what will be, what's to come. But I hope we'll understand it together, face it together, rejoice in it together, mourn it together, ice cream and tiny spoons in hand.