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Go the F*#@ to Sleep

January 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

by Mommy MD Guide Cheryl Wu, MD

My son, like most children his age, makes delaying going to bed an Olympic event. He’s persistent, untiring, incredibly creative, and keeps the prize squarely in his mind’s eye: going to sleep as late as humanly possible. He will delay everything. He will beg to play downstairs a little while longer. He will make sure to stack his train tracks just SO when it’s time to clean up. He will take forever to go upstairs (he is likely the inventor of the world’s most varied footsteps climbing a 26-step staircase). He will find every excuse to not go in the bath (it’s too cold, it’s too hot, it’s not enough water, it’s too much water, he needs two washcloths, he needs more bath salt). He’ll run around naked after his bath. He’ll pick out four books to read and insist on reading them in a certain order. Then after lights out, he’ll ask me to tell him more stories. Then when I tell him (often repeatedly) that he needs to go to sleep, he tells me, “Mommy, it’s so hard to go to sleep!” as he gets into various yoga headstand positions. Koi, in short, embodies the opposite of sleep. The bedtime routine works out beautifully in my household—he knows EXACTLY what comes next, so he knows that he can delay bedtime by a significant amount of time if he delays each step just enough to not get him in trouble.

So the other night, after I finally got Koi to turn off the lights (I’m not allowed to turn off the lights in my own house), after reading him two books, one of them twice, he begged me to tell him a story. Now, when I tell my son stories, he imagines himself right into them; he tells Goldilocks to not break the chair, Cinderella to run fast when the clock strikes 12 (in my version, when she gets to the castle, she decides marriage is not for her and enrolls instead in grad school to get her PhD), and the Ugly Duckling that he’s beautiful on the inside. It’s really pretty endearing. It’s the development of a human mind and its vast capacity for imagination, blossoming before my very eyes. I know I need to nurture that, but not at freaking 10 to 9.

So that night, I said to Koi, “What story do you want to hear?” He, of course, didn’t miss a beat; “What stories do you have?” I said, “Well, the only story I have is a boring one—you get that or nothing.” He thought about it and decided that a boring story is better than none at all. So I started telling him this entirely made-up story:

“A mouse was really, really hungry, and he’s craving rice. He found this enormous warehouse full of grains of rice. He was super excited and got to work. He went into the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile. He then went back into the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile. He then went back into the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile.”

After about the sixth repeat, Koi exclaimed somewhat giddily, “Wow, that’s a lot of rice!” I said, “Yeah, this mouse was really, really hungry. So…he went back into the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile. He went back into the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile. He then went right back in the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile.”

Koi stopped me again, “It’s the same thing over and over, Mom!” I said, “Well, there’s a LOT of rice in the big warehouse. So he went back into the house, took a grain of rice…” Koi interrupted me again, “Mommy I think the owner just came back, and he’s really mad when he saw the mouse, and yelled, ‘Why are you stealing my rice?’”

I said, “No, the owner’s on a month-long sabbatical in Europe with his family. He just left two days ago, so he won’t be back for another 28 days. So the mouse went back into the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile. He then went back in the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile. He then went back…”

Koi stopped me yet again (I mean, can a mom finish telling a story around here?), and said, “Mommy, there are all these people walking by, and they can see the mouse taking the rice!” I said, “Nah, this little mouse is pretty smart—he made sure to use the side door, and the pile was out back, so there are very few people walking around, and they can’t see him anyway because it’s getting dark. So…the little mouse went back into the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile. He then went back in the house, took a grain of…”

Koi was now yelling, “Mom! This is so boring! Why does he need so much rice? The pile must be so big now!” I said, “Well, you wanted to hear a story; winter’s coming up, so he needs to store up a lot of rice. And besides, grains of rice are so small that it’s not that big a pile yet. Wait, let me tell you what happens next: the mouse went back in the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile. THEN, [acting like it was a turning point in the story] he went back in the house, took a grain of rice, brought it….”

Koi started to beg, “Mommy don’t you have ANOTHER story? What about the Big Bad Wolf? Isn’t he hungry? He’s gonna come and eat the mouse!” I said, “No, he just had Little Red Riding Hood at grandma’s house—he’s good for a while, man. So the mouse went back in the house, took another grain of rice, brought it outside, and put it in a pile…”

At this point, Koi finally gave up and groaned. “I don’t want to hear about the mouse anymore!” I said, “Oh, so you want to go to sleep now?” “But it’s so haaaaarrrrd to go to sleep!!! [extreme whining]” “Ok, so the mouse went back in the house, took a grain of rice, brought it outside…” “Ok Mommy, I’ll go to sleep now.”

Score: Mom. I actually did a victory dance in my head.

Advice to parents—you can use this story, or any variation thereof, if you have one of these children. Basically, find a super-boring story line, and repeat the same four lines over and over and over again. Set it up so it makes sense that you’re repeating the same four lines: scooping water from the ocean with a spoon works well, as does counting blades of grass on a mountain. Make it with a bit of rhythm, so at least it’s fun for you to say.

Now, if you know how to get my kid in the bathtub in under a minute, please let me know. Til next time, everyone.

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