on bedtime routines
July 7, 2014, 3:52 am
Filed under: Stuff | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

it was nearly bedtime and she wasn’t back yet.

i nervously looked at the clock, debated calling, but instead convinced myself i could do this, even if it was a half-hearted effort. Bella was 2 years old. up until this point, her bedtime routine consisted of mom cuddling her until she fell asleep. i had tried a select few times to take on the role, but if my daughter caught wind i was trying to put her to bed to the exclusion of mom, all hell would break loose. you can say i should man up and do my job as a father. you’d probably be right. so that’s what i decided to do that night, more out of necessity than grit and determination. My wife was out with a friend she hadn’t seen in years. i know, right. how selfish of her!

i hummed and hawed and postponed and let the girls stay up later than they should have been until the moment came when i knew i could no longer postpone the inevitable. i could see the look of distrust in her eyes when i carried her to the bedroom. my oldest went to bed in no time. we were visiting grandma and grandpa’s house, and she had played herself out. Bella just sat on her bed and waited, refusing to lay down or close her eyes. refusing to give in to the tyranny and injustice about to happen. refusing to cooperate with her dictator father trying to corrupt her evening routine of mommy snuggles.

the crying started lightly when i firmly told her it was time to sleep. the screaming started when i tried to cuddle with her. not wanting to wake my eldest, i picked up Bella and headed to another room, still determined to make this young person like me, feel safe with me, be willing to give in to something new. the screaming grew louder and more desperate. Bella has a stubborn streak like no other. it will serve her well someday, but as a child…i was at a loss for what to do with this. if you met Bella today, you’d quickly learn this hasn’t changed. some who know her parents would say she comes by that honestly. they would be correct.

i tried cradling her, rocking her, laying her down in a different bed, leaving the room, rubbing her back…with each new effort, the crying intensified until it was a window rattling scream. so i picked her up and as i grew deaf in one ear, walked circles in the dark, at my wits end, wondering why i had been duped into thinking i could care for this little life. i was convinced in that moment she hated me. maybe she did. maybe my own self-esteem was so shattered i just couldn’t see this is part of parenting. but i was doggedly determined even as i felt defeated. i had started this, and i couldn’t quit now.

i kept hoping my wife would walk through the door and rescue myself and Bella as she had in the past, calming the cries of my Bella and allowing me to wallow in self-pity and drown my sorrows in TSN sportscenter.

but she didn’t rescue us this time. the time ticked on, and the crying and screaming intensified. my mother in law came to check on me a few times, making sure i was alive but knowing i needed to do this. she probably wondered what i had done to her precious granddaughter to torment her so. but she knew better than to ask in that moment what was going on.

i started singing. over and over, the same few lines, made up and sung to another popular kids song i stole the tune from.

“I love Bella, yes I do. I love Bella, how about you?
Bella is so beautiful, Bella is so smart.

I love Bella with all my heart.”

it took a long time, what felt like an eternity. in truth it was 1.5 hours. i must have sung those two lines 1000 times in the span of an hour. at first, the impact was not noticeable. slowly, she calmed little by little. it might have been simple exhaustion rather than the song that began to calm her cries. i like to think the latter. either way, the screaming gave way to sobs. the sobs gave way to gentle cries. the gentle cries gave way to deep, heavy breathing. and then she was asleep.

1.5 hours of screaming, crying, hitting and feelings of failure and embarrassment came to a conclusion in this peaceful moment. i was exhausted. tired and grumpy, having shed many tears in that 1.5 hours myself, all i wanted to do was put her down and go to bed myself. but i couldn’t. i just kept staring and holding her, my arms numb from carrying her so long, but feeling closer to her than i ever had. it felt like a battle of wills in which neither of us won, but we both submitted. i gave in to her, not by relinquishing to Missy as I always had, but by not quitting and taking the easy way out, by standing with her in her fear and uncertainty. she gave in to me, realizing i wasn’t going anywhere and that she could be safe in my arms.

she still screams at me sometimes, usually for my dumb jokes and dying when we play Nintendo. but we are close now. something broke that night. she woke the next morning and hugged me like she always had, but it was a longer hug, one that said to me that she trusted me now. maybe it’s all my imagination, but i believe it’s true. i started putting her to bed more often after that. she still didn’t like going to sleep, but now it was not a matter of screaming distrust at her less than present father. it was a matter of stalling your daddy who was wrapped around your little finger. to this day, she will snuggle in close and try to make me play and laugh, postponing bedtime in any way she can. and i’ll usually give in for a little while because i remember the days when to step into mom’s territory would not be so fun and exhilarating. it took one determined battle, but something broke that night. i became a better father. and i’ll never forget the moment. without it, i don’t believe my girl would trust me the way she does now.

the hardest moments in life are often the ones that make you grow the most. my daughters love for me is a testament to that. my love for her will never be any more or less after that night. but it is deeper and i understand fatherhood better than i did before. it gives my a glimpse of what my relationship with God has felt like many times. i kick and scream. i still am. but Abba still holds me, singing that silly verse over and over again because i refuse to believe it. maybe someday, i’ll give in the way my daughter did with me. hopefully sooner rather than later.

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