“One more Peppa Pig and then it’s time to go to bed. No, I said ONE more. JUST. ONE. MORE!”
“Brush your teeth, properly. PROPERLY! Don’t stick the toothbrush THERE!”
“Put your pyjamas on. Where are you going? Put your pyjama trousers on! Not on your head! Take them off your head! Take the trousers OFF YOUR HEAD!”
The bed time routine. The last push. The eternal battle between adult and child; one party desperate to push the envelope, milk the minutes and extend the day; and one party desperate to curtail, to finish, to seek closure.
The friction. The tension. The exhaustion.
Sometime around 6:30pm our family moves into the bedtime routine. I feel it as a parent, and the children are feeling it too.
The older child might complain of tiredness, but the younger child will never let on, and will continue to run around the house, a morass of flailing limbs and wobbly sprinting.
But he will be betrayed by the occasional flop on a chair, a rubbing of the eyes and the ultimate give away – the yawn.
This is the signal. The yawn.
It’s time to warm the milk and put on the DVD.
It’s a familiar routine, goodness knows how it started but it kind of works. Warm milk in front of 20 minutes of whatever DVD happens to be in vogue at the time.
Each child gets to choose one episode. These are the rules.
It is beautiful watching each one take it in turns to choose their episode. They revel in their empowerment, exercising their right to choose and they deliberate for what seems like an age before finally selecting their choice.
Each selection is accompanied with gleeful bragging rights and a giggly sprint back to the sofa.
The other child will take exception to the choice, but it will be only temporary. It is all part of the pattern, part of the routine.
And the episodes will finish and there will be a momentary tantrum when the television is turned off, but both children know that there are bigger fights ahead, so they reserve their energy.
The parents may have won this battle, but there is still a war to be waged before this day is out.
Climbing the stairs is another battle. The older child is quick, up in a heartbeat, mind set on the mischief that can now be caused in the upstairs domain.
The younger child delays, deliberating over each dangerous step; pausing to inspect every wood knot on the handrail, every speck of dust on the stair runner and every dead spider that resides on the Staircase of Wonder.
There are some nights when I can deal with this, and sometimes even entertain this journey of exploration. But tonight is not one of them. My objective is to complete the routine as quickly as possible, get the children safe and snug into bed and get back downstairs to whatever treasure awaits.
And the treasure could be a glass of wine, it could be a pint of beer, it could be a favourite television show, a conversation with the wife, a favourite book or just simply a sit-down-and-stare at whatever object happens to be in eye line.
It doesn’t matter what it is. It is a reward.
A reward for knowing I have made mistakes that day, but that I will grow from them
A reward for knowing that I have done the best I can, that I have been the best I can be and that I have loved with as much room as there is in my heart.
And a reward for knowing that I have got my children safely through another day, with some degree of decorum, mental health and personal hygiene still intact.
So the reward is there in my mind’s eye. It looms larger and larger, sometimes taunting, sometimes alluring. But it’s there.
And it’s there, calling like a wanton siren from the shadows, when for the millionth time toothpaste ends up smeared on my black work jumper.
It’s there throwing its hair back and fluttering its eyelids as one child escapes half naked back downstairs and the other attempts to flush their face flannel down the toilet.
It’s still there, beguiling and flirtatious, as the young one refuses to get undressed and the older one, cackling manically, does a naked swan dive into the laundry basket, sending clothes spilling over the floor.
It’s like herding cats. Crazy, psychotic toddler cats.
But soon we are reading books. Nearly there, last push.
Same rules apply, each child gets to choose one book.
Some nights the book choices are great – short, easy and quick, entertaining even for the adult.
Other nights the choices are long, deadly dull books.
Tonight is one of the latter. I resist the urge to persuade the child to choose another book, and read it for the umpteenth time, almost on auto pilot. I get no enjoyment from it, but the children are spellbound.
Then I tuck the older child up, she goes down easily and snuggles up in her duvet. The younger one is still fighting, refusing to get into his grow bag, starting to meltdown.
I am not in the mood for this, and I can feel a knot of tension rising in my chest. I start to sing and rub his chest and immediately his eyes open and his body relaxes enough for me to get his legs and arms into the grow bag and the zip done up.
I breathe a sigh of relief and pull the side of the cot up, the final signal that it is over, the day is over.
I kiss them both good night and they both make one final complaint, but I am walking out of the door, and it is a half-hearted complaint. The day is over and they know it.
I find something to do in the room next to them for a few minutes and then check back in on them.
Both fast asleep, snoring.
I allow myself a smile. I am standing there, a muddle of warm tingly emotions, fatigue and exhaustion and I watch them sleep and my heart melts.
I count my blessings that I have steered them safely through another day. One of many in what I hope will be a long and happy journey.
I count my blessings that they are safe, that we live in a country of peace, where bombs do not drop, and warmth and shelter and love are a given.
I count my blessings that however exhausted I am come the end of days, the love I feel for my children is a constant presence in my heart.
This is the bed time routine.
I make for the landing and close their bedroom door behind me, the last stage in the process.
I check my watch and make a quick calculation. I can get through the tidy up process and still have an hour or so for myself. My shoulders relax and I breathe out a sigh of relief.
The cork comes easily out of the bottle of wine.
The last push is over. For tonight at least.
I originally wrote this post as part of an anonymous blogger feature on mypetitcanard.co.uk, go check it out, its a great blog. Or follow on Twitter @MyPetitCanard