September 24, 2010

When Bedtime Rituals Go Into Extra Innings

I'm a firm believer in bedtime rituals. I have been for a long time, just ask my wife. For years I've abided by a 7-step process that goes something like this: 

Step 1: Change into old Ohio University shorts from college (you know, the one with holes in them).
Step 2: Hop into bed.
Step 3: Wink at wife.
Step 4: Watch as wife ignores wink.
Step 5: Kiss wife on cheek to let her know I'm serious.
Step 6: Watch as wife puts second pair of sweatpants on over the top of the pair she's already wearing to let me know she's serious.
Step 7: Turn on SportsCenter and drift off to sleep the moment they say something about Brett Favre.

With kids, bedtime rituals are important too. My oldest daughter, Ella, used to strongly abide by one when we moved her into a big-girl bed: brush teeth, give hugs, ask if there were any witches in her room (which I assured her, there were not), turn on nightlight, fall asleep. It was simple and sweet—the perfect nightcap to my day.

But not anymore.

Now, getting my oldest daughter to go to bed is like an intense game of baseball. Every night is the bottom of the 9th. There are two outs and I have a one-run lead. I'm doing my best to close this game out, while she stands at the plate, doing her best to send it to extras. I stand at the edge of her bed and throw pitch after pitch of "goodnights" and "see you in the mornings" which she fouls off with swings of "Just one more story, please" and "I need to pee again." These grueling at-bats last for several minutes until finally, after the stadium (night)light comes on, I drop the hammer.

"That's it! It's late. No more talking. Go to sleep. Good. Night." Close door. Game over. Pump fist. Point to the sky. Get congratulated by wife with a sportsmanlike "good game" pat-on-the-butt.

But it's not over. In fact, it's only beginning. Just as I start to head down the stairs I hear a soft voice come from her bedroom:

"Dad, we forgot to say prayers."

HOME RUN! GAME TIED!

I can deny my 3-year-old a lot of things—ice cream for breakfast, getting her ears pieced, a Twitter account, those awful socks with the toes sewn into them—but I can't deny her prayers. Heck, I remember being a young kid, sitting with my mom on the edge of my bed, praying for my family, my friends and my Cincinnati Reds to win the pennant. It was part of my ritual then, so why couldn't it be part of our ritual now?

I'll tell you why. Because my sweet, adorable, loving daughter prays for everything under the sun—and everything above the sun, behind the sun, inside the sun, related to the sun, not related to the sun, divorced from the sun and birthed by the sun. And that's before we move on to the moon. If she's met a person, she prays for him. She also prays for that person's parents, whether she's met them or not. And, occasionally, she tries to sneak in a quick prayer for her Cabbage Patch doll, Sylvia, who, in all honesty, needs it considering the way she gets hurled around our house.

By the time she moves on to inanimate objects, it's an hour past her bedtime. It's an hour past my bedtime. My wife finally comes in like a pitching coach who has seen enough and relieves me of my duties. "Not your day today, is it Ace?" she'll say. And with a pitiful "nice try" pat-of-the-butt, she sends me to the showers.

As I head to bed, I think about rituals and prayers. I think about how the bedtime ritual I set for my daughter has caused her to pray more often (which is a good thing, as it teaches her compassion for others). I also think about how she's inspired me to pray more often (which is a good thing too). Sure, sometimes I pray for her to cut down on her prayers. And sometimes I still pray for the Reds to win the pennant. But I always pray for my kids to be happy and healthy kids, even if it means staying up a little past my bedtime to do so.

Oh, and I definitely pray for God to set fire to that second pair of sweatpants. If he really loved me, he'd take care of the first pair, too.

The Life of Dad is updated every week. Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian