The first time you decided not to fall asleep during our bedtime routine was, in a way, not the first time. For the first few months of your life, I struggled mightily to coax you into indulging in more than a cat nap. But I knew that those earliest months, you were learning the rhythms, you were hungry or cold or startled, and you were getting used to the world outside the cocoon of my body. But your father could, so it seemed to me, always entice you to slumber. You remained a catnapper during the days, but once you grew a little, you succumbed to my bedtime rituals—reading a story, playing with the book, and lying against me on the bed to listen to a song–as if I were a hypnotist. I would sing “The Water Is Wide,” “Kumbaya,” or “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and the tide of your breathing would become deep and steady by the time I sang about possible unrequited love. Then I’d pick you up and carry you to your crib.
Oh yes, and I did hear Samuel Jackson’s magical voice reading Adam Mansbach’s book, Go the Fuck to Sleep, after I read about the hyp which surrounded its release, and while I found the book to be humorous, I felt the fortune of, somehow, having escaped from the kid who decides not to go to sleep.
Until the day you decided.
I don’t remember the date of your first decision to stay awake, but it was shortly before your ten-month birthday and right around the time your daycare director began, with our blessing, your transition to the toddler room. You’re still half in the infant room and half in the toddler room. In the infant room, you nap and hang out with seven girls. In the toddler room, you visit Circle Time and playtime and occasionally hang out on a mat during naptime.
And now at home, ever since that day, you refuse to buy into my bedtime routine. I read you books, and you listen, you play with them happily, but when we lie down together, you no longer want to hear about love in all its musical forms. Instead you roll onto your stomach, pop your head up as if from a jack-in-the-box, then sit up and start singing to me, “Baba dada” and blowing raspberries as you crawl obliviously toward the edge of the bed before you wail that I’ve interrupted your exploration.
“He won’t go to sleep, and it’s bedtime,” I yell to your father over your chatter and protests.
“Oh he never settles right down. He kicks his feet and moves around a little bit. You just have to keep him lying down.” “What if he rolls over and sits up?”
“Well,” your dad pauses. “I don’t know. But if he’s not tired, let him play.”
Your father, unencumbered by parental research, indulges you in routinelessness. However, I’ve read the same advice in all the parenting books and on all the websites: stick to a good bedtime routine, keep it short and simple, make sure you slow down the activity, if you stick to a routine, you will send the signal that it’s time for bed. But you, Langston—or maybe the experts–are sending me the signal that you can break that routine, and I’ve therefore failed as a parent. Already.
So I pull out the last stop, the one thing your father can’t offer, the breast, and you settle down to suck, and then you either drift away or give a cry or two when the milk is gone before you heed the call of dreamland.
Maybe this is just the new routine. As you gain the mobility to widen your world, the nourishment from my body comforts you and reconnects us, preparing you for slumber.