Thursday, February 16, 2012

Because I Said So: Bedtime pleas won't deter parents' voyage into silence

I only have one child left who will stand for me to read to her. The boys consider themselves too old and learned for that sort of thing and G, at 5 years old, will only be read to by her mother these days. But S still looks forward to being read to at bedtime. She doesn't look forward so much to bedtime itself, but seems to enjoy our time together and the stories told.

We just finished up "Treasure Island" and we both enjoyed it. I was worried she would grow bored with Robert Louis Stevenson's tale as it's written with all the formal, roundabout 19th-century speak of the Victorian language. But she hung in there. After a chapter - or during - I would stop and we would discuss what was going on so that we both stayed on course and understood just what the conversation and action was all about. And there is plenty of action for a 9 year old, from threats and gun play to knife-throwing, mutiny and desertion on an uninhabitable island.

It was great fun reading this classic to my daughter and I'm proud of her for staying with it, thinking about it and being willing to discuss it all.

The book and my daughter's own bedtime mutiny is the ballast for today's Because I Said So column copied below. S and I hope you enjoy it, mateys.

I've lately been reading Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" to my 9-year-old daughter at bedtime. Chapter by chapter, we've sailed into the world of buccaneers and squalls, nameless islands and chatty parrots. And night by night, Somerset has pleaded for just 30 more minutes to stay up. The thought of sleep to her, to most kids I would imagine, is akin to walking the plank.

A whole day's worth of fun, hours' worth of television, video games and arguing with siblings, she seems to think, are to be found in that final half-hour before lights out. The unfairness of being forced to her bunk at a reasonable time is quite apparent to her.

Like the characters of Long John Silver, Captain Flint and young Jim Hawkins, Somerset schemes and plots nightly to uncover the treasure of consciousness past the 9-o'clock hour. What fun must take place from then until morning with adults eating ice cream as though it were good for us, drinking a cask of rum, or watching television and movies with explosions and expletives.

Sure, all of that happens, but it's our right.

After four decades of living, my cumulative experience and wisdom have led me to understand one truth, one undeniable right as unwavering as the pirate's code itself: "zzz" marks the spot. Our children's slumber marks the spot at the end of the day when no one is asking for anything, whining over perceived wrongs, destroying my ship-shape kitchen or arguing with me. There is silence over the horizon of bedtime, and it's what we parents set our course for from the moment we wake. The S.S. Because I Said So is fully provisioned and looking to anchor in the protected Bay of Solitude.

My daughter pleads, rationalizes and emphatically insists that she is not tired. The dark circles, half-closed lids and general crankiness, however, tell me otherwise. By the end of a long school day, there is a map of fatigue etched across her face.

And still she begs.

She's not the only one. We've suffered through night terrors, bad dreams, needing another drink of water ... drink of milk ... hug ... trip to the bathroom. Children are a deceptive crew when it comes to evading sleep. The tricks seem to be universal, and not all that dissimilar to ones I employed as a child.

So perhaps I had it coming to me. Maybe we do reap what we sow. Maybe I should have welcomed sleep when I was 9, and looked upon it as the chance for rest and renewal. And if I had, maybe my own kids would think of bedtime in the same way and leave us with calm waters and balmy breezes each night instead of our regularly scheduled 8:30 p.m. mutiny.
Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

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