This is what we do every night: We take her to her room. We read her a few stories like Goodnight Moon, or The Very Busy Spider, or Little Fur Family, or Moo, Baa, La La La (the current favorites). She plays a little, and I love that part, when that's all we're doing is loving her and focusing on her, and trying to make her feel happy and safe enough to sleep well. All day we've been about distracted business, all of us pursuing different ends with various means. But at night, we meet there, connected and clear about our purpose.
At least Sam and I are there for the same purpose. Henrietta would, in general, prefer we were meeting there for something entirely different. We attempt to distract her while one of us puts on her nighttime diaper and her pajama footie suit. She screams and tries to escape during that part. Sometimes she succeeds and gets halfway across the room, and I dread the night (it's bound to happen, right?) when she lets loose and pees during that window of time when she's diaperless. But eventually we wrestle her into submission and into her clothes, and we all feel glad that's over.
When it's clear she's ready (or, let's face it, when we're spent), one of us begins to sing, "Popcorn Popping" and the other joins in. It is perhaps the current greatest pleasure in my whole life, hearing Sam sing "Popcorn Popping"--an LDS children's song--with me. We sing, he sings, "I can take an armful and make a treat: a popcorn ball that would smell so sweet!" Sometimes he does the hand motions. Sometimes he does a rap version. (You're jealous that you haven't heard that one; trust me.)
Then we say goodnight to things. When I do, I say stuff like, "Goodnight bookshelf. Goodnight teddy bear. Goodnight pretty painting of boats." (Sidenote: it was depressing when her room was all packed up and I couldn't find things to say goodnight to. I think I said goodnight to the carpet. It was that desperate, the goodnight-ing.) When Sam does it, it's hilarious. He rhymes it: "Goodnight psychotic killer clown bunny from outerspace made out of parachute. Goodnight little pewter statue of a boy playing the guitar, which is a descendant of the lute."
Once I stop laughing, we sing "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus" and put Henrietta in her blanket suit. She hates this part, and I secretly worry that later on she'll have this bristling, suffocating, foreboding reaction when someone talks about Jesus, or at least when she hears that song. Just by association, you know? I hope not. For me, the song is emotional just about every night. She's usually settled down by the time I hear myself sing, "I'm trying to love as He did, in all that I do and say," and it's suddenly abundantly clear any time during the day when I've done the opposite of that, when I've been petty and vindictive, when I've missed the mark of His example by miles. Sometimes, that feeling is so big and overwhelming that I can't finish. My voice catches in my throat and I can't sing, and I just trail off. But usually I finish, even if I have to just hum it.
I begin to breastfeed her while I sing, and Sam kneels down and crosses himself, and we say a family prayer. We have completely different styles of praying. Sam tends to ask God how His evening has been, and he's perfectly sincere in his question. He talks to Him frankly, with as much humor and candor and genuine curiosity as he brings to a conversation with anyone else. I love to hear Sam pray. And I love when it's my turn, too. When I pray, I feel a clarity in my relationship with God and with my family that I don't feel any other time. I'm not sure why, but it's about a thousand times more meaningful than when I pray alone. It's so clear that He's aware of us then, so clear what I want to ask Him for and thank Him for, so clear that the three of us together are One Thing, this Family, and we're all in the same little canoe, trying to steer it right, and we would definitely appreciate some direction.
Sam leans down and kisses us both on the forehead. He sneaks out, and I keep feeding and rocking her. Ideally, she falls asleep, and I place her in her crib, and all is peaceful and sweet. But lately, she's not at all asleep, and I set her down, and she screams like she's being run through with red hot pokers. Her bedtime routine is the best part of my day up until that point. And then I wish to be fired. I wish she could fire me, find a superior mom, a mom who has the foggiest idea of how to do that part better. Try as I might, there isn't a better way. I'd hold her and rock her all night long if it would do any good. But it doesn't anymore. She must fall asleep on her own, and it ruins her life to do so, every time. I think she's still adjusting to our relocation on the other side of the country.
I don't know why this bedtime routine is so meaningful to me. I'm sure it's like a thousand others. I'm sure your is the same, or similar. But still, it's mine, ours. And I love it. I want to do it every night for a million years. Except for that last part. That last part, the wailing part, can just leave me alone.