Bedtime Magic

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Bedtime has changed dramatically during my tenure as a mother. What started with swaddling so tight I bore holes into their muslin blankets has evolved into spooning by moonlight and feather light whispers about the meaning of life, or just who made them smile at school today. Something about bedtime drowsiness renders them particularly vulnerable and exceptionally eager to spill the beans, so I take advantage.

A few years ago, while we were still homeschooling, there wasn’t any necessary rush to our bedtime routine. I had three questions I asked every night –

1. What are you grateful for?
2. Who did you help today?
3. What’s one thing you love about yourself?

The minutes would tick past 7:30pm and I wouldn’t blink an eye (unless The Mindy Project or Pretty Little Liars was on, of course, then one word answers were totally acceptable). Now, after homework and dinner and prepping for the next day and just one more book and that song they love, bedtime feels more rushed than I’d like.

After the last book, we each share what we’re most grateful for that day. That’s one question that’s constant in our repertoire. Once the lights are out, I divide my time with each girl. I alternate who I start with each night because it’s almost certain while I’m waxing poetic with one, the other will drift off to sleep before we can have a heart to heart.

I don’t plan the questions I’ll ask. Who has time for that? But I do read a lot about parenting so when I come across a good question to ask kids, I make a mental note. I find questions in blog posts, parenting books, magazines, and most recently in journal prompts. A friend recently shared on Facebook how much she loves talking with her daughters at bedtime. We all mother in our own unique way but we share many common joys and from the looks of the comments she got on her post, bedtime is one of those universal gifts. Her post made me really curious about the questions other parents ask.

Here are the questions regularly making the rounds at our home plus the ones that really make my girls light up:

  • Who made you laugh at school today?
  • Did anyone help you at school today?
  • If you could travel around the world with only one friend from school, who would it be?
  • If you could have your own restaurant, what kind of food would you serve? What would you call it?
  • If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  • What job would you never, ever want to do?
  • If you wrote a children’s book, what would it be about? What would you call it?
  • Where do you think you will live when you grow up?
  • Were you able to help anyone at school today?
  • What’s the most interesting thing you learned in school today?
  • What do you want to dream about tonight?
  • What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
  • What superpower would you want?
  • If you found $100, what would you do with it?
  • If you could learn to do something new, what would it be?
  • If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  • Who made you feel loved today?
  • Who was unkind to you today?
  • What animal would you want to be?
  • If you could build a superhero team, which 3 friends would you want by your side?
  • What do you love most about yourself?

And while we’re at it, I’ll share a few other things we do at bedtime to make it special. We don’t do these every night; they happen once in a blue moon as a treat:

  • Years ago I started giving them massages while I asked them our nightly questions. I’d take out a special lotion and rub their feet while we listened to each other’s answers.
  • When the energy is running high, I have them lie down and I say goodnight to them from their toes to the tops of their head. I rub each part of the body and give it a kiss, saying goodnight to each (goodnight toes, goodnight legs, goodnight tummy, etc.). The best is getting up to their sweet faces and kissing their little lashes.
  • Other times, when it looks like they’re having a hard time falling asleep, I tell my girls to lie still, eyes closed, and silently thank each part of their body for it’s hard work and then say goodnight to it (for example, thank you feet for allowing me to climb at the park, goodnight). Since this is something they do on their own, I can’t be certain they actually do it but the smiles on their faces always make me think they at least try.
  • It’s been ages since we did this but for awhile I used to light a candle and we’d take turns making a wish and blowing it out. Once everyone had a turn, we’d blow it out together.

All of this in addition to our nightly bedtime book(s) plus a song they love and some whispered blessings in their ear. Bedtime ain’t no joke, people. It’s my last chance each day to redeem myself for lost tempers, elusive patience, checking my phone too often, saying no more than yes, rushing, for being imperfect. Our quirky mash up of rituals anchors me to the moment, each one sinking me deeper into the present. It’s not perfect every night but we try to make it feel a little bit like magic.

What’s funny is this is nothing like bedtime was for me as a kid. I’d kiss my parents goodnight then tuck myself in and fall asleep to the sound of my television in the background. If my godmother was visiting, she’d read me a bedtime book and her husband would ask me math questions before turning out the lights. No one lied with me until I fell asleep, there were no songs, but somehow there was no lack of magic. So there’s no right way. What’s bedtime like in your home? I’d love to know what questions, conversation starters, and rituals make bedtime magical in your home.

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