The nightmare of bedtime


In a more perfect world, a young child's bedtime would unfold in a relaxed and orderly manner.

At precisely 8 p.m., he or she would yawn, stretch and announce to mom and dad: "Whew, I'm whipped! Been going hard all day with the Big Bird coloring book, the tricycle, the swings . . . sometimes I wonder how I do it.

"Anyway, time to brush my teeth and hit the sack. No, don't bother tucking me in -- I see you're watching 'Matlock.' See you folks in the morning."

As it stands now, however, the process is considerably more involved:

8 p.m. -- Parent gently announces it's bedtime. Child takes this news gracefully -- if you overlook way he hurls himself to the floor and sobs hysterically.

8:01 -- Child announces in a loud, agitated voice that he's "not even tired!" Says he doesn't "care what anyone says, I'm not going to bed!" In a lengthy, tearful diatribe, child accuses parents of being unspeakably mean and wonders aloud if he wasn't adopted, vaguely alluding to story of legendary Romulus and Remus suckled by a she-wolf.

8:02 -- Sensing defeat, child locks both arms around coffee table leg, vows to remain in this position until parents come to their senses and rescind bedtime edict.

8:04 -- Child's arms are pried apart with crowbar and channel locks. Child then flops to carpet in classic dead-weight, limp-noodle style used by non-violent protesters from Gandhi to Berrigan brothers; whines that he's too exhausted to walk upstairs.

8:05 -- Dad carries child upstairs and promptly pulls something in lower back, triggering beginnings of lifelong degenerative disc problem.

8:09 -- Time to brush teeth. Child makes funny faces at himself in bathroom mirror. With painful deliberation, he places toothpaste on toothbrush.

8:10 -- Toothpaste falls off toothbrush. Child smears it into sink in rococo swirls of a delicate though undefined nature.

8:11 -- Dad grits teeth and says: "Can we speed this up, buddy?" Child scowls and says: "I'm going as fast as I can!"

8:12 -- Actual brushing commences, with child using exhaustive one-tooth-at-a-time method. Dad speculates that with such thorough oral hygiene habits, child should not develop first cavity until age 42.

8:16 -- Time for a quick bedtime story. Dad opts to read Berenstain Bears classic "The Messy Room," skipping over every other sentence in an effort to move things along.

8:18 -- Child wonders aloud about gaps in plot continuity and character development in story. Demands to know what happened to part when Brother Bear's bird's nest collection is nearly tossed in the trash.

8:24 -- Child insists on another bedtime story. "Make one up, Daddy!" child implores. Dad stammers through thoroughly unconvincing tale about, um, this bullfrog named, oh, Jeremiah, who went off to seek his fame and fortune in . . . Chicago. Anyway, one day Jeremy ("You said his name was Jeremiah, Dad!") was waiting for a bus, when . . .

8:30 -- Child expresses gratitude for dad's effort by calling tale of Jeremiah the Bullfrog the "stupidest" he ever heard.

8:31 -- Child asks for drink of water. Takes one sip, asks: "Where does water come from?" Dad stumbles through halting explanation of hydrologic cycle, including evaporation, precipitation, transpiration of plants, etc. Child begins playing with his toes.

8:35 -- Child blurts out: "Know who the meanest kid in our class is?" Dad says he has no idea, whereupon child launches into stinging indictment of Nils Jorgenson, who never lets anyone borrow his crayons and who was the thug who tripped Joey Ferrante on the playground.

8:40 -- Lights out. Dad gives child good-night kiss, takes three steps out door only to hear child yell: "Dad, come back! It's important!"

8:41 -- Child says he takes back everything said about Nils Jorgenson. Says Nils is an altar boy compared to Danny Molloy, a budding hoodlum who smacked Justin Fevrier at snack time for not sharing goldfish crackers.

8:45 -- Lights out: The Sequel. Dad is halfway down stairs when piercing, unearthly wail emanates from child's room. Rushing back up stairs, dad stumbles and bangs head violently against banister, setting in motion lifelong equilibrium problems and unexplained headaches.

8:46 -- Child tearfully explains that cartoon earlier in evening about spooky witch who eschews standard broomstick mode of travel for late-model Nissan Sentra has left him frightened and disoriented in darkened room. Asks Dad to lie next to him for a few minutes.

8:55 -- Finally, sleep at last. Dad is out like a light. Child will be up until approximately 10:45, playing with his toes.

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