The Long Kiss Goodnight

The bedroom is quiet, the ceiling a field of green and blue stars projected from a turtle nightlight. Chopin’s Nocturne’s are playing from the iPod speakers. My daughter is lying on her bed, staring at me. And I am lying on the floor reading. It is the end of our bedtime ritual, known in our family as The Lie Down. I think it’s fair to say that I have lain down for my daughter, rolled over, played dead. I am her handmaiden. My husband still puts up a fight, but I’d say he’s pretty much doing her bidding, too.

Not in any spoiling, ruinous way. Really — it’s just this one issue. My daughter likes me to lie beside her while she drifts off to sleep. But she has always (and I mean always) slept in her own bed. She is asleep by eight most nights. And she is a solid eleven-hour sleeper. To most parents I know this sounds like a miracle. Partially, she’s just a really good girl. But partially, I think, it has to do with our bedtime ritual.

We started as we meant to go on. It was advice we read in The Baby Whisperer and took very much to heart. We set our nighttime ritual early and we set it in stone: dinner, bath time, stories, and sleep. No matter where we were in the world, no matter what else was going on, this routine has been in place. Sometimes it’s a bit later, or sometimes we’re doing it on a plane, or in a hotel. But as much as we can, we’ve kept it consistent. We asked a lot of our girl early on; she logged more than a hundred flights before she was five years old. The least we could do was keep things as predictable as possible. Little humans really dig that.

It’s just that this one little element that crept in about two years ago. Ocean was sick. She had a bad ear infection, a high fever, and she was struggling with sleep. So I took to lying by her bed until she finally drifted off. The ear infection went away, but the habit did not. It solidified itself into the ritual. And it has remained, but only for me.

Jeff has managed to somehow avoid The Lie Down which can last anywhere from ten to forty minutes. Jeff will say an hour or an hour and a half, but that’s because I read a lot longer than he does, too. During this time, I will generally read in the dim light (I’m losing my eyesight by the way). Sometimes I close my eyes and rest, or play word games on the iPad. But a lot of times, there’s talking, laughing, questions, funny noises, goofing around – all interspersed with my getting (unconvincingly) stern about going to bed. Go to sleep, Ocean. No more talking. I mean it. I’m leaving. I really am. Okay, ten more minutes but go sleep.

Sometimes, when I’m tired or stressed, or just not in the mood, I find this ritual annoying. And I’m kind of grumpy about it. She doesn’t care. She wants me there, happy about it or not, and often she falls asleep with her eyes on me. They flutter, check to see if I’m still there, flutter again, and finally close.

You have to put your foot down, my mother says. She knows you’re soft, my husband says. She knows you’ll give in.

And, of course, it’s true. I am soft when it comes to my girl.  I’d literally do anything for her and doesn’t she know it. But the truth is I’m taking the long view here. How much longer, I wonder, will my daughter want me to lie beside her bed as she goes to sleep? At some point, isn’t she almost guaranteed to say something like: “Get out of my room, Mom!” or even worse?

At the moment, this quiet space at the end of the day is where it all comes out. All her thoughts and questions, all her silly jokes, all her beautiful, brilliant wise comments about the world, what’s happening at school, what she’s worried about, afraid of, pondering. And I love being there for it, even when I just want to go to sleep myself.

When she’s grown and gone, and I have all the time in the world at the end of the day, I know how much I’m going to miss this funny, full, crazy evenings with my little daughter. And then I’ll close my eyes and remember the long kiss goodnight.