I don’t know when it happens, but at some stage in our lives we encounter a monumental shift in the two single biggest parts of life; eating and sleeping. It’s as if some imaginary hand swoops down, picks up these two massive paradigms, shakes them about like they’re old snow globes that take a little bit of rough n' tumble to get working, and then kindly puts them back, but upside down.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, I’m an adult (in terms of age, not actions) and pretty much all I want to do is eat and sleep. Not my child, though. Oh no. To make her eat I have to pretend her plate is a runway and her food is an airplane that can transform into a train, then back into an airplane, then back into a train that then chugs into her mouth, which obviously plays the role of the tunnel in this scenario; a tunnel that has the abilities to spit said planes and trains back out.
Then we move onto the sleeping thing. They fight it so damn hard. Trying to get Phoebe into bed was like trying to wrestle a fully-grown alligator with a speed addiction; nigh on f**king impossible. And that was just one part of the battle:
Convincing her to go upstairs was like trying to convince Tony Blair not to go to war.
Getting a toothbrush into her mouth was like trying to squeeze a tennis ball through a polo.
Removing her clothes was like trying to undo the buckles on a straight-jacket.
Putting on her pyjamas was like trying to do up the buckles on a straight-jacket.
And getting her to sleep meant making individual sacrifices to the 12 Gods that collectively made up the Roman pantheon.
It was insane, tiring, taxing, sapping and emotionally testing to the extent I once Googled bedtime counselling (a search that produced slightly inappropriate results). However, as we sat on the brink of phoning an adoption agency, we discovered battle tactics that would help us win the war of night time routines, battle tactics far simpler than bull horn offences or shoot-and-scoot skirmishes. All it required was fun.
Being strict and orthodox parents feels wholly unnatural to us, but being totally bloody bonkers doesn’t, and so that is what we did. We decided to be ourselves and make bedtime more fun than pat Sharp’s Fun House. And here’s what we did:
Convincing Phoebe To Go Upstairs
When it comes to her bedtime, we no longer battle. We now play an epic game of hide and seek, and we do it one of two ways. Either:
I’ll go and hide in Phoebe’s bedroom and Phoebe and Mummy will come and find me (a game that is usually over before I can shout, "okay, come find me." which is because Phoebe is a natural seeker with skills far superior to Harry Potter, even without a Nimbus 2000).
Or Phoebe and I will go and hide and Mummy will come and find us (which doesn’t take long either because Phoebe either stands in the middle of the room with her closed believing that if she can’t see mummy then mummy can’t see her, or she’ll hide in one place and then run across the room - in front of mummy - and hide elsewhere).
Sh*t. This is the best way to end the day. Phoebe learns how to count (one, three, fiiiy, senen, four, nine, ten) and then giggles as she runs upstairs to her room, desperate to find me in record time. But this isn’t the only thing. I also get to exercise my right to never grow up. I get to take on the challenge of hiding in the wardrobe, or on the wardrobe, or carefully lowering myself into her cot without breaking it, or under a pile of her teddy bears, on the window sill and, occasionally, in the airing cupboard (a place that requires me to channel the powers of a serious contortionist).
Teeth Brushing Time
There was this one time where we in such dire straits that we contacted Ethan Hunt, and told him, “this is your mission should you choose to accept it?” and he refused to accept it. However, Phoebe now asks to brush her teeth. How did we manage to turn this around, I think I can hear you ask, unless that is just the wind. Yeah, shit, it’s the wind. Anyway, I’ll tell you. We made it into a game. She sits in the laundry basket (don’t ask us why), while mummy brushes her teeth and I stand on the bath doing a little dance while counting from one to twenty, like this, “one-mississippi-two-mississippi-three-mississippi” and so on, and when she is done we all jump up and start fist-bumping the air while making monkey noises, “Oo-oo-oo-oo-oo”. It’s the stupidest game ever, but it has become a part of our daily lives, and one that keeps the old dentist away (it doesn’t really, we still go every 3-6 months; we’re not the worst parents ever).
This one is simple; Phoebe climbs up onto her change table, mum does her nappy and me Phoebe play either a game of ‘Night Time, Daytime’ or ‘I gotcha Nose’ or ‘What’s That’ (which consists of me pointing over her head to make her look at and allow me to blow raspberries on her neck), which keeps her distracted for a sufficient amount of time.
Pulling On Her Pyjamas
There are two stages to this game. First is the pyjama top. What we do is, pull them over her head and then ask her to put her arms in, while pinching the sleeve to make it impossible. Then we all freak out because Phoebe has lost her hand, which makes her laugh uncontrollably, before attacking us with her version of Jim Carrey’s “The Claw”. We get to do this twice; two arms, two sleeves, two set of giggles. As for the trousers, she insists on jumping into them. So she lines herself up, I hold the pyjamas open and mum guides her in. Game complete. On to the next level.
It is very important she gets to pick the book. It tends to be the one she read the night before, and the night before that, and the six nights that led up to the night before that; something like We’re Going On A Bear Hunt or Monkey Puzzle or Alice in Wonderland (but the epic pop-up version). Anyway, she has to to get to the bookshelf to pick, and we have to try and stop her from getting to the bookshelf to pick. That’s phase 1 complete. Phase 2 is where she gets to act as my Hype Man. I read out a line, and she repeats. Tell you what though, she knows every word of these books off by heart now. It’s truly incredible. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt is just amazing, and that’s what we do in the mornings; we go on bear hunts (not real ones, I’m not a moron; Phoebe can run faster than me which means she’d be safe and I’d be dinner, so we’re not doing any bear hunts until I can outrun her).
This is a game of swinging Phoebe back and forth while she tries to hit the light. This was epic fun at first, proper giggle-inducing. However, she’s now learned the slower she succeeds, the longer she can stay away. Very sneaky-sneaky. (The alternatives way sees Phoebe shout Abracadabra at the light, and us having to hit the switch so subtly she continues to think she is magic.)
We do it as a family. She cuddles mum and teddy as tight as possible and I say the same thing to her as I have done every night since she was born, “Stay weird, stay wonderful, stay you… and keep dancing with the fairies, it’s much more fun than growing up.” Then we tuck her in, mummy tells her a thousand times how much we love her, and then I do my baby whispering. I tell her to close her eyes, give teddy a big squeeze and then imagine all the things you want to dream about, which tends to be a combination of a Bear Hunt, cereal, Princess Anna, Queen Elsa and chocolate, which has to be the best dream ever (it'd certainly make a helluva movie). Then we say the same thing to each other, “I love you. I love you more. I love you this much (with arms stretched high). I love you with all of my heart.” Then she requests I kiss her head, kiss teddy’s nose and then kiss her dummy (the latter is pretty weird, but meh), and then tells me to get mummy, before she drifts off into the land of nod.
It’s the most fun ever. It’s the best end to the best day and, as I slowly creep down the stairs avoiding each creaky floorboard, I find myself trying to swallow the frog in my throat, absolutely terrified of her growing up too quickly and forgetting these moments, these precious moments that melt me, these precious moments that I wouldn’t swap for all the world, nor everything it contains. And that is when my heart explodes again, because just before I get to the bottom step, I hear her say, “Daddy, cuddle please,” and I get to turn on my heels, skip up the stairs two at a time and squeeze her, kiss her and try to find the words that will do my love for her justice.
It’s not always easy, sometimes it can be tiring, sometimes you just want them to sleep, watching them as they fight it with every ounce of their fibre. But there will be a time when she flees the nest, and so I’ll take every second I can with her, every second. I can’t wait for tonight.