Today, I am blogging as part of the “Practices of Parenting Carnival” held by Sarah Bessey at Emerging Mummy. Even though Kingdom Civics is not a “mom blog,” I do view my parenting as one of my most important roles in God’s Kingdom. Thus, when Sarah asked us to share one of our practices of parenting that makes the experience enjoyable, I couldn’t resist. Enjoy!
“The Practice of a Happy Bedtime”
I have long held the belief that a child’s bedtime should serve the same psychological purpose as the last five minutes of a Full House episode.
Remember that show? In the world of Full House, the first twenty five minutes were fraught with conflicts, misunderstandings, and zany hijinks…which would always be totally resolved and redeemed in the last five minutes of the show. It kind of became a joke, the way everything was tied up with a nice little bow at the end. If only real life worked that way, we thought…
…Well, I think there is a time that real life should work that way, and that time is bedtime. No matter what craziness, chaos, heartache, or drama happens during the day, I want my children’s last thoughts at night to be that they are loved dearly, that they have people in their corner, and that everything is going to be alright. Life can be tough on children, and we parents can’t always kiss all that pain away. However, I have found that pouring in peace and comfort at the end of a day is invaluable for children. In fact, I know that it is invaluable. I know because that happy, affirming bedtime was my bedtime as a child.
Most of my childhood bedtime memories are all a blur of Bible stories and pleas for “just one more” chapter of whatever book we were reading, mixed in with hugs, kisses, rubbing noses, and “I love you more’s.” But there are a couple of bedtime memories that really stand out to me, times when my life was filled with fear and disappointment…only to be redeemed at bedtime. Both memories happened within the same general age range, somewhere between 10 and 11. I know because of the house we were living at, and because I no longer slept in my brother’s room on his top bunk. Instead, I slept in my pink explosion of a room, snugly under my ruffly comforter.
I know I was at least ten for the first memory because I had been baptized….and a dreadful realization had come upon me. I realized that I did not love God. Or, at least, I didn’t know if I did. I did know that I loved my parents and my brother, and that my love for God did not compare with the feelings I had for them. This thought absolutely wrecked me. I really wanted to love God, but I didn’t know how to make myself feel the same way about Him that I did about my family. And clearly, this lack of warm fuzzy love feelings meant that I wasn’t going to go heaven. After all, how could one go to heaven without loving God?? My lack of “feelings” for God left me completely despondent. What kind of person was I, who didn’t love God?? And more importantly, how could I ever confess this dark truth to my parents, who thought the world of me? Man…it’s tough being a kid sometimes. Thankfully, my mom knew that something was wrong, and it didn’t take much prying on her part before I burst into tears one night at bedtime. In between sobs, I told her, “I don’t think…I’m going…to heaven.” Startled, she asked why not. “Because I don’t love God!” I wailed. Of course, by this time she was completely taken aback, but I remember that she gently tried to console me with the thought that, of course I loved God. I tried to explain everything to her how I loved my family so much, and how I just didn’t think I loved God as much as I loved my family. And everyone knows you are supposed to love God more than you love anyone or anything else. You are supposed to love Him with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind, after all!
I don’t know if my mom was trying not to laugh at this point, or if she was grieved at how much I was beating myself up. I do know that she must have been at a loss of how to console a ten year old who thought she was going to hell. After trying everything she could to convince me that I did love God very much, even if I didn’t realize it…she punted. “You know,” she said, “I think there’s a verse in the Bible that says, ‘If a woman has love as small as a mustard seed, she will be saved.'” [Update: There’s not a verse in the Bible that says that].
I sniffled. “Really? It says that?”
“Yep,” my mom affirmed, “it sure does.”
[Update: No. No it does not.]
“Well…I do think I have at least that much love…”
“See?” my mom said triumphantly, “Nothing to worry about!”
I felt like a huge weight come off my shoulders. But I still had one question.
“It says that about a woman who loves God? But what about a man?”
My mom just laughed and waved the concern away. “It probably says something like, ‘He is to be praised.'”
