The first time, I am nice. It’s a refill on water.
The second time, I am still nice. It’s blankets that need to be re-tucked.
The third time, I am a little less nice. It’s a trip to the potty. Probably from that water earlier. Blankets re-re-tucked.
The fourth time, I am even less nice. It’s a book – no, four – to page through in bed.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh times, I am noticeably irritated. This is ridiculous. It’s too much. I’m positive that no one else’s kids do this. I’m certain that everyone else’s kids in the world are in bed, long asleep, after stories and snuggles and kisses and absolutely no negotiations over which pajamas to wear or the number of blankets on top of their little bodies or the amount of water in their cups.
The eighth time, I lose it. The monster emerges, snapping and snarling. It uses harsh words and hands that are less than gentle to re-re-re-re-tuck them into bed.
I step into the hall. The monster retreats but the guilt finds me immediately. I’m positive that no one else does this, no other mother. Everyone else on the planet was patient and kind and loving. They used calm tones and soft hands, even if their children did get out of bed two or twelve times.
The reality is that we all do this, don’t we? At some time, at some point. Bedtime is a popular trigger. We have been kind and calm and patient all day (ahem, most of the day…) and then the nighttime routine hits and all the little demands and delays add up to push us over the edge.
We’re only human, after all. Who else pushes our buttons in just this way, on such a consistent (read: every day) basis? Who else needs us eight times in fifteen minutes for such mundane tasks, tasks that we’ve already done for twelve consecutive hours that day?
As a friend recently put it, these days are “hard in all the ordinary ways.” The mundane of the feeding and the cleaning and the butt wiping and the buckling and the herding and the putting on of the shoes and, yes, the tucking. All the little demands of motherhood that add up and drive us to the point of frustration.
We feel the rest of it, too. That mother guilt. It hits us, hard. We all fall short of the image we have of that perfect mother in our heads. The one who only feeds her children organic, homemade foods. And yet snack today was a handful of Cheez-Its and a package of fruit snacks. The one who has a creative activity ready to go just in time for that late-afternoon slump. And yet you turned on the TV to make it to dinnertime. The one who absolutely, positively, never would yell at her children at bedtime. And yet you so totally just did.
We make promises to ourselves: next time I will be nicer, kinder, calmer. I will be that mom, the good one. And we do our best, we do.
The best we can do is to take care of ourselves after that moment. A glass of water, a good book, our favorite show, some adult conversation, and sleep. We apologize, later, for that moment last night. We show our children that we are human after all, that this is what it looks like to mess up, to own up, to take responsibility.
We look forward to the best promise of all: the promise of tomorrow. A clean slate, a fresh start, another chance to do it all over again. Tomorrow will bring more of the same.
Except for bedtime. Tomorrow, we are definitely hoping for a smoother bedtime.