"Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your children." -Sam Levinson
The nightly chess match that is Penelope's bedtime ritual has gone from mundane to sublime to ridiculous. From peaceful to painful to enjoyable. When Penelope initially began to resist our rational nightly demands while making irrational demands of her own, I would yearn for the days when she was a tiny infant, and a few minutes in the rocking chair and a quiet rendition of "The Way You Look Tonight" was all that was required to soothe her into a long night's sleep.
Fast forward two-plus years, and it's a freakin' 3-ring circus upstairs in our house every night. And Penelope is the ringleader. We're just a couple of clowns tumbling out of a Volkswagen, while the dog is a passive lion more than willing to be tamed.
It's not just the constant bartering like we're trying to sell our daughter some knockoff Gucci bags on the sidewalk. It's what we've accepted as normal. Penelope has a list of activities planned in her head every night. Activities that must be completed prior to bed. Playing and jumping and reading. Certain toys have to be put in particular places. Certain dolls have to be put in particular poses. Certain exercises have to be executed with particular precision.
These activities include, but are not limited to: playing in mommy and daddy's room. Putting her "babies" to sleep in mommy and daddy's room. Climbing up the stairs to mommy and daddy's bed (the stairs are for the dog- I know... also ridiculous). Cheering for her when she climbs the stairs to mommy and daddy's bed (like we cheer for the dog because we are 'teaching her a new trick.'). Chasing Penelope up and down the hallway. Scaring the bejesus out of her as she enters our room and I jump out of the closet. Tickling. A lot of tickling.
Then there's what we still refer to as "naked baby time." When Penelope was a baby, this is what we called her bath time. Now that she can talk, she herself now calls it "naked baby time" even though she insists she is no longer a baby, but "a little girl." She also insists on running around, jumping on the bed, and screaming "naked baby time" after we finally wrangle her out of her clothes. Nothing helps you look forward to the moment when your head finally hits the pillow more than seeing your child's bare ass rubbing on it a few hours before your own bedtime.
Then there's the bath that she initially resists entering, and will subsequently refuse to exit. We walk the tightrope of washing her hair, coming dangerously close to making her scream in agony if we get water or soap or both in her eyes. This, even though her eyes are closed, her head is tilted back as far as it can go, and the shampoo is "no more tears." Don't believe the bottle. Oh, there will be tears. There will most certainly be tears.
She doesn't allow us to use the little bucket we should be using to wet and rinse her hair because she's always pretending to be cooking something in it. "No daddy, that's my pancakes/coffee/eggs/pasta." So we're resigned to using a tiny little bath toy that has holes in it. This inevitably and exponentially increases the frequency of the dousing, as we race to wet the head before the toy bucket empties, thus increasing the likelihood of the tears. If she's not screaming about water in the eyes, she's screaming about water in the mouth. "Well, it wouldn't get in your mouth if you weren't screaming at me." She doesn't like that answer. "I want mommy."
Sorry, kid... mommy is on my team.
After the bath, we wrap Penelope in her robe and adjourn to either her room to rock and sing songs or our room to snuggle on the bed. This is a very touchy area, because Penelope is adjusting to the new climate. One false move, and we could be dealing with a tsunami of emotions. Suggest a clipping of the nails or an applying of the lotion, or even a drying of the hair too soon, and brace yourself for a massive tidal wave.
Then come more choices: the choice of which pajamas to wear, which books to read, which method of hair drying to employ (blow dry or air dry)... and where she wants to get dressed, brush her hair, brush her teeth... and which parents she wants to carry out these tasks. Brushing the hair is also especially - dare I say - hairy, since her locks have reached Repunzel-like lengths. More agony. More tears.
She has also successfully turned the brushing of the teeth into a stall tactic. "No I want to do it myself," she'll object. Fine. Not gonna stifle a girl's independence. Then she proceeds to suck the toothpaste off the brush, and simulate brushing by wiggling her arm up and down and back and forth without moving the brush at all. "Let us finish," one of will say. Whichever one of us says that, Penelope will automatically want the other one to complete the task properly. But more negotiating commences first. And threats have to made. We are beyond the era of idle threats, too. No, now we follow through. "Let daddy finish right now, or you lose a book."
"No... I want a book," she'll whine. "Then let me finish."
Now that Penelope does pee-pee on the potty, she also uses this as a clever stall tactic from time to time. No parent in their right mind is going to deny a child the opportunity to pee-pee on the potty. Penelope recognizes this, and uses it to her utmost advantage.
Once all of the necessary bathroom obligations are performed, she chooses her books and we settle into mommy and daddy's bed. Penelope will further delay things by claiming she has to 'put her babies to sleep.' So multiple dolls, Lammies, and other stuffed animals du jour need to be properly tucked into our bed. Then she's ready to read. But she continues to futz around with her babies. Her attention will be scattered as I read. When I stop, and insist she pay attention, she'll say, "I listening." When I resume, she'll tell me I'm being too loud... her babies are sleeping. When I stop, she'll tell me to keep reading but "her babies are sleeping so don't be too loud."
Now off to Penelope's room for the singing of the songs. We sit, side-by-side-by-side, swaying back and forth like Boy Scouts sitting around a campfire singing "This Land is Your Land." But instead, the choice - still - is "Frosty the Snowman." I'm not sure what's more insane... that we are forced to sing a Christmas carol almost nightly even though Christmas is more than six weeks behind us... or that my wife still doesn't know the words despite singing it every night for more than two months and every Christmas season for 33 years.
After Frosty thumpity-thump-thumps over the hills of snow, she then chooses how she'd like to enter the crib (she has no interest in a big girl's bed - fine with us). She either climbs in, with a little push from us to get her over the top... or we carry out what we have termed "alley-oop," where we swing Penelope into the crib from halfway across the room. Then, Lammie has to make her way into the crib... usually by climbing in herself. Since I made Lammie climb in, inch by inch, grunt by grunt, hand to foot to hand to foot, one night... this little puppet show is now part of the nightly rotation. Hey, if something gets huge laughs, you stick with it. And Lammie scaling the crib despite the physical and mental exhaustion that task entails knocks 'em dead every night.
Then comes what has become the highlight of the evening. Once we have sung our songs, and read the books, once Lammie and Penelope are safely and successfully in the crib. Once everyone and everything is where they are supposed to be, Penelope will say, "I wanna kiss Luna." But she doesn't just want to kiss Luna. "I want her to dance."
Once again, I made the mistake of doing something once, and now it's part of the routine. This is where the word 'ridiculous' truly applies.
I head to our room to find Luna, curled up on our bed and minding her own business. She's comfortable. She's content. She's relaxing. She wants no part of our crazy loud shenanigans. Yet, I have no choice but to disturb her. Every night she knows it's coming. Every night she pretends it's not. Every night she takes her medicine. Because she loves us? No. Because she's 12 pounds and she has no choice.
So I scoop up Luna and hold her up above my head in both hands, making her front paws stretch out in front of her, and begin humming the theme to "Superman." Luna then 'flies' out of our room, down the hallway, and into Penelope's room, 'lands' in her crib (hovers over it, actually), and receives her goodnight kiss from Penelope.
The look of utter disdain, dismay, and dissatisfaction on the dog's face is rivaled only by the pure enjoyment, excitement, and entitlement that shines through my daughter's face.
And that's why we go above and beyond during the bed and bath now, folks. These things appease our daughter, bring a smile to her face, and keep the proceedings moving forward, closer to the ultimate goal of bedtime. We do them for her. For us. For the laughs. Family, after all, is all about the laughs.