Once Upon a Bedtime

Nearly five years into parenthood, the girls have cycled through several different going-to-sleep rituals. They are sometimes traumatic (oy, Lulu's months of hand-holding and weeping) and usually exhausting (the year or so that Estelle began each night with an arsenal of monologues, questions, and requests comes to mind).

And, it always, always takes more time than I would ever have dreamed possible. How long? The vast abyss between the start of bedtime stories and the actual sleep of our children is, god, best left uncounted. But yeah, it's long.

These days, bedtime starts around 7:30. We each take a kid and read her three stories, then they surreptitiously suck the flavored toothpaste of their toothbrushes, and we tuck them into bed. In the past, I'd sing a couple of songs (Alas, my personal favorites, Mr. Rabbit and Eliza Jane, have been replaced requests for songs from Frozen), but these days, the girls aren't in the mood for a song. They want stories.

Not tired.

Not just any story. The girls want real stories that have happened to us. We try to oblige. "Something bad that was also funny" stories are their favorites. We take turns telling them stories from when we were little. "The time great-grandma filmed Mom's movie upside down with her videocamera" is a favorite, as is "The time Dad puked on Auntie Jill's pillow right before her camping trip in the mountains."

Of course, they prefer stories about themselves. The time Lulu went to the hospital for eating baking soda. The time they were in a pie-eating contest. The time we found a kitten in a tree. The time Estelle jumped into the bath with her clothes on.

We couldn't wish for a better audience. Yeah, I know part of this storylove is the 10 or 15 minutes it inches back bedtime. But even uninspiring tales such as my recent "The time Halloween was rainy" held their rapt attention.

In the end, I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about the craft of storytelling...probably more than I have since my early, quixotic days in journalism school. Thinking of worthwhile stories is tricky. Physical humor, accidents and minor crises are hits. (Serious accidents and major transgressions, not so much.) Provide many opportunities to laugh at mom's and dad's faux pas and foibles. Sometimes it's good to trot out a recent it funny yet? Or does it hit too close to home. "Most bad things are funny eventually," Estelle says, and she's right. 

My recent turn of Scheherazade has given my new affection for PRX's The Moth Radio Hour, which I find myself listening to most days at work. Have you heard it? The radio show has a simple concept: Somebody stands up before a live audience and tells a story from his or her life. Some are writers or actors that you might have heard from, but others seem like ordinary people. Most stories tend to orbit everyday issues of family, marriage, love, illness. I'm almost always captivated. Maybe it's the fact that the stories are real. Maybe it's the refreshingly stripped down product: no literary tricks or complex plot lines here. Listen to one, already.





Sunday Snap

Best item on our weekend to-do list: Take on training wheels.

Of course, Estelle never looked back. "Four wheels are so much better than three!"

I can't wait for two wheels to totally blow her mind.


Hinterland Headed

I've been away, again, but this time I have the perfect excuse: I've been cleaning. Cleaning our house in the evenings, cleaning our house on the weekends. But, even this slob can acknowledge, this cleaning has been for to a very good end. We've put our house on the market, and I'm thrilled to report that we have a buyer. (That is, if this blog post doesn't jinx it...You wouldn't do that to me, would you, universe?)

In about five weeks, we'll pack up the Lab and deposit ourselves in an inner-ring suburb. Oh, I'm excited.

Oh, I'm terrified. It's just eight miles north of our current home -- still connected to Chicago's public transit systems -- but I feel vaguely as though we're about to embark on the Oregon Trail.

The suburb is a college town with good schools, a downtown area, and less sprawl than most. It is, no doubt, a great place for the girls to grow up. But, a tiny (immature) part of me feels conflicted to leave the city. Will I lose my parallel parking skills? Will I grown snobbish about visiting Chicago, taking the el, or paying for parking? Will I start favoring yards over parks and grumbling about tax rates? Will I become just a bit more boring when I trade in my 773 area code for a 847? I'm already boring. I don't have cred to spare.

But, we're diving in! Has anyone else made the city-to-suburb shift and lived to tell the tale? Talk to me, people.


God damn it, you've got to be kind

There are plenty of things I want for my kiddos when they grow up. I want them to have good taste, particularly in terms of friends and partners. I want them to find rewarding jobs. I want them to stay in touch and indulge my penchant for watching Gilmore Girls reruns and waking up in the middle of the night on Christmas day.

Most of all, though, I just want them to be good people. You know, just...kind. I'm not talking about social graces or pleasing people. I just want them to care about other people and try to help them whenever they can.

But how does one teach compassion? How do kids learn to be good? I've been thinking about it a lot. Do I drag them to church and hope they pay attention? Should we add some morality stories into our literary mix? Can Lab Partner and I just act like generally nice people and hope it rubs off?

I've been thinking about a recent Slate's post by Katy Waldman: How do I teach my kid to be good? By telling him he is good. Waldman is referring to a study that tried to determine how parents and authority figures can foster kind actions in kids; praise the act or praise the kid's character? The kids who were told they were good people were more likely to repeat kind behavior than kids who were told they had done a good thing.

It's all very confusing, Waldman notes, since parents are frequently told to punish the action, not the kid. But when it comes to morality, it might be a different ball game. She summarize the maze of feedback parents are encouraged to dispense: "Praise what they do, not who they are, unless we're talking about morals, and then praise who they are, unless they are being bad, then point out what they've done wrong, but don't shame."

Er...ok. I suppose I'll keep it in mind, though the instructions make me feel like I trying to pull off a psychological trick, rather than actually teaching a small kid how to behave in the world.

So, I'll be trying something else. Practice. Starting today, the Lab's launching a new experiment: a month of kindness. One kind thing every day, practiced by at least one of us. These things don't need to be "random acts" for unexpected strangers; we can be nicer to our closest friends, our relatives, anyone.

Yesterday, the girls got into the idea. We brainstormed a list of ideas (I think my favorites are "Let your sister pick the TV show" and "Play with someone who looks lonely."), but who knows where this month will take us? I'm strangely excited by the challenge to say thanks, give gifts, and try hard at something that's not for me.

What do you think we should tackle in the next 31 days?


Sunday Snap

Our back-to-back-sick-kid weekend, by the numbers:

  • Temperature high: 103.5
  • Posicles consumed: 10
  • Trips to Walgreens: 3
  • Minutes spent waiting for Walgreens to locate (again) child's health insurance information: 18
  • Infected ears: 1
  • Feverish nights: 6 straight
  • Total wake-up calls over those nights: incalculable
  • Parental coffee requirements by Monday morning: 4-5 cup minimum
  • Quantity of coffee grounds a sleep-addled Lab Partner spilled Monday morning: incalculable
  • Additional dollars our pediatrician charges for Sunday appointments: 35
  • Number of post-doctor's appointment stickers on Lulu's leg: 40 (it's good for what ails you)