Bed Time

          by Maida Korte

“Was it for this I uttered prayers, and sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs? That now, domestic as a plate, I should retire at half-past eight?”

                                                            Edna St. Vincent Millay

            What child likes bedtime?  Not one I know, except for the singular unicorn moment when so exhausted from non-stop adventure, a particularly active grand-child fell asleep at 6:26 p.m. with her head in a plate of spaghetti.    11 hours and 10 minutes later she got up crisp and bright and bounding with energy at 5:36 a.m. the next day.    Another day of glorious grand-motherly exhaustion ahead.  At five years old bedtime is the end of day abyss when all things fun and grand and late-night mysterious come to a protested hard stop.  This is the time when small children everywhere are certain that grown-ups have secret ice cream sundaes, play elaborate games with hundreds of shiny pieces and watch endless animated television with red licorice woven thru sugary fingers. Oh if only it were so.  The reality is that the great collapse occurs.

            Over two decades ago I visited with a beloved Uncle and Aunt for a lovely afternoon.  By 5 p.m. it was time to leave and getting packed up took a few minutes. By 5:15 p.m. we were out the door and settled in our large van for the drive home.  A few minutes down the road I realized I had left my purse behind.  Moments later I was ringing their front door bell.  They were both in their pajamas and looked worried – perhaps I was bringing the troops back in?  No no……just my purse….visible relief, large hugs and kisses all around and I got back in my van worried that perhaps they weren’t feeling well.  Today, 5:25 p.m. sounds about right for winding down the day and slipping into flannel.

            I have always been an active person.  Well, probably more like frenetic.  Sitting still was never one of my strong suits.  From getting in trouble in grammar school for talking and a continuous leap to the pencil sharpener on the wall by the door (though I still smart from not being praised for all the things I held back and didn’t say or do),  to junior high where I  remember running thru the halls in between classes.  When asked why by a teacher who put her hands up for me to stop, all I could explain was, “walking was too slow.”  In high school the mixture of classes, studious friends, reading continuously, painting and plays, dance almost daily and various intermural sports all kept my mind and body occupied and more importantly provided a clipped pace to my days.  I needed the frenzy but only if corralled by systems and schedules.

            As a little girl I created a simple language for self-soothing.  I count things. I count everything.  I put what I count into neat little groups of ten.  I know.  I have done this as early as I have memory.  I think I learned at a very young age that counting and sorting calmed my mind and ultimately smoothed the wrinkles of an inner life that otherwise might have erupted into chaos.  If my mind is a pantry, then each day so much information is out of the pantry and scattered on the floor in disarray, that counting puts everything back where it needs to go.  So, I read the license plates of the car in front of me and type out the letters, arranging them in my mind.   I count and sort the words in sentences and the letters in those words and group them into neat little piles of ten.  I eliminate the wasteful letters (well I do) and keep only what is necessary for what I deem are the ten that are essential to meaning and pronunciation. My racing, crowded mind is calmed but by the end of the day I am exhausted.  The evening ritual, therefore,  is essential and perfectly balances my early morning rising.    

            The gentle ceremony of the evening is welcomed at the end of each day.  Dimming of the lights, cleaning up the kitchen, straightening up each room, taking a bubble bath, reading in the living room (my girls have dubbed this ‘the reading room’), and gentling my spirit begins as soon as dinner is done.  I have even taught my grand-children the importance of this by giving them a hand motion where arms are lifted high and in a voice that starts out strong and ends in a near whisper…….“WINDING down…..”  we slowly lower our hands ‘til they rest at our sides.   Gentle conversation with adult children when they are in, mugs of hot tea which my youngest must make every night, book discussions, the shuffle of slippered feet replacing the click clack of marching heels while Andy is learning about cleaning out concrete trucks on TV.

            And so begins the putting away of the day so that I can greet the dawn of a new one at sunrise.  Gentle my soul…..gentle. 

2 Responses to “Bed Time

  • Oh, I love the phrase, “play elaborate games with hundreds of shiny pieces” that our children presume must be! haha…so true! The ice cream sundaes aren’t too far off…but the collapse of utter exhaustion does hit the nail on the head! I will try the good idea of hand raised high, and ‘winding down’! Really enjoy your writing Aunt Maida, thank you! 🙂

  • Hi Maida, this is very good. For our little music time with the kids at church we are teaching lullabies, with the stated intent that they may sing them to their siblings and even to Mom and Dad. Lullabies can be a kind of ‘good night’ to Jesus. If you can look up the song ‘count your blessings’ by jon mcDonough, which we heard many years ago on ‘prairie home companion. I think you would like it as part of your ‘wind down’

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