Bedtime stories

It’s amazing how skilled they are at not going to bed isn’t it?.

Last night for instance, when Hedgehog practically fell face down into my lap by six o’clock because she could not hold herself up anymore, or keep her little eyes open. I whisper to Mr M&H “I think we’ll put this one to bed early”, and start to go up the stairs with her draped over my shoulder. I’ve taken about two steps when she sits bolt upright, alert to the situation, starts crying urgently and pointing back down the stairs the way we’ve come. 15 minutes later she’s changed and in her PJ’s but still crying on full throttle, so I abandon mission and bring her back to the living room.

This is one of many ways in which they break my will every single day.

This evening, it was my turn to put them to bed. The official line is that we exchange shifts. One of us puts them to bed, and one of us cleans up the debris from dinner in the kitchen / under the table / up the walls etc. Take your pick. In practice the one who cleans up after dinner has to go and do a second round of “Mummy cuddles” or “Daddy story” later on, so it hardly makes any difference.

When Mole was a babe in arms, and not doing anything very much, I used to really look forward to the time when bedtime stories would come into their own. I would picture us sitting cosily together under a blanket, maybe even with some warm milk, happily turning the pages of the latest Roald Dahl book we were working through, or perhaps the Brothers Grimm, or just a bit of Eric Carl’s The very hungry caterpillar. She would be enraptured, and together we would travel to other worlds in our minds.

And it IS lots of fun. Not just story reading at bed time, but at any time of day. Snuggled on the sofa on a wet afternoon, or sat in the kids corner of the library on beanbags amid a mounting pile books that have been pulled from the shelves by Hedgehog, who runs backwards and forwards faster than I can read them. They LOVE books, and I love that they love books. They devour them and pour over the pages and scrutinize the pictures. They love looking at all the details. Korky Paul is one of my favourite illustrators, and the pages of Winnie the Witch leaves hours of detail pondering to be done, such as questioning what the little worm is doing by the garden gate, or why the parrot has his head stuck up the drain pipe. I am continually impressed by the amazing illustrations. You can’t help but get lost in the worlds they create.

The only trouble is that at their bedtime I am tired. TIRED. I would say that exhausted is a more accurate description on most nights. I did not factor this into my dreamy picture four years ago. In those pictures I was always perfectly coifed and refreshed and could happily go on reading for hours and my throat would never get sore, and I would never ever get the teensiest bit BORED of Mr Panda or The Lonely Penguin or of the fifth recital of Charlie and Lola.

When you are tired, you are impatient for things to be over so that you yourself can go to bed. The time between 5-7pm is always the hardest part of the day in our house. We are all dog tired, but there is still dinner, bath, cleaning up and bedtime to be done before anyone can sit down.

So the story time gets edited to the abbreviated version. We get to the teeth cleaned, nappy changed, creams applied, PJ’s on and bedroom tidied stage, and they are both standing by their bunk bed with big cheesy grins on their faces, waiting for yet more mummy cuddles and story time, because they haven’t quite had enough of that in the daytime, and the absolute last thing they want to do is go to sleep.

So I say firmly “One book each and that’s IT. Choose what book you want”. They charge for the book case. At this point Mole usually picks a book with a title like “Fairy Tales” that is in fact a collection of about ten stories in different chapters, so that after I’ve read The Gingerbread Man she’ll try to get me to read through Little Red Riding Hood, Repunzal, Hasel and Gretal, and the rest of them.

Hedgehog will sometimes pick a baby book with cardboard pages that she should have grown out of a year ago, and at other times a huge hardback volume of ‘Rebel Girls’ that is aimed at eight year olds and above. You can never tell which it’s going to be. She doesn’t chew the pages anymore so I guess that’s progress.

We sit on the floor together and I’ll read each book, with Mole and Hedgehog on either side of me, each one clinging to one of my ears or fingering a mole on my neck which acts like a sort of comforter for them. They will jostle for space on my lap or crawl over me while I try to hold the book aloft and see what I’m reading. Hedgehog will start turning the pages really fast, or sometimes backwards, so that the story ends up rushed and disjointed.

Then Mole will declare in a loud voice “Hedgehog NO!”, before pointing and nudging me to continue. If I don’t respond quick enough, say because I’ve fallen asleep for a moment, Mole will shout “MUMMY READ IT READ IT!” stabbing the page with her finger and waving her arms about.

There is ALWAYS to demand for “Just one more Mummy”. “No sweets, it’s one each, and that’s IT”. “That’s IT” has to be my bedtime mantra. But it rarely turns out that way. Two stories turns into four stories, which turns into a demand for “mummy made-up stories”.

Mummy made-up stories is when I’ve actually got them into bed and switched the light off, (switching the light off usually causes crying from Hedgehog as it signals the end is nigh), and I make up a story for them. First they each choose who they want to be, (last night it was Mindy and Thistle, don’t ask me where they get their names from), and then I’ll spin something together about a pair of mermaids called Mindy and Thistle who live on a pacific reef and decide to go sunbathing for the afternoon, but get burnt because they forgot their lotion, so they return to the deep and use some aloe vera to get better, before having a yummy dinner of sea strawberries and going to sleep in their cosy oyster shells, THE END (Hint night night).

Mole then chimes in with “Then what happens mummy?”. “You can get episode two of Mindy and Thistle tomorrow night lovey” I say. “I think” says Mole thoughtfully, “I think then Mindy and Thistle wake up, and they go swimming with the whales who are friendly, but not with the sharks who are not friendly, and they meet a starfish called Kevin, who shows them his lovely garden, and then they have blackberries, and they get some combs for their hair…..” by this time I’ve usually laid down on their bunk myself and started drifting off, or at least rested my head on the duvet for a quick two second cat nap.

Tucking them in and “mummy cuddles” is then mandatory, but the cuddle itself has to be at least five minutes long for each of them. Sometimes they ask for lullabies, or they suddenly leap up and ask for X cuddly toy that they must have right now and have only just thought of, or they need the toilet, or they want some milk, or water, or the duvet “Is all fiddley” (which means messy), and when I’m finally in the act of leaving the room there is a last desperate plea of “Daddy cuddles”. “I’ll ask him” I say, thinking a hopeful yet non-committal response is safest.

When the door closes it is a 50/50 chance whether there will be silence, muttering, the padding of feet towards the door, or distraught crying from Hedgehog. The skill they have for drawing things out is impressive. I’ll come down the stairs, mutter a “Bloody hell” with a heavy sigh and get passed some wine. We probably should be more firm, but they ask so sweetly. They will literally do ANYTHING rather than go to sleep.

Compare that to nap times which still sometimes happen at around noon time. Today we all crashed together in the big bed for an hour. One on each side of me, fingering my ears. I watch Hedgehog’s face growing more flushed next to me and listen to Mole snoring behind me. Our warm bodies press against each other and we sink into a nest of sleep.

It took a grand total of two minutes to get them to sleep that time, and it happened completely spontaneously when I was doing laundry on the bed, they were playing under the covers, and I decided that a nap would be nice.

It was the most AMAZING nap ever.

Peace at last, (which is also a storybook by the way).