A real dad's bedtime battle

Ah, the moon. The great tidal magnet in the sky. Norman Mailer called it the ‘voice which did not speak’. But I no longer care what the moon means to anyone else because it reminds me of only one thing: the complete destruction of my two-year-old’s bedtime routine.

I used to think of myself as the King of Bedtime. Perhaps I was just lucky to have a daughter who – whisper it – usually fell asleep fairly easily. We’d have a cuddle while I read two or three books about precocious pigs or pirate cats or bears who’d lost their hats. Then she’d chug a bottle of warm milk, and bang: by 7.30pm I’m on the sofa with a beer bottle in one hand and the telly remote in the other.

I confess, since my little one turned two, she’s decided to make me work harder, and is beginning to resist sleep with the kind of enthusiasm I only wish she had for green vegetables. But until recently, even that could ultimately be sorted with calm words, dim lights and a back tickle – a technique that was once as reliable as whiskey in the milk bottle. Then I ruined everything with a stupid story about the stupid moon.

It happened on one of those Sahara-hot nights in early September. I’d finished Peppa Pig Goes to London (a favourite), laid her down in her cot and tip-toed over to close the curtains (obviously, I should have done that earlier). At that moment, a doughy little paw emerged from the cot, before a finger unfurled towards the window, like a pudgy ET. ‘Daddy,’ came a half-whisper, ‘what dat?’ The sky was a dusky orange-blue, but there was the moon, all mysterious and beautiful. Like an idiot, I walked straight into the trap. 

‘That’s the moon,’ I said.

‘What is it, the moooo?’ she murmured back.

Given my daughter and I have known each other for almost two and a half years now, I know the ruses she uses to suck me into allowing her to stay up later. But she, in turn, knows my weaknesses, and she plays them like a Sith Lord. When she turns it on, like Luke under Vader’s spell, I am rendered powerless against the sheer force of her adorable personality.

One of her favourites, for instance, is to clap her chubby little fists together and, tunelessly and adorably, sing ‘Baby Shark, do do do do’, over and over until I do the full performance for her in a stage whisper. Or she’ll stand up in her cot and reach out for a hug, wide-eyed, and say, ‘My daddy’. Invariably, overcome by gooey validation, I lift her out of her cot for a cuddle. She knows exactly what she’s doing. And this was a classic bedtime filibuster.

I needed a watertight story that allowed for no room for manoeuvre. So I kept it simple: ‘The moon is a light in the sky with a man inside who wakes up when the sun goes to sleep. When the man in the moon wakes up, it means it’s time for little children to go to sleep.’

To my amazement, she bought it. She just said ‘okay’, rolled over and fell asleep. I went downstairs revelling in my parenting glory. I had fathering nailed and beer never tasted so good. It happened again the next night, and the next: she’d make me show her the moon, tell me it was there and roll over and fall asleep. We all know that children like consistency, so I suppose knowing the moon was always there gave her comfort to fall asleep, like a celestial security blanket. Then, one night, it was cloudy. 

‘Daddy,’ she said as I closed Peppa Pig Goes To London and kissed her goodnight. ‘Where the moooo? Is it sleeping?’

Any parent knows there are two things in a toddler’s life that are certain: One, there is no such thing as tomorrow, only now; and Two, if you can’t see it, it cannot exist. By her logic, quite sensibly, as long as the moon was asleep she could be awake. And who was I to tell her different.

In that moment, darkness lost all its soporific powers. She was fully, defiantly, wholeheartedly awake. And not one of my rapidly-waning powers of persuasion would change that. Before I knew it, I was outside in the empty street, holding her in her pyjamas as we hunted for the moon.

I knew we wouldn’t find it – the sky was dark and grey. ‘I want it, the mooooo,’ she kept saying, clutching her cuddly bunny to her cheek and peering into the sky like a beached baby turtle that’s lost its way. It started raining. She wanted to watch TV. I was hungry. A two-hour battle of wills ensued. In the Night Garden this was not. It was a long, beerless night.

The moon’s novelty is beginning to wear off for her a little now. Though, she still asks about it most evenings. And when it’s there, it lights her up and she wants to hear more stories about its sleeping patterns, what it does when it’s awake, where ‘moo-man’s’ bed is. They make her laugh and think and, best of all, wonder.

And if that keeps her up a little longer than it should, I don’t mind at all. Like most parents, I assume, I stockpile my daughter’s laughter like magpies’ tinfoil: one day, when I’m old and infirm, I want her laughter to be the only sound echoing around my weary head. Especially when I look at the moon. 

 

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