Years ago, before we had a baby and when we still knew everything, Matt told me a story about his dad putting him to bed when he was a kid. In a nutshell: he would read to Matt and then sit with him.
“Sit with you?” I said. “What do you mean sit with you? Sit with you while reading? Sit with you while you did homework?”
No, just sit. His dad would sit quietly in the dark with him until he fell asleep.
Now, forgive me Professor Jennings, if you’re reading this. But here’s what I thought of that: Chump. He should have told Matt to go to to sleep, turned out the light, gone downstairs, and enjoyed a nice evening cocktail. No surprise here, I was wrong.
Cut to six years later. We have a boy. He’s the kind of kid who, if given a choice, would prefer to be in physical contact with another human being at all times. He can’t just be in the room with you, he has to be leaning against you in some way. (And I don’t mean this in a bad way – I love it.)
But you can imagine what this means for bedtime. When he was four he got up no fewer than five times in the evening because he wanted water, heard something, was scared, had a question, saw a shadow, was wondering about Michael, etc. Really, I think he just wanted company.
So, I made him a deal. I would read to him and then sit with him for five minutes after the light went out, on the condition that after that five minutes he would go to sleep with no further comment or debate. Now he’s six, almost six and a half, and I’m still doing it.
Fact: he clearly no longer needs me to stay with him for five minutes after lights out.
Fact: He’s sometimes wide awake when I leave the room, so it’s not like I’m putting him to sleep or something.
Fact: Most of the time I have other things I could be doing during this five minute span.
Fact: Those five minutes are some of my favorite minutes of the day.
All day long, John is in constant motion and he never stops talking. He talk talk talks all day without ceasing, and his body is almost as busy. At the end of the day, he reads or I read and then the light goes out, and he slooooowsss dooooown. He stops talking, except for a sleepy (and often hilarious) comment here and there. (Ex: “Mom, Sirius Black would like Ewoks if he knew them.”) He’s still wiggly at first, and then somehow the energy works its way out of his body, usually ending with him slowly waving his hands around in the air before they finally land on the quilt.
If my being there helps him ease out of the day, then that’s ok. But at this stage, I’m really in there for me. Once he’s quiet and still, it’s just nice to spend some time with him. And to be quiet and still myself. It doesn’t happen very often these days.
There are about a million ways that I’m insecure about the job I’m doing as a parent. John thinks almost every food is too spicy, including candy canes. He has no interest in riding a bike or a scooter. I’m sure these and other things are my fault, and I worry about them. But I’m not going to spend time worrying about these five minutes. I don’t think I’m going to look back in twenty years and wish that I hadn’t sat in a dark room and listened to my son go to sleep.