A Bedtime Story

Idara won’t go to sleep when I want her to, but I don’t know that yet. Right now she’s getting ready: standing at attention while I lean over her head and brush her mouthful of tiny sparkling teeth. Every night I tell her, “If you take care of your teeth they will take care of you.”

Next is the toilet. Her butt is too small to fill the seat, so she sinks in so deep that she struggles to get back out. I always know when she’s done because she walks up to me, looks me square in the eyes and says, “I peed.” She says it as if it’s one of her crowning achievements, which of course it is.

She pulls on a diaper, then pajamas. “Is this the right way?” she asks. It is not, so she pulls her arms back in, and her feet back in, and tries again.

Now her tags are in the back and she’s ready to say goodnight. One for Gordy and Suellen and another for Rachael. She hugs and kisses like she’s preparing for some extended absence, even though we know that in two minutes she’ll be out of her bedroom again, asking for water, or to pee one more time, or sometimes, just to say hi.

Sometimes I tuck the blanket around her and walk out of the room, only to turn around and see her standing at the doorway. “I need you to tuck me in!” she says. “But I just did that,” I respond. She smiles, runs back to her bed and says, “Do it again!” And so I do it again. But I swear to her that this is the last time, just like last time was the last time, and even though I know she can put the blanket on herself, have seen it with my own eyes, she will demand that I do it, and will not go to sleep until I wrap it around her and tuck it in. Eleven times.

Bedtime is better recounted than experienced. In the moment, when she refuses to go to bed, I am my worst self. I am a shell of a father. Here she is in all of her three-year-old glory, trying to milk one last drop of love from this wonderful day, and all I can feel is my temper shortening and my patience evaporating. If I can collect my thoughts in these moments of frustration, then I tell myself that someday she’ll grow out of this.

Other nights are better. Just last night we walked into the bedroom and she said, for the first time, “You choose the books, Papa.” So I pull three books from the bookshelf: Chirri and Chirra in the Tall Grass, Where the Wild Things Are, and Guess How Much I Love You. My favorites. She sits on my left for the first book, and then on my right, and then on my left again. She hoists her arm up onto my shoulder and leans in to kiss me on the side of the head. Eleven times.

After we finish reading she rises without saying a word and turns off the lamp. She asks me to choose the song, too, and so I sing a ditty by Brandi Carlile. You carry me along with you, keep my spirit strong you do. Idara walks up to me and lays across my chest, her head resting on my shoulder and her arms limp at my sides. In a moment she’ll crawl into bed and continue the singing until she’s asleep, but for now I hug her tight and tack on an extra verse, because someday she’ll grow out of this.