Bedtime starts with a race. In between, there is everything from brushing teeth to dancing and learning how to bake.
The race started in the kitchen.
"The first one to touch my bed is the winner," my 5-year-old proclaimed. "Dad, don't cheat."
For a routine meant to calm everyone down, you'd think a sprint would be a bad way to kick things off. But, with kids, you often have to go with the flow.
So bedtime starts with a race. In between, there is everything from brushing teeth to dancing and learning how to bake.
"I have never cheated," I declared. "I am just superior in the art of competition."
"Nuh-uh," she replied.
She made a good argument.
"You're the cheater," I prodded. "You start too early."
She stomped her foot and glared at me, announcing I was jealous because of her amazing speed. I admitted I was.
My 2-year-old stood between us, listening. Then she spoke quick and loud: "Ready, go!" She took off down the hall. She turned left into her room instead of right into sister's room. Her sister turned right, and they both tagged their beds and declared themselves winners.
"You are both winners," I announced proudly as I closed their doors. "Good night."
"Dad!" they screamed in unison. "What about stories?"
There's a reason we start bedtime early. It's a long affair.
"Are you sure you don't want to skip stories tonight and get some extra sleep?" I said jokingly.
My little one looked up at me with big eyes. "Nope," she said.
A compromise was offered: They would read stories to me as long as I let them watch baking shows. Each "read" me a story. This technique pays less attention to the words on the page and more to describing the pictures. Stories go pretty fast when you don't get bogged down in plot. I read the third book, going a little more over the top on character voices since it was my only performance of the night.
Once stories are done, we sing songs. At one time, my wife would sing lullabies, lightly stroking their hair until the weight of the day put them in slumber. Now, each wants stage time. They stand in the middle of the room and sing original tunes. My oldest claps her hands and rhymes words until her rhymes aren't even words anymore but gibberish that makes her giggle. Our little one jumps up and down and yells/sings "chicken butt" until we play her off stage. Then they offer dance interpretations of the lullabies my wife sings.
If they're good, I let them watch a few baking shows. I don't know when this became a part of our routine, but it has stuck around because we all like it. I'll scroll through the million or so baking shows online. These are sped up, so you can learn how to bake anything in 30 seconds. Each of them gets to pick a video. My 2-year-old repeats each ingredient as I read it off the screen. I'm pretty sure either of them could whip up a professional cake if we ever let them use the oven.
And then, finally, with only hours to spare before the sun comes up, bedtime officially arrives. Unless, of course, they need to use the bathroom, which they do. Or if they need a drink of water, which they do.
I like our long routine. No matter where the day takes us, we always have this time with each other. And when it's over, I am definitely ready for bed.
David Manley is a husband and father and an editor at The Canton Repository. Share your stories with him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter: @DaveManley.