It's 7pm and bedtime is beckoning, holding out a gin and tonic and the remote control like a cruel temptress. After a day of soft play, nursery pick ups, endless cbeebies, tantrums, dinner thrown on the floor and chocolate smeared over every surface, the evening will be yours to do as you please.
A whole evening with no complaining, shouting or having snot rubbed on your jeans. Well, that's the dream. In reality, it's a couple of hours if you are lucky until you fall asleep, dribbling on the sofa through exhaustion and promising yourself you will catch up on the washing in the morning. Still, the end is in sight; only the hurdle of getting the children to actually go to sleep to conquer before your small taste of freedom.
When people say to me "My child goes to bed at 7pm", I always eye them suspiciously. Either they are too perfect and have raised the sort of mythical children who go to bed for twelve hours a night with a cheerful "goodnight, Mother! Goodnight, Father!" or they are very good liars.
Okay, perhaps 'liar' is slightly harsh. What I mean is, by a 7pm bedtime, do they mean their child is happily asleep in their own bed at 7pm, or my version of a 7pm bedtime, which is basically starting to harp on about going to sleep at 7pm, with the child hopefully, finally being in the land of nod by midnight?
I know I am not alone in my nightly battle of the bed; the struggle is the same the world over. Tired children who will not go sleep for love nor money. There is always one more story to be read, one more drink to be drunk and one more wee to be wee'd.
When the stories, drinks and bathroom visits are finally finished, it's time for your offspring to tug on your heart strings and ask for more cuddles as they tell you how much they love you. The first lesson in parenting is never fall for this; it's a particularly cruel bedtime delaying tactic, dolled out by children who have exhausted all other means, and it can be easy to fall for - especially if you are craving a bit of love and affection after a day of being tantrum at and made to feel like the worst parent on the planet for not letting your child have a bumper pack of Quavers for lunch.
About an hour after you first put them in their bed, you finally think it's time to retreat from the bedroom with a final goodnight kiss. This is when the child pulls out the big guns: the monster under the bed. It's such a cliché, but they seem to all have this bedtime trick inbuilt from birth. As tired as you now are yourself, you duly turn on the torch on your phone and commence the search for the monster. Every nook and cranny of the room must be scoured to assure the child that no monster exists. A few more minuets of 'thank you' hugs and kisses and you try to creep out again.
This time your bid for freedom takes you as far as the landing before a little voice calls out "I need a wee". This one statement leaves you with two choices: a) you get them up for a wee and risk another hour of stories and monster searching or b) call their bluff and breezily day "no, you don't darling, you just had one - goodnight!" before skipping merrily away down the stairs.
If you go with plan B, just remember that you will have the niggling thought at the back of your head all night of, "will they wet the bed? Will I be up at 2am changing sheets?" Lets face it, there is nothing like a child scorned, so if they can squeeze out a mattress soaking wee in the small hours just to spite you for daring to go downstairs, they will; I have never seen anyone hold a grudge like a disgruntled three year old.
If you have the kind of child who insists you stay with them until they fall asleep, then you are in for a special kind of treat - the bedroom creep away. The SAS train for years to be able to sneak up quietly on the enemy, but they have nothing on us parents.
As your child finally drifts off to sleep, you sit in your contorted, uncomfortable position on the edge of the bed with a crick in your neck and your pants cutting into your bum. You count their every breath and wait until their breathing slows and they are finally, thankfully asleep. You disentangle yourself from their clutches, silently and gently prizing each tiny finger from your hand with the lightness of a feather and stand up from the bed impossibly slowly, never making a sound.
Then you creep out of the room. Experience has told you which of the floorboards squeak, so you have your own, special mental map of the room, which you have learned to navigate with the stealth of a ninja. You can see the crack of light front the bedroom door coming ever closer, literally the light at the end of the tunnel, and as the Eastenders theme tune wafts upstairs like a chorus of Angles, you can almost taste the freedom.
Then, you get a text message and with that shrill bleep (why, didn't you put your phone on silent! Why?) your evening is over as the child wakes with a jump and demands to know where you are, thus confining you to your contorted position between the wall and three thousand teddy bears for another forty-five minuets of torture.
What ever your bedtime 'method' is, just remember that the peace is short lived. While you may finally get that hour to watch reality TV and inhale a pizza, come 3am, the tiny pitter patter of feet making their way to your bedroom to repeatedly kick you in the ribs for the rest of the night will be heard.
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