I wish I could better remember bedtimes from when I was a child. One of the few things I recall is my dad saying goodnight to us. While we lay in bed, cozy under our rainbow sheets, he'd come in, sing us an original song ("goodnight dear girls, goodnight. Goodnight dear girls, goodnight. Goodnight dear girls. Goodnight dear girls. Goodnight dear girls. Goodnight"), flick the lights on and off for a few seconds, and then leave the room dark as he walked out.
Did we then immediately get up and demand a glass of water? Did we sneak out of bed and start playing with our toys noisily? Did we scream and scream and scream for our parents to come in? Or did we just go to bed, exhausted from a day of playing and bike riding, so thoroughly ready to catch some shut-eye?
If my children's bedtimes are any indication, I must have been an absolute terror because I'm pretty sure I'm paying penance for some really horrible shit I did in my childhood. For the past seven years, we have not had a single easy bedtime. It usually drags on for over an hour and any goodwill that we might have had for each other as a family at the beginning of the night has dissipated by the time Darla and Jude drift off to sleep. We've never said "good night" to our kids at bedtime and had that be the last time we see their faces until morning. They're so diligent about dragging out bedtime that I sometimes think they consider it to be their job. They even nag us in shifts. If one is too tired, the other one covers for them and carries the brunt of annoyingness.
As for the people who have children they're able to "tire out" by having them run and play in the hot sun for eight hours straight, I have nothing but ire for you. When you say, "these kids are going to sleep great tonight," I'm so tempted to say "fuck off." Your kids might be begging to go to bed at 7:00 as they struggle to keep their eyes open after playing a little too hard. They nestle themselves into your shoulder, already asleep by the time you reach their room. My kids, on the other hand, never want the party to end. While you're tucking your kids into bed, my kids are sneaking handfuls of candy and having dance parties in their rooms. An hour past their bedtime, they're lighting up sparklers and begging to go back to the pool. Your kids are deep in their REM cycle, and my kids are just settling in to watch JFK in its entirety.
Every night it's a struggle, and I've tried everything to make it better: reward charts, calming music, sound machines, blackout curtains, earlier bedtimes, and meditations. I've enacted strict cabaret laws and have forbidden dancing after seven, effectively turning our home into the town from Footloose. Nothing has worked.
So, after seven years, I'm on the verge of waving the white flag; tell my kids that I give up and that they've won. We will no longer enforce bedtimes. But every time I get to the edge of letting my kids take over our house completely, I dig deep and shore up a little glimmer of hope. I find the strength to carry on and march ever towards the goal of an easy bedtime after which I can finally finish watching The Staircase.