I cracked up. I love that moment when tears turn into laughter. There is magic in that moment. And there was peace, sweet peace in my soul, as well as joy and love. After some more hugs and kisses, my mom tucked me happily into bed, visions of hellfire put off for another day…
My other great bedtime memory came after either the 4th or the 5th grade spelling bee. I had won my class spelling bee and got to compete in the school-wide bee. I really wanted to win. My best friend at the time always won everything; she was always just a little smarter than me, a little better, a little prettier. And because of that, I really had this hunger to distinguish myself. Since I was a good speller, I thought that this was my chance to do it.
I will never forget the word I missed: mystify.
To this day, I am mystified at how I could misspell the word mystify–and how I could misspell it so confidently! See, when they called out the word, “mystify,” I immediately thought of “mist.” As in, when you are mystified, it’s like a mist clouds your understanding. I saw the picture so clearly, of a person confused, surrounded by a mist. And so of course, I spelled it with confidence:
“Mystify. M-I-S-T-I-F-Y. Mystify.”
I was shocked when it was wrong. Only when I left the stage to sit with the others who had been eliminated did it occur to me: it wasn’t like mist, it was like mystery. Mystery, Kim, not mist…mysteries, like the ones you love to read so much? People are mystified by mysteries. You. Idiot.
I had learned all about the importance of being a good sport, but inside, I was crushed. Looking back, I think that was the first time I was genuinely depressed. I remember trying to pretend like it was okay, that I was taking it all in stride, but the truth was, I was so, so sad. I went to bed that night feeling that weight of sorrow.
It was funny that night, because it was dad who came in and sat on the edge of my bed, his weight pulling the covers more tightly around me. We usually kissed dad before we went to bed; it was usually mom who came to our bedside to bid us goodnight. But here was my father, big and important in his stiff, dark suit, smelling like business and tobacco and cologne and the world. He cut an odd and imposing figure sitting on my pink, girly comforter, under which his 11-year old daughter lay in a heap of failure. I was all ears.
“You know,” he started, “I was in a spelling bee once. In second grade.”
It was always novel to picture my dad as a little boy. I had no doubt that my father was one of the most important, powerful men in our city, if not the world, and thinking of him as having once been a little boy almost felt like knowing a secret weakness about him.
“I was excited, because I had never been in a spelling bee, had never won one. I had never won anything at all, in fact, and I thought that here, finally, was a chance to win something.”
My heart was already starting to break in anticipation.
“We went through a few rounds, and then I got up, and heard my word: women. I was so happy because it was such an easy word. And so, confidently I started…”
I knew it was coming, but I couldn’t quite believe there was ever a time that my dad could not spell, “women.”
Oh, no. I knew what got him.
And there it was. My father, at one point, could not spell the word, women. I couldn’t help it: I laughed. But it was truly a laugh in commiseration. After all, I was in 4th grade and couldn’t spell mystify. But there was something so heartening in the fact that I was not alone in losing a spelling bee. And also, if my dad could come back from misspelling women to go on to become one of the most important men in the world…then surely there was hope for me, too.
On that raft of hope, I was able to float peacefully off to dreamland.
I love looking back on those moments. In those special times, my parents were the Dragon Slayers, vanquishing fear and sorrow from my wounded soul. I see now, though, that these rescues were simply the natural outgrowth of the time they put into every night to make sure that all was well with my brother and me. They worked hard to keep us in a world full of love, peace, and joy, and that work was accomplished both through the normal routine of stories and kisses and through those rare crises.
And now, I get to build that sanctuary for my children. I get to use the sacred routines of baths and stories, devos and prayers, kisses and whispers to create a layer of peace between them and the natural stressors of their young lives. Being a child is tough sometimes. My son’s dread of dealing with his grumpy art teacher is every bit as real and unsettling as the stresses in my life. And that is where our happy bedtimes benefit both my children and myself. It is a chance for all of us to let go of the failures and frustrations of the day, as well as all of the worries of tomorrow, and just remember how much we love each other. All of the hugs and kisses and giggles and whispers remind us that life is good, even though it is not without its daily hurts and inconveniences. And I have found, interestingly, that when I speak peace into my son’s troubled soul, the anxious child within me hears and is quieted, also. We might be worried about different things, none of which are truly resolvable in the moment, but our soothing talks remind us that we are both loved, we are both blessed beyond measure, and we both always have people to come home to, people who absolutely adore us.
In that way, our happy bedtimes help to create a secure and peaceful world for both of us.