"The only thing worth stealing is a kiss from a sleeping child." - Joe Houldsworth

March 18, 2008

Sickness not withstanding, bedtime is my favorite time of day.

My mother worked nights for almost my entire childhood (she was a single parent and we lived in my Grandparents' big farmhouse), so my Grandmother put me to bed every night for many, many years. Last night as I was struggling to get E to find sleep so I could put my own stuffy head to bed, I realized how strongly my bedtime routine with E has been influenced by my own childhood bedtime.

I was brought up as a co-sleeper out of necessity; there were only two bedrooms in my Grandparents' farmhouse - my Grandparents occupied one and my mother and I occupied the other. I shared a bed with my mother until I was five or six, until a room over the kitchen was insulated and made over into my mother's bedroom.

Every night, at bedtime, my Grandmother would snuggle up in bed with me (in the bed that is in our guest room right now, actually) and read to me for as long as I wanted - often an hour or more - until I fell asleep. I always had a late bedtime (I realize now) so that my mother could sleep a bit later in the mornings, rather than having me wake her up at 6 am when she had just gotten home from work at 130. So it just didn't matter that I wasn't falling asleep "one cue."

We read everything, many things two or three times. All of Pooh, the Oz books, Little House, Alice. Plus other classics not thought of as books for young children these days - Dickens, Treasure Island, even (I think) some Poe and other short stories. (There was a book called something like The Hundred Greatest Short Stories Ever Written that we read from often, but that I was never able to find in the house after my Grandfather died.)

Now, at bedtime with my own son, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to snuggle with E in our big bed with me and start reading. We read and read and read - no more-words-than-pictures classics yet (although I'm getting ready to start Pooh with him since he's now somewhat familiar with the Disney cartoon version), but many classic board books (Goodnight Moon, S. Boynton's Going to Bed Book, Mike Mulligan) and a good deal of Dr Seuss (He's crazy about Green Eggs and Ham and asks for it daily by pointing and repeating "Ham Ham Ham Ham" until I pull it out of the basket).

This time before sleep with him is the best time of all. He's snuggled close in the crook of my arm, resting his head against me, feet tucked under my hip, looking up at me with those big grey eyes, the blankets pulled up around our chins. We're warm and snug and its all about me and him - no distractions, no crazy running about. We read the stories and point at pictures and name animals and talk a little about what we can. Sometimes I tell him little stories - about my childhood, remembrances of things brought forth from the pictures or the snuggles or both.

For Christmas, my mother gave me a quilt that had belonged to my Grandmother which is currently laying atop our own bed. E loves that quilt, and always asks that it be tucked up around him specially close. Last night I told him how I snuggled in bed with my Grandmother under that very same quilt, and showed him one of the blocks that my mother had mended with pieces from a dress that I had worn as a girl. Then, at the end, when I see his eyes getting heavy, we always sing two songs: A version of Hush Little Baby that is different from the one you're familiar with, without diamond rings and with more nature in it, then E's own lullaby that I made up for him when he was a tiny baby, words I worked out as I sat for hours with him in the middle of the night while he slowly nursed.

I don't know how much of this he'll remember, of course. Josh has a different bedtime routine with him, one that is more focused on getting him into his own bed and laying his head down and getting him to sleep so that Josh can continue on with whatever needs to be done.

But I don't think I'll change my routine with him for a long time yet. That quiet time with him is too valuable to me. As he gets older we'll read different things and talk about them more, and I hope he'll finally end as I did - reading to me rather than me reading to him. But my hope is that he will remember the thing that I remember - not the books, not the words, but the closeness and warmth and love.