We have a very strict bedtime routine in our family.
It all started when LittleB was a baby. He hated his crib, and would cry all night, forcing us to constantly come in and out of the room or give in and let him sleep with us. Finally, at age one, we decided that it was time for a toddler bed, just to change things up and “start fresh.” So a few days after his first birthday, we moved him from a crib to a mattress on the floor.
At first, it was great! He loved being able to get in and out of the bed on his own. Unfortunately, it meant he got out of the bed on his own, whenever he wanted. Bedtime was suddenly worse! He wouldn’t stay in there by himself, so we started waiting with him, beside his mattress, sort of half sleeping in the bed with him, crunched up on the cold floor, singing songs or reading stories until we were hoarse, waiting for him to pass out so we could sneak away into the night.
After a few months of this, we had enough. It was cry-it-out time. So we put one of those kiddie door handle locks on the inside of his room (he was a tall for a toddler) and abandoned him in there for the night. To make this process more palatable, we set a strict 7-pm bed time, which came with one story, one song, and a few minutes of cuddling. That’s it, then you’re on your own, kid. Eventually this took hold, and we have been blessed with relatively good sleep patterns ever since. And we have continued the bedtime tradition (now with both kids) to this day.
These days, bedtime is usually a lovely moment in the evening, when the kids are settled down and we get to spend some time with them really talking and bonding. Now that LittleB is older, it has become his special few minutes with one of us. Usually we read a couple of chapters of a novel or a few pages of a science fact book, turn off the lights, sing him a song, give a hug and kiss, fix his covers, walk to the door, pause halfway out the doorway to say “Goodnight” one last time, and…
“Yes, what is it?”
“Mommy, what existed before the big bang?”
Are you kidding me?? At this juncture of the evening, while I am literally walking out of the room after half an hour together, are you seriously asking me this huge, far-reaching, speculative, basically unanswerable question??
Indeed, he is. Every single night. Here are some other doorway doozies he’s dropped on us:
- Is there such thing as the end of the world? How do people know about it?
- What would happen if the world stopped spinning?
- Where did life come from?
- How did people come to exist?
- What’s the biggest thing in the whole world? In the universe?
- What would happen if the sun went out?
- Is there other life in the universe?
- How many stars are there?
- How many earths can you fit inside the entire universe?
- When you die, how do you become a ghost?
Do I know what existed before the big bang? Of course not. Maybe I speculate, mumble a couple of things about string theory or dark matter or something, thinking “dear god, make this end so I can go have a gin & tonic and be a human adult for an hour.” Maybe I say something like “I don’t know, buddy, let’s check it on wikipedia tomorrow” or “Neat question, but ohmigod go to sleep already.”
But you know what? I love his questions. Even on the nights when I really want nothing more than to get out of there and decompress on the couch, I usually end up staying there awkwardly, half in the doorway, saying something like “Well, scientists think that before the big bang, there was just nothing. Just a teeny tiny, massively dense ball of matter, and then bang – it suddenly turned into everything! Pretty cool, huh? What do you think about that?” And then I spend an extra ten minutes (or more) standing there while he peppers me with follow-up questions that I can also barely answer.
Some nights, I’m lucky and he asks the question before I get to the door. Other nights he opens up about his feelings on school or friends or life in general, and we spend those extra minutes talking about how to deal. Sometimes our conversations are more like this one (actually, that’s more like BigB’s conversations with him).
Anyway, I think I’ve learned more from our chats than he has. It’s a great addition to our bedtime routine, and I think we’ll try to keep it alive as long as we can!
Pretty cool, huh?