It’s definitely bedtime, but Mabel is playing at her dollhouse, totally immersed in a scenario that I am not privy to, muttering everyone’s lines and making it all up as she goes along. Usually she likes to keep the TV on in the background so nobody can hear her, but tonight it’s off. I let her play on.
She bounds over to me, the little drama all wrapped up, to announce that she’s hungry. No surprise there, since she barely ate any dinner. I let her take some goldfish crackers, though I’d rather she ate a banana. A banana is not on her list of acceptable options tonight, and we’re out of yogurts.
Dash is done with his homework and has had his bedtime snack. They fall on each other like puppies and I head up the stairs, picking up the basket of clean laundry for folding as I go, hoping that tonight, for once, they’ll follow me. They do, after a fashion, having decided that Mabel is a baby and Dash is her mother and I – oh joy – have been assigned the role of big brother. Such hilarity.
Whatever gets you through the bedtime routine, as my mantra goes when I’m solo-parenting it. My mantra also goes why is this still such an ordeal and aren’t they old enough to just put themselves to bed yet, but nobody answers my queries. This particular game got us all the way into pyjamas and through toothbrushing and bathroom necessities and into Mabel’s bed, where the three of us now sat as she orchestrated the next part.
Her lisping fake baby voice is nothing like the voice she really had as a baby, when she probably spoke a lot more sensibly than she’s doing now, but tonight, for the moment, I’m entertained by her clowning. She produces some baby board books and demands that her “mother” read them. I watch Dash gamely – and relatively fluently, for him – read the sight words. After a couple of books he tries to hand the job off to me, but she’s ready for that – “No! He’s dyswexic! He can’t wead them!” Then he decides to teach her to read, and sounds out “r-e-d” for her in the colors book. She picks up another at random and reads “wed, wed, wed; wed wed wed, weeeeeed”, and gives herself a round of applause. She’s a born comedian, but I’m not sure anyone beyond the immediate family will ever see this show. Maybe you had to be there anyway. I’m somewhat enchanted by the sight of the two of them in fits of giggles, huddled together in cute pyjamas, in perfect accord, in cahoots.
I leave them to it though, as it’s clear no real storytime is going to happen tonight, and go to fold the laundry in my bedroom. I’m about finished when they’ve done with all the hilarity her room affords and they appear at the door. We’re at that point where the fun is about to turn into hysterics. Actually, we may have left that point in the dust ten minutes ago. I push a load of Dash’s folded clothes into his arms and he retreats to his room before Mabel can run in there and lock him out. It’s every man for himself now – she’s about to bounce on my bed where the other clothes are in neat piles, because she knows that that, of all things, will push my buttons and turn me from mild-mannered pushover to rage-filled mother bear. I’m very protective of my folded laundry.
I pull her back to her room by the ankles. She’s still giggling, putting on the baby voice, but my goose is cooked, my hourglass of patience has run out, and it’s time for the fun to end. Time to sleep. I heave myself up again to her bunk and sit against the pillows to one side. Amazingly, she joins me, lies down, lets me pull the duvet over her fluffy new pyjamas.
Ten seconds later she asks me if I know how hard it is to fall asleep when you’re tired but you can’t go to sleep. “That’s because you haven’t tried yet,” I say, exasperated. It’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation. She harrumphs back at me, thrashes her legs demonstratively, wriggles. I hold my ground and close my eyes; let my mind drift – but not too far. I have things to do downstairs, my day can’t be done already. Besides, who knows whether her brother is going to sleep or fashioning paper aeroplanes in his room. At least he’s quiet, I think.
The legs are still. She turns onto her back and yawns. Her breathing changes. A few more minutes and I can go. Picking my way over the foot bumps, the bunched end of the duvet, the red fleece blanket. Down the creaking ladder, out the door where stepping on a floorboard makes her new shelving click unaccountably; it’s okay. I’m home free.
A quick check on the boy, who was in fact lying quietly with his light off. Hope I didn’t wake him up. Night night sleep tight close the door.
Nine-thirty and I’m out. Not bad going for a Monday night.