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Joe's Neighborhood

Bedtime rituals

5/5/2021

The reading of the second book is always the most challenging.

I sit next to my 2-year-old son and force my eyes wide while reading that riveting thriller “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” 

“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” 

Ain’t that the truth?

And then I fall sound asleep on the floor while my son sleeps in the bed behind me. 

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After a while, I startle awake and begin the crawl out of the bedroom. So quiet. Each knee and hand gently moving forward. One bump — disaster. One bump and the child my wife’s mom warned would be her penance for her teenage years will wake up.

Arggggggggg…

Dad???

“And some are very, very bad. Why are they sad and glad and bad? I do not know. Go ask your dad.”

Seriously? A grown man? Crawling on his knees? 

Night after night, this ritual played its course. 

Then the second and third kid came along. One on the bed and two on either side. I no longer fell sound asleep by the second book, but would usually last until book number three. But now the books took emotionally dark twists.

“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.” 

Devastation.

That last sentence of “The Polar Express” came out in gasps as I tried to hold onto the words.

I couldn’t.

My kids looked at me slightly perplexed… and demanded the next book.

Sniffling quietly and briefly composing myself, I started “Love You Forever”:

“I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

Heaven help me. Tears run down my cheeks as the mother goes from young to old and the words of love pass from mother to son. A Lion King circle-of-life moment, sure enough. The sentences become blurry. I can’t continue. 

My children fall sound asleep without a care in the world. I, on the other hand, am staring at the wall wondering why I shouldn’t just eat a tub of ice cream and watch “Notting Hill” one more time. 

And now, many years later, my wife reads to our granddaughter as we babysit. I listen at a safe distance.

Stories of making tamales and the vagaries of friendship and the joy of wild beasts. Each is better than the last. I am enraptured.

But then bedtime rolls around. No mom and dad present. The instructions left for Grandma and Grandpa appear to be the procedure for a nuclear bomb launch.

The baby undresses and throws you her soggy diaper;

Do bath;

Wrap her in llama towel;

Put on lotions, otherwise known as “toppings”;

Put on night-time diaper;

Put on pajamas;

Take her to bedroom;

Provide a cup of warm milk;

Provide a bowl of strawberries and dried mango strips;

Read two books;

Brush teeth;

Put her in sleep sack;

Read two more books;

Have her turn on the noise machine and humidifier;

Turn off lights;

Sing a song;

Put her into bed;

Go to local bar.

This is not made up (OK, except for the last one). And I begin to wonder how these kids with these amazing bedtime routines will survive in a world that might not be so caring? You know, a world struggling with climate change and income inequality and racism and sexism and domestic terrorists and guns. Oh, yes, and a pandemic. 

It just doesn’t seem to be a world that honors ANY steps in a bedtime routine.

Then I see a book on my granddaughter’s shelf. My old favorite: “The Polar Express”!

“Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”

Perhaps in this time of vaccines and free Krispy Kremes, it’s time to believe in the future? Time to look forward? Time to breathe?

Why not?

Then my granddaughter, beginning at step 1, throws her soggy diaper at me. ♦

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www. joesneighborhood.com.

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