7:06 PM. An eerie stillness lies over the rubble-strewn battlefield. Tension builds, an uneasy anticipation gripping the foes. Each side casts furtive glances at its opponent as they prepare for the inevitable, calculating the perfect moment for action.
The rugged commander glances gravely at his watch, dreading the moment in which this storm will break. He knows he must make the first move, yet he hesitates. Perhaps this time it will be different, he thinks, a faint hope in his heart. Perhaps this time, the enemy will surrender without a fight. Yet he knows this will never happen. This foe will fight bitterly to the end, as always. The hollow circles under his eyes betray the fatigue of battles past. He sighs, resigning himself to the impending struggle, mere moments away.
Another glance. The commander gathers his resolve. The time to act has come. He rises slowly, facing the enemy.
Then, with fire in his eyes and authority in his voice, he issues the dreadful command:
"Okay, time to get ready for bed!"
And so begins the nightly titanic clash of wills that we call bedtime.
The rubble-strewn battlefield, of course, is our living room, where by this time of the night, toys cover every square inch of the floor to a depth of two feet. The kids are playing quietly, trying to draw as little attention as possible in the hope that they can somehow avoid clean-up and bedtime.
When the announcement is made (usually after several warnings and the kitchen timer being set), the kids still manage to act shocked and outraged, and when they realize they'll need a bulldozer, backhoe, and dump truck to clean up the mess, they conveniently realize they really have to go potty. After all, if they can leave the room without having to clean up, they just might get out of it, right? My wife and I have tried bribery. We've tried choosing a "magic toy" (they have to put away ALL the toys to find out which toy it was; the kid who puts it away gets M&Ms), and that works sometimes. But these little guys are smart. They change tactics. One night you do something that works, the next, they change up the game plan, dragging their feet again. Granted, M&Ms would only motivate me so far, but we're doing everything we can here. And all of this is just clean-up. We haven't even gotten to the tough stuff yet.
After we're cleaned up and potty and jammie time is announced, we get to have a foot race. The little speedsters think it's funny to run away from mom and dad. I know they think it's funny because they laugh at us while they run. If we're lucky and they're still wearing their socks, the pursuit is pretty short due to slippage on the hardwood floors. But barefoot? Look out, Usain Bolt.
Next, we dig in for the repetitive directions portion of the night. "Go potty, please."...take away toy...repeat four times. "Okay, brush your teeth."...footrace, capture...repeat twice. "Put your jammies on, Brady."...pick child up off the floor where he says he's been frozen by the evil emperor Zurg and can't move (classic stalling tactic; everyone knows Zurg has a death-ray cannon, not a freeze-ray.)...repeat instructions a final time before just dressing him myself since we're on a schedule and I don't have time to haggle anymore. He grins smugly the whole time. I'm unashamed to admit that sometimes they win this little part of the skirmish. Whew.
Finally, we start story time, a deceptively innocuous little term for what is actually a complex multi-step ritual that must be observed to the letter. I usually put Brady to bed, and his routine goes like this: First, I tell him a fantastic story that's usually based on his current favorite Disney movie in which he plays the hero, but it usually involves multiple interjections such as, "No, tell it where Peter Pan flies in through the window and the kids are surprised again.", so it's really him that tells his own story. Then we read Bible stories because, as Brady often reminds us, it's important to read the Bible. Next, he has to be told "clues", in which we describe loosely related things and he has to guess what they are. Exactly five clues; no less, no more. Finally, it's prayer time and off to bed, but then he has to go potty again. Then he needs another kiss. Anything to drag out the process another moment. It's simultaneously aggravating and endearing, but mostly endearing. In the parlance of parents: you pick your battles.
8:47 PM. The battlefield is silent again, the storm has passed. Another battle, another victory.
We look in on our peacefully sleeping little combatants and kiss their sleepy little heads, breathing in that divine smell which is the sole province of little kid hair. All the fuss seems like a dream. The bedtime rites have been observed and we know the process will be repeated tomorrow night, of course, but we don't care. Just look at those rosy cheeks and that tousled hair. This nightly struggle is a privilege to live out.
After all, we always win.